>When I turned seventeen, I wasn’t ready to be seventeen. My mom told me I could be sixteen again if I wanted. Age, however, isn’t like a suit. You can’t shed it. You can lie about it, you can pretend it’s something else, but in the end it is what it is.
Age is also a number, but it’s less of a social construction than other things. The planet really does revolve around the sun and, in a few more days, it will have been twenty-four revolutions since I was born.
I’m not ready to be twenty-four.
Twenty-four isn’t old. It’s only one more than twenty-three, and two more than twenty-two. It’s twenty-one more than three, which is the first age I remember being. In a sense, I’m going to be twenty-one, if I only count the years I remember.
My grandfather died right around his birthday, which is today. My mother was born thirteen days and some number of years after he was. My birthday is some number of years and less than thirteen days between theirs. I think about this every year, as the month of May ticks by and I feel an impossible, inevitable, inescapable threat of being older.
I don’t know what scares me so much about age, but I am terrified by it. I am struck deeply with the fear of the numbers changing. I don’t mind getting older in a day-to-day sense, and that’s really what counts. I look at myself in the mirror and have accepted that my hair will turn grey and my eyes will form lines. Creases will form on either side of my mouth. I will stop being older and I will be old.
But, plenty of people have done this. The ones that haven’t have died. The ones that have have died.
That’s sort of how it works.
While I didn’t mean to muse on my own mortality–I intended to write about baking blueberry pie last night–I found myself thinking about my grandfather and my own age.
B, my grandfather, grew up as a Jew in Baltimore. He joined the military. He accidentally became an officer during the war and married an Australian woman. He was so old by the time I met him that I grew up with this idea of untouchable age. He died around his birthday in 2002. He was never quite a real person to me, I was too young to really understand death and too young to really understand that he existed.
Only recently has my concept of object-permanence grown to a point where I understand that people are real: before I met them, they had lives not just stories, when I don’t see them, they still live. But he had a life that I could only experience through my tendency to wander around his house and look through drawers and boxes. I used to take everything out of them and try to put it back exactly as I found it. There was a section of the house full of nice things. I liked to sleep there. They had statues of trees with quartz instead of leaves. They had a large Japanese cabinet set full of china that I was scared to open, but did anyway when I thought no one else was around. He and my grandmother kept cookies around, seven layer cookies usually. I think he liked them, I don’t remember.
I can’t really tell you a single thing he liked, aside from his family, and I wasn’t always sure he liked that.
When I was younger, I thought he and my grandmother were going to get a divorce because they fought all the time. It seems silly, I guess, to be in your mid-eighties and get a divorce. I asked them this once and then they stopped fighting when I could hear it. I don’t know if they still did fight, but I never heard it anymore.
After his first stroke, but before he died, he gave me his wedding ring. It was the last time I saw him. I didn’t know what to do with it or how to take this. My mom told me to give it to her, that she’d keep it for me, and I resented her for that for years. When I got older and got it back, I wore it as a necklace. Suddenly, it was sweet that I kept it with me. I resented her for that too.
My birthday is equally marked by my own birth as it is by my grandfather’s death. So far, I have had more death-free birthdays than ones where death is so obviously next to me, but these will soon be out weighed. It’s already been nine years. I expect I’ll live for at least six more.