Somewhere, 36,000 feet over the northern New Mexico desert, the realization sets in: he’s gone, she’s gone. At least for the next 21 days.
There’d have a been a time when that wouldn’t have meant much, except maybe 21 days of freedom, or maybe some casual sense that a well-needed rest lay ahead.
But now everything is laden with meaning; my mind constantly churning, absorbing, processing. My own changing health, my age, my parents’ age, a continual countdown to an unknown date.
And still there is so much to live.
I recently had the conversation with a friend: “People used to give up, settle in, assume at a certain age that their life was what it was – and that was it.”
“My mom did that,” this friend said. “It’s like one day she traded in her pants for mom pants and said, ‘I’m too old.”
And then again, just yesterday, over a beer with a lifelong friend, the two story of not one, but two divorces. One partner going (or staying) in one direction, the other going in another.
We bounce and bounce over the clouds of southwestern monsoons.
Bounce and bounce like the thoughts in my mind.
I text him, my son, and her, my daughter: “See you in three weeks. Miss you already. Love you.”
* * *
They’re at the age now where I don’t want the days to slip, to leave, to glide like an easy Sunday.
They’re funny and charismatic and full of love.
They’re not broken like the real people in the book I just completed – people broken by banks and the judicial system, by failed politicians with failed promises.
Summer is swimming at the lake and bicycles and Otter Pops and movies curled up in a blanket. Summer is intoxicating and endless. Summer is freedom; freedom like we never taste again.
My mom and dad – who have my kids in the state I’m leaving on this jet, New Jersey – get a little taste of that now. Heidi and I get a taste of what it might be like when they’re on their own – in college and beyond.
My daughter texts back – pinging the airplane’s WiFi as we glide towards the Arizona border six miles over the ground below. “I love you night” … then, seconds later, one of those bitmojis, a picture of herself she had created, with the caption, “Hittin’ the Hay”
* * *
Now I’m home. It’s eight days later; eight long – and short – days without the kids. Heidi and I have had a Wednesday night date night, playing trivia, with my sister and her husband.
We gathered at a bar a few days later, with a group of friends dating back to the start of college 22 years ago.
We’ve had dinners alone and just-because-we-can drinks at pubs down the street. We reorganized the kitchen (thanks Container Store) and spent July 4th playing volleyball in a swimming pool with friends so good it makes it clear, Phoenix is the only place to be.
I can’t leave these people. They’re what gives life meaning.
* * *
All of these impromptu meetings have left a lot of room for conversation – for delving into what the next half looks like.
On Wednesday, I turn 40.
And while I’m not one to dwell on age, or what it means, there is something there.
The first six months of 2016 have been like no other. I’ve been sick more than I’ve ever been sick – nagging things like colds, an allergies and aches. So many inexplicable aches. But also, the anxiety.
No doubt, I’ve navigated through the worst of it. But no doubt, it’s also there.
Every. Single. Day.
When I mow the lawn. When I ride my bike. When I try to sleep. When I wake up.
An ache in my center chest; a racing pulse.
You know when it’s not there? When my mind is so preoccupied (i.e. playing volleyball in a pool when its 113 degrees outside and the water is 93 degrees) that I realize it’s not physical, it’s all mental. Deep, deep worry buried well within my subconscious.
I’ve worked hard to control it; and already I’ve learned a lot: Eat well, sleep well, lay off the booze, keep it simple.
But the sea of things to worry about at 40, or 50, or 60, is pretty significant.
There’s our own health, our kids’ health, our parents’ health (if we’re so blessed). Bills and jobs, friends and responsibilities, and work, work, work.
There’s the tasks of everyday life, the risks in everything we do – driving, eating, drinking, trying to have a little fun.
It’s no wonder we’re such freaking train wrecks.
What’s amazed me the most is that, as I’ve shared, I’ve learned – holy shit – anxiety is a problem that plagues many of us.
On one hand, I’ve been amazed by the many people who have tackled it head on and said: yeah, I had to deal with it: I’m on (fill in the blank) now.
Me? I can’t even bring myself to the doctor to talk about it. I’m convinced I can still power myself through it.
Though I doubt this.
One thing, here at 40, that I have to address is whether I actually have high blood pressure.
I paused, mid-blog, to take my blood pressure with a device I bought on Amazon for $39.95.
The result? Pretty good: 120 over 78.
Maybe all that running, and swimming and biking these last two months is making a difference.
Sure doesn’t feel like that inside.
* * *
Mostly, though, the questions are even deeper than the physical.
At a bar on Thursday, with a close friend who I’ve not been nearly close enough to over the last 18 months, I listened intently as he shared with me his next couple months.
House renovations, a trip with his wife, a business trip to Calcutta.
This friend has always been well-adjusted. When I was certain parenthood required perfectionism, he convinced me parenthood required exactly the opposite.
The key, he explained: being yourself.
It’s been among the three or four most valuable lessons I’ve ever absorbed.
I came home from that happy hour, poured a big glass of bourbon and lost myself on the back patio. Woke up the next morning, and did absolutely nothing with my life – career wise, anyway – until I took advantage of a freakish, sub 95-degree day in the July desert, and had an outdoor cocktail with Heidi.
Afterwards, we walked the RoRo (Roosevelt Row) District of Phoenix during First Friday, stopped in at a store where a friend of mine was the featured artist, and bought one of his pieces of work.
We went home, called it an early night, and woke up to fresh coffee and simple household chores.
It made sense in the context of what I told that Calcutta-bound, well-adjusted friend: “As I get older, I realize what makes me happy is the simple: Beers with friends, a run, a bike, a swim. International cities? I don’t need much of that.”
Oh, how much I’ve aged.
* * *
And, alas, we end here.
I tried to watch the fireworks.
There was a time, right from the backyard of our house, where you could see the magical display the city’s Kiwanis Club put on.
But over the last 15 years, the trees have grown. And skyscrapers have sprouted.
Now, all you get is the noise, a flash in the sky and, in a little crevice of the Saudi Arabian Mulberry tree I love so much, a poof of smoke, lit by the lights of an expanding metropolis.
Everything is growing, everything is aging, everything is moving on.
What was once a given is now forgotten.
Tick tock. Tick tock, I think.
You can lament.
You can obsess.
You can forget.
This is it.
Move with the world, my friend. Move with your body.
Or keep fighting; keep fearing; and keep getting lost.
Lost, in a maze with only one solution: