The things that taunt me these days are not rational. A bright and sparkly helium balloon, teasingly affectionate greeting cards, the number 50.
There it is. The number 50. It’s emblazoned on the balloon, stamped across the front of the cards, and on just about everyone’s lips who knows me well, and even on the lips of those who barely know me at all.
The balloon and the cards have come to me from well-meaning friends and family members, all kindly remembering my impending birthday. They’re taking the time to choose cards and send them in the mail. They’re spending money on balloons and flowers and sumptuous dinners.
I’m grateful. And touched. Really, I am. And I would absolutely love all the attention, good will and gifts, if only they weren’t attached to that number.
I’ve always had a quirky relationship with numbers, which has nothing to do with age. I like even numbers better than odd ones, have affection for multiples of four more so than five.
Numbers like 37 and 23 make me cringe. But I’ve mostly not minded double digits, with the added exception of 29, 30 and anything after 40.
I am OK with 40, though. In fact I’m more than OK with it. I like it as a number, loved it as an age. I celebrated 40 for a whole year and would gladly do it all over again.
But 50? I’m flummoxed by 50.
I didn’t expect to be upset about this millstone of a birthday – and no, that’s not a typo. Fifty may well be a milestone, but it feels more like a weight on my shoulders. A millstone, dragging me down.
I tell myself that 50 is the new 40, but I don’t really believe it to be true of me. At 40, I felt energetic and alive. I can’t really remember any aches or pains.
As 50 approaches, I keep hearing that Leonard Cohen line in my head. You know, the one about aching in the places where we used to play. It’s so true it hurts.
Paul Simon has been taking up space in my head, too. I find myself humming “there must be 50 ways to leave your lover,” at the oddest moments. I know full well this song has not wormed its way into my head because I need to cast off a lover.
No. It’s 50 that’s got a hold on me. And I would dearly love to cast it off.
I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t going to like 50. A couple of years ago, while celebrating a post -45 birthday with my twentysomthing nieces, they asked me if I was enjoying my increasing age (cheeky youngsters).
I told them, mostly, yes, but that middle age (oh, how I hate that term) was causing me to think about my own morality. Their raised eyebrows caused me to think about what I’d just said. Oops, mortality, would be the word I was chasing in my brain.
I’m chasing far too many elusive words these days, not to mention people’s names, and phone numbers, and passwords and where I put small pieces of paper with reminders written on them.
So many things disappear as quickly as I try to remember them. I don’t even want to think about what that might mean.
But no one is letting me forget 50.
The clerk at the motor vehicle registration office looked at my driver’s license application the other day and congratulated me on my upcoming birthday. The insurance adjuster suggested I might get a break on insurance, given my dignified age.
My sister has been telling me for years that everything really does go down hill after 50. She’s a doctor so I think she likely knows a thing or two about this aging process. She’s also walked this road ahead of me and is on a fitness kick these days to reverse – or at least hold at bay – all that wants to fall down around her heels.
I’ve believed for years that age is just a state of mind. In my head, I’ve always been 25. What worries me as 50 approaches is that I’ll stop believing because there’s so much evidence to the contrary.
The evidence, rational or not, taunts me. There’s only one thing to do. Excuse me, while I go burst that balloon.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritime living in Toronto. Her column appears on Friday. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.