Daisy: You’re so young.
Benjamin Button: Only on the outside.
He tells me it’s my birthday. I’m 26 today, the husband says. I pop some aspirin, rub a cranky ankle, and all I can think to add is “Hmm. Allegedly“.
It is my birthday, yes. It is my birthday for exactly the reason I love birthdays. Because they are the fairest and most democratic of all holidays. Because we all get one. The Jewish kids pining for a Christmas tree, the lady feeling left out on Father’s Day, Mars getting all pitiful on Earth Day like “What about me?”: Birthdays obliterate barriers. Regardless of time or date or species, everybody got here somehow. So we celebrate the showing up, the arrival, the start of something or someone good.
You see, I dispute the number, the years. I was born because, as we’ve established, everyone is. Also there are a host of notarized certificates and my mom‘s poor lady parts to prove I was there. But as I pre-plan my midday nap and which soft foods I’d best like to gum later today I fear this will not be the year I get my age just right. I am Benjemima Button.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been old. At 9 I sat lanky-legged on the floor of my grandmother’s fancy living room. I listened with much interest and understanding to the various woes of the women: Which kid is acting out now? Who knew divorce was so expensive? Are we out of wine? No part of me felt the difference of years among us. With all the confidence of a short, white Maya Angelou I’d tell this aunt or that cousin just what my wise little mind thought. My unfortunate Mickey Mouse sweatshirt or squeaky voice may have spoken to my smallness, but their big ears seemed to listen.
By high school I had a keen interest in turtleneck sweaters. I fake-sipped beer because I feared the old indigestion would flare up again. My body for all its blessed elasticity and tan glow said 15. My soul said “Tell that friend you can’t come the party this weekend. Act like you’re grounded. Find fuzzy socks and watch ‘Designing Women’.” While I tried to go through the cheerleading, nervous dating, young & free teen transitions my heart was elsewhere. I sneakily devoured hours of Oprah. I thought short hair was less bouncy but more aerodynamic and practical.
Today I enjoy quiet sounds, early bed times, watching birds doing bird-like things, and joint-health supplements. I cordially decline most invitations from fellow twenty-somethings, but in my head I get hostile, ranting and raving about those “damn kids” with their “hoodlum boom-boom music”. I feel silly when people ask my age as if I’ve just told them that I am a proud, black man when they can see that clearly I am not. I observe most people of my generation with the trippy sensation that we are the same yet one million miles apart.
It isn’t bad to be young. There are adventures and flexibility and the brief honor of wearing ridiculous things while still being age-appropriate.There are trendy hotspots and lots of enthusiastic sex and It isn’t bad to be perpetually older than yourself either. I’m ridiculously well-rested and well-versed in all things Water Aerobics related. Plus, I was accidentally and fortunately spared from the bad bits of youth (the gossip, the trying desperately to fit in, the glitter). What I’ve wanted for every birthday is just to wake up with a number that fits.
My hope has been that I will reach an equilibrium of sorts. All this time will tick down only to reveal a pleasant surprise: things are just now winding up. Clues to the closing of the gap are starting, some subtle and others loud and boisterous like a, dare I say it, 26-year-old. I went to a party. I refrained from telling those young punks to take their grimey feet off the couch, did not ask one person where they were when Kennedy was shot, and real-gulped a real beer. Before I knew it I was awake and it was past 9:03 in the evening. I’m recently infatuated with The Twitter, and I’m half-proud to admit I kind of loved Justin Bieber’s song about the girl and the Dubstep and the whatchamacallit. See? I just said Dubstep. Benjemima be hipper by the minute.
Maybe at 27 I’ll say “Hmm. Yes. That one’s just right”. Maybe not. Maybe at 90, when my peers are asking the staff nurse to sponge a little lower, I’ll be squeezing on that sequin tube top, ready to bar dance and get all kinds of “crunk” and”cray”. Geriatric keg stands and the saddest, sloppiest wet t-shirt contest you ever did see because, quite simply, some DJ told me and the other 18-year-olds to “drop it low”. Maybe that nasty, cobwebby image was completely unnecessary because age doesn’t matter so much as the most basic principle of birthdays: You weren’t. This one day came along. Then you were. I’ll toast my Metamucil to that.
Do you feel your age?
Are you an old soul or young at heart?
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
- Benjamin Button