Staring down the barrel …

… of a 45.   Or today, more accurately, simply of 45.
As in years.

Send away for a priceless gift
One not subtle, one not on the list

Birthdays are pretty cool things when you’re young.  Every year seems like a big deal when you’re little.   10 is cool because you get to double digits.  13 feels pretty incredible.  15 teases you with a learner’s permit.  16 actually lets you drive & you likely get your first taste of freedom. 18 is pretty big, 21 is massive.

A constant  through a lot of those birthdays – other than close family always being there I mean – was getting the same primary present for years:  a complete set of Topps baseball cards for the new season.  One of my earliest lightbulb moments was figuring out that the annual set cost was right in the birthday gift sweet spot.  What I didn’t realize was that I’d look back 30+ years later and still remember the anticipation and anxiety that went with waiting to see if UPS showed up with them on/before my birthday.  The thrill of seeing those 500 or so pieces of cardboard, each one so familiar and yet brand new (and unstained by some of the world’s worst bubblegum) was one that was rarely matched.

Send away for a perfect world
One not simply, so absurd

The birthdays that follow can, under certain circumstances anyway, become a bit of a blur.  But for me, even with some standard ups & downs (and a few less standard ones maybe), they were generally no big deal at worst, even fun times occasionally.  One of those even featured the only birthday party of sorts ever thrown for me by anybody that didn’t raise me.

Before anybody thinks I’m complaining or anything, let it be known that I’m not a birthday party guy by nature, kind of like I’m not really much of a holiday person either, but to this day that random act of kindness still stands out in my memory as one of the coolest birthdays ever.   It actually had quite a few elements of an unmitigated disaster as it turned out — a story that I’ll withhold the details of to protect both the guilty and the innocent — but the thought behind it was very very cool.

And then the tide started to shift.

In these times of doing what you’re told
Keep these feelings, no one knows

Turning 30 about drove me nuts.  Err, nuttier than usual that is.  I worried, I fretted, I obsessed.  I was depressed going into it and coming out of it.  It’s fair to say that I grieved over it.   That was the first time that a birthday really bothered me, I didn’t like the way it felt in the slightest.  It was actually in a pretty good place in my life at the time but the symbolic nature of The Big 3-0 was more than I was eager to contemplate.  I had a phrase that covered it pretty well, had been using it for years, but at that point I really felt it … “I don’t miss the things I used to do but I sure miss the enthusiasm I did them with.”

I suppose I was just suffering from the usual combination of having delayed-onset-adulthood and the simple practical math of reaching somewhere around the tipping point of {gasp} middle age.  You know, that point where you realize there’s probably as much behind you as in front of you.

Little did I know.

Send a message to the unborn child
Keep your eyes open for a while
In a box high up on the shelf, left for you, no one else
There’s a piece of a puzzle known as life
Wrapped in guilt, sealed up tight

My 31st birthday was pretty much an afterthought.  Three days later I became a father.   I’m not sure I’ve given much thought to my own birthday very often since. That’s probably what shook me out of those 30-year-old blahs as much as anything.  I was too busy, too stressed, too anxious to be worried about getting old(er).  Talk about benchmark birthdays like 13 or 21 seems downright silly in comparison to how your life changes because of someone else’s birthday.

Apparently time moves a lot faster once you have a child of your own, because most of my own birthdays that have followed run together pretty thoroughly and anonymously.   Still, that sense of fleeting time that came to me with 30 certainly impacted on the ones that followed.   One way to sum up a chunk of my parenting philosophy might be “give them everything you can while you can”.   And by “everything” I don’t mean what you want them to have nearly so much as I mean things you want them to know.  The cold reality that you have no guarantee of another minute yourself, much less another year or years, adds a sense of urgency to that mission.  Sobering thought, downright depressing if you think about it too much or too long, but I believe it’s a valuable perspective to keep.

What ever happened to the young man’s heart?
Swallowed by pain, as he slowly fell apart

Among the birthdays that just kinda came & went was one that’s often a big deal to people: 40.  Truth is, it didn’t really bother me at all.  I think I cracked a few jokes about it even, just didn’t seem like anything to worry about.   I figured that was a sign that I had reached another milestone, the point in life where you’re sorta relieved (surprised?) to have stuck around for another one, might as well enjoy it.  But that brings me to a question: if 40 was no big deal then why does 45 have me kind of disturbed?

It’s not as though I’m obsessing about it like I did back at 30.  Truth is the exact timing of it didn’t really hit me full on until sometime on the 12th, I’m bad about knowing the date at any given moment like that (sign of old age maybe?  Nah, I’ve always been bad at that).  This is more like a sense of dread, the kind that causes you to sigh deeply,  distracted by a sense of general discomfort.

And I’m staring down the barrel of a 45,
And I’m swimming through the ashes of another life

What’s that old saying, about how the only constant is change?  I could probably figure out some way to handle that (like there’s a choice?) … but it’d be a sight easier and more pleasant if there was a little variety, this downhill stuff gets pretty old after a while.  I’ve taken my share of trips down memory lane over the past 15 years or so and, in doing so I can see the various eras in my life in pretty sharp definition.  I’ll skip the laundry list & my pet names for them, just acknowledging them should suffice for our purposes here.   Point is, there’s pretty clear transitions between one phase and the next … and I think I feel another one coming on.  Not in a mid-life crisis sense (do the math folks, “mid-life” was quite a ways back for me most likely), I’m pretty sure this is something … else.

My hair & my eyesight are racing to abandon me.  I’ve seen one career path become overgrown & peter out, the latest ain’t been the healthiest for the past few years either.   It dawned on me recently that I’ll probably go to more funerals in my future than weddings & births combined.   News in general is routinely too depressing for heavy consumption even for a junkie like me.  I feel like being “pissed off and mad about it” … except I don’t seem to have the energy to actually be mad about it.  What’s missing from the picture is  somebody else’s kids in my yard for me to shake my fist at while I’m shooing them away.   One day follows the next and at this point I feel like a passenger on the Titanic staring at the water thinking “that sure looks cold”.  Lest anybody go down the whole “so change it then” path here, I’m pretty sure those passengers would have loved to have kept the ship afloat,  reality had something else in mind.

There is no real reason to accept the way things have changed
Staring down the barrel of a 45*

It’s not like I don’t have my share of things to be happy/thankful/grateful about.  Got a great kid, a great wife, truly blessed to have both my parents still with me.  I may not see a lot of friends regularly, but I’m more connected to them on the whole than I’ve been in many many years (thank you Facebook).  Heck, I even make new ones now & again and they’re great (you gotta be pretty good to get there, I’m a tough crowd).
I still find pleasure in a few things too, technology has made my interests in both music and games (video/computer) more accessible than ever.  Still a couple of biggies left on my bucket list (will scratch one of those off with Will in a couple of months, good Lord willing), the list is kinda short at this point but I’m not going anywhere (willingly anyway) ’til it’s complete.   I don’t have much in the way of actual regrets either, or at least “too few to mention”.

In the end (with a nod to Jimmy Buffet),  maybe I should have called this “A Grumpy Guy Looks at 45” …  I just don’t much care for the way it’s been looking back at me.

*For those who may not recognize them, the really good words in italics belong to Shinedown.  I get the blame for the meandering stuff in between.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Staring down the barrel …

  1. Pingback: A day that will live … | Jon's Three Cents

  2. Pingback: Here’s Looking At … You | Jon's Three Cents

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