I have a big birthday coming up. Some would say HUGE. How old will I be? Pick any number, then add 10. Or 20. It's not as if it snuck up on me. If anything, it's been a lifetime in the making. However, I have to admit, now that friends will soon be gathering to celebrate my milestone, I am scared.
Here's the deal: I have always been young or, more to the point, lacking in maturity. I didn't bid farewell to my adolescence until I turned 40. At 50, I did the Walk of Shame at my office, showing up in the same rumpled clothing I had worn the day before, reeking of Eau de Budweiser. You see where this is going?
Given my reluctance to adopt age-appropriate behaviors, you would think I would avoid going the cake and balloons route and check myself into one of those discrete mental health facilities advertised in the back of the New Yorker. But, no, I am forging ahead. Later this month, a dozen old and new friends will toast my milestone birthday at a charming BYOB. Some have known me since college and have reason to be as amazed as I am that we are still here. Others are only familiar with my life in its newest, cleaned-up, abbreviated edition. What will happen when both groups mingle under the influence of merlot and chardonnay?
Ultimately, I have to ask myself why I am doing this. Birthday parties are for children and for adults who enjoy being serenaded by the waitstaff at Friendly's. I never had a Sweet 16 because my parents gave me the choice of a party or a pair of skis. (In retrospect, I should have negotiated for both.) The last and only adult birthday party I had was when I turned 30. I was as stunned then as I am now that the age on my driver's license no longer matched my self-image. Inside, I was still a free-wheeling 18-year-old mystified by a decade that had evaporated in a cloud of marijuana. (Yes, I inhaled.)
So, for my 30th, I hosted a huge extravaganza and, for reasons that defy logic, I invited all of my ex-boyfriends, paramours, friends and relatives. Including my parents! It was an exciting evening for all who attended except me. I had slept with every male guest, all of whom left in the wee hours with one of my female friends draped over their arm as if they had been handed out as party favors. Fortunately, my parents had the good sense to depart before midnight. But, at some point, my capricious Aunt Ruth disappeared into a bathroom with a young lothario to smoke a joint. Needless to say, I was left on my own to destroy the evidence with giant garbage bags.
Did I learn my lesson? Yes and no. This time, I am not inviting every man I have known biblically for several reasons. First, I no longer keep such a list. Who does? Secondly, I can think of nothing more depressing than a hotel ballroom filled with 200 (give or take a dozen) balding, paunchy dudes in Dockers. There will also be no relatives. And, sadly, no drugs other than the usual suspects: Crestor, Pepcid, Lopressor and Xanax. The only hallucinogen will be the tiramisu.
The real purpose of the party is to distract myself from the true meaning of the day. Psychologists call this the Approach-Avoidance Conflict. I am creating a positive goal, a wine-infused party, to counter-punch a negative goal, being an age associated with slowing down, frailty or running for President.
An older female friend, who's still a dead ringer for Jackie O, wisely counseled me, "You've got to plan ahead, or these life passage birthdays can be traumatic."
She's got me thinking. I'm all set for this milestone but the next one, in five years, demands a bigger splash. Hot air ballooning over the Loire Valley? A dog-sledding party in Alaska? Riding an elephant in Sri Lanka? This already has me so distracted, I won't bother to count the candles on my cake.