8/20/13

On Turning 31 and Shutting Your Thumb in the Car Door

I turn thirty one in ten days.* We seem to celebrate milestone birthdays in modern culture more than any others and thirty seems to be a big one. The last "big one" before the actual big one, which seems to be unanimously agreed upon as being forty. (Unless we're talking about fishing. Or death. Then the "big one" has entirely different connotations.)

I always pictured turning thirty like it was going to be some sort of highly filtered, well-lit lotion commercial. I looked forward to it. I'm grateful to be alive and healthy. I have a sister who never reached thirty, so last year, I was acutely aware of how wonderful it was to enter my fourth decade on planet Earth. I'm happy to be here. I like it. There's weather. And food. 

Then again, I'm easy to please. Because when it comes to aging, I feel like I have a distinct advantage. I've never been beautiful. Don't be jealous of my amazing experience as an average woman and please, don't yell at me for bragging about it. I'm not being coy or begging for compliments. Nor am I declaring myself ready to move into Notre Dame and begin my daily internship as resident bell-ringer.

I'm just saying, I never won any beauty contests.



Literally the one beauty contest I ever entered (Junior Miss) issued me one award, Best Interview. I was proud of taking away the contest's only intellectual prize then and I'm proud of it now. In fact, I've always embraced my place on the spectrum of female beauty. Somewhere in between “Not a Hag” and “Almost Pretty with the Help of Professional Hair and Makeup”. After all, my idea of getting dressed up usually involves cosplay as a male character from sci-fi films. So...

When all the other girls in Junior Miss were singing SHOWTUNES *jazz hands* and tap dancing with feather boas during the talent competition, I wrote my very own Mary Catherine Gallagher sketch and threw myself so hard onto a metal folding chair I had a bruise for a month. 

So turning thirty one and having a few wrinkles on my forehead and gray hairs glinting out from my roots is no blow to my ego.

However, one memory has been rising. I kept swatting it away like it was a fly. Or let's be honest, anything with wings in my general vicinity. I'm not brave when it comes to the great outdoors. The only thing that wouldn't give me a near heart attack if it came flying by my head in the woods was a hastily tossed twinkie. Still, if you glued wings to that thing, I'd be screaming and wind-milling my arms like I was in an 80's aerobics video.

Here is the memory: Once, on an icy frigid Indiana morning, a kindly neighbor gave me a ride to grade school in his truck. He got into the driver's side, his two daughters climbed into the middle of the giant front seat and I hopped in last and closed the passenger door behind me. On my right thumb.

It hurt. My entire thumb was stuck in the door. I just...looked at it and decided not to say anything. After all, it was only a few blocks to school. It would be out in no time. I turned to face front and when I did, in my peripheral vision, I saw our neighbor and his daughters staring at me, horrified.

I smiled at them. With any luck, they were just captivated by my really bad bowl cut. (My mother actually used a stainless steel cake-batter bowl to get that precision look. Did I mention I used to get my hair cut on the front porch of our house?)

“Is that your thumb in the door?” the middle daughter asked, her side ponytail jostled just a bit as she talked. She was all shiny Air Jordans and fluorescent colors and new, new, new. She was beautiful. They were all beautiful.

“What?” I replied, playing it cool. My adrenaline was pumping now, not because of my thumb, which was now pulsating with cartoon-level pain. Fight or flight had kicked in because they saw me shut my thumb in the door. And then leave it there.

The whole neighborhood already thought I was the second coming of Wednesday Addams, the weirdest little weirdo who ever weirded. I blame my pre-goth movement gothness. Every Halloween I was a dead something. Didn't even matter what it was. Dead bride. Dead mad scientist. I was on a real kick.

It started in second grade, because in first grade I asked to go as a bunch of grapes and wound up crying all the way home from trick-or-treating because everyone kept calling me Fruit of the Loom. Somehow, choosing dead scary costumes forever after equaled me reasserting my dignity.

So I was weird. My leaving my thumb stuck in a truck door and showing no signs of distress was not going to help matters if it got around.

So I played it cool, “Huh? Look at that. Whoops!” I opened the door, calmly removed my thumb, which was happily housed in a thick knitted mitten, and shut the door again. I looked back at them and laughed a little, shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes like, “What are you gonna do? The old 'body part slammed shut in a car door' problem.” I tried to act like it was no big deal. A common malady.

I find this “thumb in the door” memory intriguing. Because I was never the kid who could pass the “tie a loose tooth to a string and attach that string to a doorknob and slam the door to rip out your tooth” rite of passage. I was every inch the puny little wuss. So how, HOW did I survive my entire thumb stuck in a truck door without even the thought of shedding a tear? 

It has to do with me always putting the feelings of others first. I think. Or being more concerned with what people think of me than I what I think of myself? I mean. I don't know. Who am I, Freud? I haven't figured it out yet. Unlike so many other writers, I write (See: ramble) to discover. Not to explain things that I have deduced all tied up in a dainty literary bow. 

So, in summation, I have a problem opening and closing doors. What can I say? I'm not just average looking, I'm also incredibly psychologically odd. 

So here comes the segue. Still today, if I'm hurting, I just keep on truckin'. In fact, I truck even harder. I truck like a semi. Or one of those giant trucks that's actually a Transformer.

So where's the pain right now? Why would that memory pop up in conjunction with an impending birthday? (I've decided that birthdays are forthcoming until you are thirty, after that, they are impending. Like doom.)

Here comes the seemingly unrelated third item that is actually, in fact, related. I started crying when I stumbled across a news item regarding David Foster Wallace the other day. It said something about how some of his previously unknown writing from his twenties was published. It wasn't very good.

I cried tears of relief. I worked so hard in my twenties to get published. Everywhere. Magazines, websites, newspapers. I just wanted to see my name in print. But I don't think any of it was very good. I know most of it wasn't very good.

I also know I'm capable of more. If a genius like David Foster Wallace could spend his twenties toiling his way through awkward sentence structures and unclear metaphors, then perhaps there's hope for me too. 

I've been writing all year. After my last birthday, I decided to back off of blogging and focus on more intensive projects. I struggled until February, when I finally found my momentum and started a comic book, a short film, a live show, a screenplay and (GASP!) a private journal.

So here's to thirty-one. Here's to being alive and winning the interview award and taking our thumbs out of doors.


*When I wrote this the first time, it was nineteen days until I turned thirty-one. When I re-drafted, it was fifteen days. Know why I didn't publish it? I WAS AFRAID OF WHAT PEOPLE WOULD THINK.

And yes, I know I used a lot of caps (which is the internet equivalent of shouting) and parentheses and improper quotation marks. And even some exclamation points and sentence fragments. And, I've been starting a lot of sentences with the word "and". Also, there was an unprovoked, and surprisingly hostile fight with spell check while drafting.

But if you can't let your guard down on your own blog, you're doing it wrong. 

Someday soon, I'm going to just start throwing unnecessary umlauts around and all my buddies from grad school will hold an intervention. Or an exorcism. In German. 

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