My 39th Year

I don’t know if it’s getting older or the fact that this year, I will turn thirty-nine but I’ve been spending a lot of time in reflection. To quote Sylvia Plath, “I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks or champion college footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit. His days of glory shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantel with a date engraved on it like the date on a tombstone.” Only I’ve had no glory days. There are a few days here and there that I look back on fondly wishing fervently to return to them, but for the most part, I’ve spent my life not living it.

Now I’m in the middle of it wondering how to make up for lost time. For all intents and purposes, I think it can be safe to say that I’m in the middle of my lifespan. Smack in the middle of it, and if we took my mother’s age when she passed away as an indicator of my lifespan, I am already nine years past the halfway point.

Nine years into an hourglass that seems to gradually speed up with every passing year and while every part of me tells myself I should keep my eyes facing forward, I can’t help but look back. It’s not to say that I have regrets. Although there are a few and most of them fall into the, “I wish I would have focused more on my career and what I wanted to do instead of waiting until now,” or “I wish I would have had the courage to be more outgoing when I was younger.” I wonder how different my life would have looked today if I would have just had the courage to live it.

When I look back over the choices of my partial lifetime, I can see how my decisions snowballed me into the life I have today. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the life I have now. But I can’t help but sometimes think to the life the opposite decisions would have led me to. It reminds me of the quote by Khaled Hosseini, “It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.” I think back to those single days, and that quote rings true. The most important one, the one that set my course, was the decision on where to apply and go to college.

When I was in high school, I let my guidance counselor persuade me that I couldn’t hack it in the Ivy League. I had the grades, but I didn’t test well, so my SAT scores were not off the charts. It was in my heart to go to either Yale or Harvard, but she told me I wouldn’t be able to get in. I hated rejection; I still do, so instead of taking a chance, I applied to eight safe schools. I was accepted to all eight and was offered scholarships to five of them. But I think in some ways Fate always gets you to where you need to be because almost twenty years later I would go to Yale as a writing student. I’ll always wonder what could have been, probably for the rest of my life because that one decision would have changed everything from what I learned, what I decided to do, the friends I made, the romances I had. Everything would have been different if only I would have had the courage to try.

I settled for jobs that I was overqualified for because I was afraid to ask for the job I wanted, afraid that I would be told no.  I lived a life where I hated my work and couldn’t see a way out of what I was doing. I wound up going from one dead-end job to the next instead of investing in myself. I told myself that I wasn’t good enough to compete. I told myself I would fail enough times that I believed it. It wasn’t until I tried something new that I found out I could. The positive feedback I received with my writing is the reason I’m still here today writing and pushing myself forward, even on the days where I think I’ll never get anywhere because eventually, I know that I will.

In my twenties, I settled when it came to my romantic relationships as well. I went out with men just because they asked; I didn’t think I was allowed to have a say. I didn’t think my feelings mattered. Now I look back, and I wonder if my life would have been different if I would have loved who I saw in the mirror. Maybe if I thought the woman staring back at me was worthy of love, worthy of a good man, I would have risked my heart a little more. Now I can see all the occasions, those missed opportunities. I know through life experience that the grass is never greener, it’s just different. But sometimes, on my worst days, I often wonder what it would have been like to lie in that grass, to bask in that sun. Would I have enjoyed that life, or would it just be more of the same, different person, same old shit?

There are times like today, where I feel lost, caught up in the reverie of a life that never happened. On other days, I never give it a passing thought. My life is great, and I have a lot to be grateful for. Maybe all this is normal. Maybe everyone at some point pines for the life they think they should have had. It’s then that I think about Fate. I remember how I always wanted to go to Yale, and then eventually I wound up there anyway. I took the long road. The road less traveled and still arrived, right on time.