With utmost frivolity: I know I look good for my age. Friends’ and bollycaos’ recent estimates have ranged between 34 and 42, but they do of course have a vested interest (judge me objectively at your own risk!). Nonetheless, my esthetician, who knows my every inch and pore, clocked me at 40 (though I’m not sure her GASP when I said 49 was necessarily reassuring).
Of course, there is the obvious. With age my weight has crept up; my tummy and I are NOT on friendly terms. Still, like many an olive-skinned woman (or is that many an overweight gal), I have barely a facial wrinkle. I tend to age by freckling and already figured out, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS, that freckles can be zapped right off your skin! (Thank you, Universe, now send a belly fat-melting laser that actually works, please.)
In any case, things could be worse. Beauty-wise (if not financially) I’m proud–vain, even–to have turned my few assets into a well-managed portfolio. Because although money is no object (that I have), I spare no conceivable or inconceivable expense on luxurious hair color (my Ana!); waxing/beauty treatments (my Angela!); well-cut clothes to hide or accent the right parts (Donna Karan IS my friend!); good accessories to draw attention away from the waist situation (sunglasses, jewelry, handbags, shoes). I wear very little makeup, but then there are those fabulous pure Vitamin C ampoules… Ten years of higher education and giving away my first-born were well-worth sacrifices for the lifestyle.
Health-wise, things couldn’t be better! Though life is too short to live on a diet, I eat quality fresh ingredients, no processed crap, and absolutely NO calories from food I don’t thoroughly enjoy (sorry–if I have to wear it on my ass I might as well savor it). I exercise regularly (if moderately). And if I’ve perfected the art of balancing a glass of wine during my elliptical workout… what the hell, it’s antioxidant. So far (knock on wood, for how long?), my blood sugar, my cholesterol, my blood pressure: all ideal. There was, of course, the Unfortunate 2013 Broken Neck Incident, but–knock on wood again–at this point an early death seems most likely from breaking the rest doing something I shouldn’t be doing (or riding a pretty pony, which I totally should).
So, while I’m sure not the last Coke in the desert, at least some days, if the lighting is just right and I’m not suffering from the unspeakable cruelty of simultaneous dry skin and a zit, I look in the mirror and feel like the FUCKING FAIREST ONE OF ALL. Late bloomer (insofar as I bloomed at all), it’s made my 40s REALLY AWESOME.
BUT, BUT, BUT, BUT, BUT!!!!!
The thing is: as conceited (conceited!) and egocentrical as I’ve gotten, it’s never felt either natural or destined to fade gradually and gracefully, Helen Mirren-style. More Dorian Gray, in sooth–fabricated and purloined. And doomed to crumble to the ground in a huge explosion of dust like so:
On a very particular day, like for example MY FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY!
And so, as the fateful day approached, I kept working myself into a frenzy, counting each day of my remaining life of beauty and health and fun. I went into a melancholic literary retrospective, searching for the meaning of life and some inspirational message to convince me that 50 is a beautiful age to be; that it would make me a wise and vital creature from a time much more exciting than now. Which it does, actually, BUT, BUT, BUT!!!… Every time I almost had myself convinced, the world conspired against me like so, and so:
At some point after people started incessantly asking how I was planning to celebrate, I became aware that “Screw You” was not an appropriate answer. Also that sitting at home alone drinking my cares away as I double-checked that my breasts are still in the general vicinity of where they started out was going to be even more depressing than coming up with some properly commemorative project. I decided (with as little enthusiasm as humanly possible) that I should go spend the date with my mom given that, since I moved to the U. S. at 16 and work an academic calendar, my September birthday means we’re never in the same place for the occasion. At least that would be meaningful, if dangerous (as no two earthlings have more opposed desires / ideas about how things should be done, or more resemble each other in Bitch on Wheels mode).
The plan was, first and foremost, NO PARTIES. My Beloved Maman, Lady F, is not one to contain her enthusiasm, and I did not want my 50th to turn into this:
or, for that matter, this:
(even if I was such a pretty quinceañera in the throes of misguided teenage love).
At 50, I would have an intimate family-only gathering at home on the actual date (9/24). For the weekend (9/26-28), I’d rent a boat or a beach house with a strict single handful of friends, headed by my two best buddies from long ago and far away, Miss LG and Miss I. Exacting instructions were issued to Lady F: un bizcochito en casa con las nenas y nada más. As for the weekend plan, I found this lovely, lovely, lovely BEACH FRONT, WATER FRONT, STILT HOUSE.
So what was the first thing I encountered upon arrival, courtesy of my Beloved Maman???? Well, WADDAYAKNOW, a surprise party!
