Well, I know that many women quite illogically dread turning thirty, but until today I never read about a woman who avoided it by committing suicide. Yes, I read about it in the Daily Mail, which is a British tabloid, but still. The woman must have been seriously mentally ill, poor girl.
I have not only turned thirty, I have turned forty. But well I remember my thirtieth birthday! I was divorced-and-annulled with no boyfriend, working in a temp agency, living in a bachelor flat (lovely bay window, mind you), paying the lowest possible fees to my therapist, and I had an absolutely rocking birthday. Naturally I planned it myself.
A bunch of old friends from Toronto came to the smaller city in which I lived, 100 Km/60 miles away. A bunch of local new friends came, too. And my brother Nulli was there. We all went to the best Chinese restaurant in town and had a massive feast. Then we squeezed into my tiny flat for cake and champagne. I still remember that Josie gave me a pink leopard-print plush frame--in which I put a magazine photo of Keanu Reeves--and a "Grow Your Own Boyfriend in a Glass" doll which I still have somewhere, never having put him into a glass.
Heavens, I was poor. But it was an amazing birthday, and my brother, due to turn thirty himself in a year, was rather inspired by it. For one thing, I said that the great thing about being thirty was that I would not make the same mistakes I made in my twenties. Nulli said that made a big impression on him.
My thirties were much better than my twenties, I must say. They rather sagged during the BC years, but they improved later because of the friends I made through blogging and writing for the Catholic Register. They definitely ended on a high, because I had married dear old B.A. and my first book had been published in two countries and would soon be published in Poland.
Well I remember my fortieth birthday! I was married to marvellous B.A., writing for pay and for art, living in an attic flat created in 1820 in a house built in 1686, paying for the cheapest possible flights on holidays, and I had an absolutely rocking birthday. B.A. took me to our favourite French restaurant in Edinburgh, where we treated four of our friends to a great meal. They brought nice gifts, including a red sequined evening bag I can't take anywhere except the givers' house because it makes me look like a...hmm...
Anyway, it was a great birthday. After lunch B.A. took me either to a film or a snazzy hotel bar or both--I recall being a bit tipsy, really, which is why I probably don't remember that bit clearly.
Heavens, we are poor. Sort of. I admit we have a very good time on what money we have, and when I am seized with sudden agony that I am an utter failure, not having four children and a house in the ever-spreading suburbs outside Toronto or even a proper job in an office, B.A. reminds me that I have had two books published, and answered countless emails from readers. He might also point out that I chose to live my life like a scholarly hippy, since I picked totally impractical subjects to study, like Catholic theology. And that it is even more impractical to compare myself to high school classmates and my own brothers and sisters.
(Still, I think I convinced him that it sucks not to be fluent in a second language when one brother is fluent in French, and one sister is fluent in Spanish, and one sister is fluent in French AND Spanish, and my sister-in-law is fluent in French and Romanian, and my nephew and niece are fluent in French and Romanian and know American Sign Language because my brother is an early language acquisition nut. I sat there with Julek i Julka, tears running down my mortified monolingual cheeks. It's not like I didn't try learning French, Italian, German, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Latin and Greek--it's that I never became FLUENT. How come THEY'RE all fluent when I'm not fluent in ANYTHING? Sob, sob, sniff.)
One thing I do not feel bad about is being over forty. Being over forty means only that I haven't died yet and implies that I enjoyed good health in my youth, which I certainly did. I was most definitely tired of the lifestyle of a twenty-something when I was thirty-five and stumbling around Boston looking for a night club to celebrate my birthday in. Thank you Jonathan and Ted, but what nonsense. I made my Single-at-Forty birthday plans then; they involved a quiet family dinner with any children then in my family. Naturally, as I married at thirty-eight, this plan was replaced by the above.
No matter how much I write, or articles or books I publish, or readers I help, I will probably always occasionally feel like a failure for some reason or another. So think about that if you are twenty-nine or thirty-nine and dreading the next birthday. And if you can read this, you probably look and feel a lot younger than any woman your age in Afghanistan. Here's Sharbat Gula, a Pashtun, at 12 and at thirty: