It's been a few weeks since the traumatic day arrived, but for some reason I can't seem to shake the feeling. Of course many of my friends laugh it off, saying "You're still a baby...call us when you hit the half century mark." Okay, so maybe they are right, but for me, 39 is a big year. Not quite 40, but it might as well be. "How old are you," someone asks. And now I have to reply with the dreaded figure. "Oh sure," they grin. "39 and holding, right?" Wink, wink.
I asked another friend, who is a few years my junior, if we had hit middle age. I always thought it was much later in life, but apparently I have arrived. There is no crisis. Just a bit of unease, wondering how I ended up here. This life looks nothing like what I had anticipated some 20 years ago.
To make myself even more miserable, I flipped through my college photo albums and found pictures of my 19th birthday. Cute boyfriend (who turned out to be gay), best friend, long stem red roses, and a cake fight in the dorm room. Ah, what mixed emotions those memories evoke. I looked into my 20-year-ago face peering out at me from those photos, cake frosting dripping from my chin, and wanted to holler at her, "Get ready...you've got some ugly years ahead of you!!" I suppose it really wouldn't have made a difference. At that age, I had the world on a leash. Nothing could get in the way of my dreams.
No cake fight this year, though my mother bought me my favorite - white cake with whipped cream icing - from the neighborhood grocery. No party either. A few birthday cards still line my library shelves. I guess it's time to put them away.
It's just a number. I keep telling myself that. But somehow at some point the world broke free of my leash.