A party at a tasty, trendy restaurant with a bitchin’ beach view. The kind of elegant party for which you’d normally buy a dress, have your hair coiffed, get a mani-pedi (all of which I–OF ALL PEOPLE!–had skipped for the bizcochito/beach weekend). Even as I dashed from my afternoon beach walk to Edwin Scissor Hands salon that I’d never heard of down the street for a $25 emergency blow-dry (he did a damn good job, I must say), Miss LG texted that her husband was ailing and she may not be able to stay the whole weekend at the beach house, and Miss I that she may not stay either so as to drive Miss LG back home. Of the remaining single handful, Mr. R and Mistress Yodalina, respectively, had weekend work assignments, and Mr. P and Miss E happened to be in Boston: I might get to sit all by myself contemplating the southward migration of everything after all. I had also invited my family down for the day on Saturday, but my aunt wasn’t feeling up to it, my mom was wary of the drive, and my godson (child of my cousin Mc who always comes with my cousin Mm or not at all) had fallen ill with something called chikungunya I’d also never heard of, but was myself in danger of contracting from the certain mosquito invasion at the BEACH FRONT WATER FRONT STILT HOUSE forecast by my mom. As my marvelous NYC friends texted wondering why we had no plans for my birthday, it seemed clear that this had been my worst idea EVER.
To (uncharacteristically) make a long story short, that’s not the way it all worked out. Lady F kept it this side of too much. I had a delightful party with delectable food and the company of my close-knit (we’ll go with close-knit rather than suffocating) but DEAR family (I did deeply miss my older cousin and almost exact contemporary Miss A, and my younger aunt Miss S whom I will love forever), and friends who’ve witnessed my entire life and might somehow make sense (if it can be made!) of my being FIFTY–which was just what I wanted. Although I was, at times, overwhelmed,
and no one had any doubt that I DO NOT WANT TO BE FIFTY YEARS OLD,
a good time was had by all:
Somehow I survived,
And after the tasty, trendy, elegant party there was pool at a nearby dive of course:
The beach weekend was equally successful. Everyone showed up. Husbands recovered, children shunned their mothers, and no one left earlier than planned. There were no hurricanes (this is significant–believe me, they’ve ruined my vacation plans before). The BEACH FRONT WATER FRONT STILT HOUSE was to-die-for:
Miss I, below, was an ANGEL. She drove us around, she speaks Puerto Rican (got our business done everywhere when I was, like, WTF), she got us early check-in and late check-out, she organized our grocery-shopping and found us the nice village restaurants, she cooked, she commandeered our Saturday rental boat, she HANDLED LADY F (when I was, like, WTF)…
Miss LG… well, she set the style standard for our Golden Girls getaway:
As for me, I coasted along through mangrove paradise, safe in the knowledge that my girls had my back.
All of which gave me a newfound confidence! It’s not that I don’t know everything that’s hanging out and jiggling up there; it’s that somehow it doesn’t matter as much as it did just a week ago. The place, the people, the time, the fact that I’ve made it this far all of a sudden matter more.
As Miss I drove me back to my mother’s house, by chance we passed the exact place where I was born:
In 1964, it was the San Juan City Hospital. In 2014, it is the Puerto Rican Museum of Art (so fitting!). A perfect ending to a perfect birthday weekend, all about finding… what? On Tuesday night, the eve of my birthday, my mom told me the following (never-before heard) story: while she was home with contractions on such an evening fifty years earlier, waiting for my father (a musician) to come home, she was sure the ghost of a man named Xifré who had committed suicide in her office building (but was not really her friend) appeared to and sat beside her, reassuring her that everything would be fine.
That makes NO SENSE, of course, except for the absurdity of finding comfort in the absurd, and in not understanding anything at all. In that vein, I don’t know why or how, but this birthday weekend almost had its logic–if I came to this world under the protection of a random suicide ghost, WHAT ELSE COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG????
In the end, it was also about feeling the love (even if the love has been known to drive me nuts):
And also about Lady F here channeling Sofía Vergara boding well to reassure me about my 70th…
Speaking of the love, before I end this, I must talk about Mistress Yodalina,
another lifelong friend. Inexplicably, I used to tail behind her when I (class of ’81) was about eight years old and she (class of ’76) was about fourteen, and she didn’t shake me off. There was something about her (independence, achievement, smarts, strength, caring, OOMPH) that I related to even as a wee babe. And she’s still here to help me make sense of it all. She is a gift from the gods–a photojournalist, and isn’t a professional photographer friend the best thing the Universe could bestow upon anyone???? But also A GODSEND, who made me the best birthday gift of all: the slide show at the beginning of this post. She got it for me, that’s what makes sense. As the Silvio Rodríguez lyrics say,
at the end of the journey there’s you and I, intact. / Those of us left will be the ones who can smile / in the midst of death, in broad daylight.
I still have to celebrate with my other cherished friends: the Puerto Rico/youth crowd who are scattered across the globe, the NYC bunch, the Barcelona-Bilbao connection, the Norway Brat Pack, the Syracuse Sirens, the Hopkins pals, my Harvard brethren, my former PhDs, the DC-Richmond Boys, the New Zealand devil, Ursula, Cruella, OohLaLa, Mr. V, my mirror friends Miss H and Mariita, Miss L, y’all know who you are!!! There’s still the chance that a precious Chippendales-clad brainy but sweet bollycao will jump out of a giant birthday cake for me (what I really wanted for my birthday, let’s face it). I’m still going to be a frivolous, vain Bitch on Wheels worried about all the wrong things. A badass cowgirl midlife crisis is still in the forecast. But this weekend was OK.