As many of you are no doubt aware, Monday after next I’ll be turning 35. Dave too – funny that. Anyhoo, I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few weeks, and must admit I’m surprised at how little I actually give a shit about this ‘milestone’ year in contrast to the previous ones…
I vividly remember the card my mother sent me on my 18th birthday, reminding me to be careful as I was now old enough to be tried as an adult. It felt like such a big deal to be legally an adult, despite the fact that, while I was now eligible to vote, marry, get drafted, go to prison, and enter into binding contracts, I wasn’t about to do any of those things. The drinking age was still 20, so I was still just a kid in the eyes of the only people that really mattered (bouncers). And in hindsight that’s all I really was – a kid.
I know turning 20 hasn’t been much of a big deal since that the drinking age was lowered to 18, but it was back then. I remember proudly presenting my driver’s license to a doorman at a club in Auckland, only to be refused entry because the licenses at the time showed the month but not day of birth. “Your birthday could be next week, ” he grinned, before waving me inside. I kept the “fuck you, door monkey” to myself on that occasion, partly due to my keen sense of self-preservation, but mostly because most of my mates were still underage. I was 20 now, and they couldn’t keep me out anymore (this was before they invented Spy Bar), but there was a definite sense of loss at the end of my teens. I was convinced for years that 19 was the coolest age I had ever been – best physical condition, least responsibility, most active socially… and then it was over. Twenty. Gotta grow up now, hey son? (Turns out that I didn’t – 20 was also the year that I got expelled from university, but that’s a story for another post).
Turning 21 was a big deal, but it is for everyone I suppose. For me it was the beginning of a big adventure, and a fantastic, chaotic chain of events that has added inestimable richness to my life. I moved to Queenstown and went snowboarding every single day for a whole season. I met a guy in a bar who offered me a job in Auckland, which lead me back to University, a first-class Master’s degree, and an amazing career. I have no idea what my life would be like now were it not for some of the choices I made at 21, and it’s both comforting and frightening to look back at how flippantly some of those decisions were made.
When I hit 30, the only big deal as far as I was concerned was that it seemed like such a big deal to everyone else. We had a big party (interesting way to find out that your Dad really knows how to handle a gun), but I distinctly remember the anticlimax when it dawned on me that the day after was exactly the same as the day before. I was officially into my fourth decade, but I didn’t feel any different. Ironically, this was the first of the ‘big years’ where I felt young and stupid but actually wasn’t. I have since reasoned that the yearning for my late teens that I felt in my early twenties is something akin to a veteran’s reminiscence of battle. Fuck that – I wouldn’t be that stupid again for all the tea in China! How in the hell I escaped death and/or imprisonment is beyond me.
So now, as I approach the big three five, I’m finding that I actually really like who I am, where I am, the choices I’ve made (even, and some might say especially, the bad ones) and what lies ahead. My one regret isn’t for myself and the lost opportunities of my youth (although I do agree that the indiscretions a man regrets most later in life tend to be the ones he failed to make when he had the chance), but for the many friends I’ve had over the years who never got the chance to grow old at all. I close my eyes and try to picture the face of an old school friend who died in a motorcycle accident when we were at university. On the one hand it’s disturbing how hard it’s getting to recall what he looked like. Was it that long ago? Could we really have been that close, if I’m forgetting him already? Will I fade from memory like this when I’m gone? On the other hand, the face I do remember is still just 21 years old, and that’s what bothers me the most – he should be 35 too!
So on the 19th of January all you young pups can feel free to point out the spare tyre I’ve grown, and kid me about the heat radiating from my cake (hint hint Simonne!). You can do all that and more, because I really don’t give a shit. I’ll be thinking about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to celebrate yet another milestone birthday, and toasting the memory of friends who weren’t so lucky.
Have yourselves a great weekend.