25 “THE PERFECT AGE”: a proposal from my past self, a reflection by my current self
Thought I’d use my birthday as a time for self-reflection, because every other day of the year I’m a totally oblivious human being, unaware of my age, surroundings and general mental state. There is also outside pressure to be introspective on one’s birthday; well-meaning friends asking “How does it feel to be (25)?” and ending every sentence with at least six exclamation points, all the while knowing that one’s birth-day feels just like every other day although typically more drunk, more elated and, at times, more distressing.
Where the misery laces a birthday—where it sneaks in between shots, presents and delicious treats—is in the strange nature of the day itself. It’s one of the few “life moments” not tied directly to an accomplishment, and I’m not defeatist enough to consider living another year an accomplishment (at least not at this age). No graduation ceremony, no wedding, no new job, no negative gonorrhea test results. The congratulations and the fanfare without being linked to personal accomplishment makes for what can be a somewhat empty feeling, a tendency to reflect on what hasn’t been accomplished. This emptiness instead of being satiated solely with sheet cake and alcohol should be filled with reminders that people are wishing us a joyful day, that people do care how our day is going, even if tomorrow they go back to asking you to “stop going through their trash”.
25 makes me particularly nostalgic because for some reason my younger self chose this age as “my perfect age”. It was a response I had to a legitimate question that I distinctly remember being asked on more than one occasion, “What’s your perfect age?” There’s only so much insight and prediction an 8 year old can provide on age and wisdom but my choice was solid, racked with schoolyard confidence. No flip-flopping to the popular 18, or the underappreciated 42…25, final answer.
I’m trying to think back to my thought process for this decision, for this specific choice in the ever-increasing grade school game of ageism. I certainly didn’t know any 25 year olds at the time; I probably didn’t know a single twenty-something, with the exception of teachers but they were mystical creatures that were really beyond the realms of age or personal history. Teachers existed only between the hours of school where they lived exclusively to praise my doodles. It can only be assumed then that the perfection I attached to 25 year olds was formulated from pieces of dangerous pop-culture, and my own more dangerous imagination.
The 25 year old in my mind did adult things without being an ADULT. The 25 year old in my mind had unimaginable opportunities with few hindrances. The 25 year olds in my mind were the people driving the non station wagon/min-van cars and exclusively shopping at fancy, cool stores like EXPRESS (FOR MEN). In short, a 25 year old was the epitome of carefree adult glamour.
With such high-expectations I can’t help but wonder if my childhood self would, upon seeing me now, agree that 25 is the perfect age. I feel confident that if he was viewing me a year ago: working in a museum, living in Boston, an apartment with friends, the ability to buy alcohol—which at that age existed only as a precursor to scenes in movies I usually wasn’t allowed to see. My 8 year old self would be able to recognize these as the pillars of being a successful young adult; goals seemingly unreachable to a grade-schooler. Let alone one who at one point wanted to grow up to be “a tree”. Would that same eight year old be as impressed with me now, at 25, back at school, no apartment, no job, but living in London and definitely still drinking alcohol. Would he be able to see past the loss of the tangible and accept the replacement of the experiential? He definitely would hate the “school” part.
I like to think he would be impressed, but then again I was an easily impressed child. He would be very pleased that I am taller than four feet, but he wouldn’t know that I’m not exceptionally tall. He would love that I am living in London, but I happen to know that he spends a lot of time watching James Bond films. He would be indifferent to the loss of job, but wouldn’t be able to comprehend the addition of student loans.
But I’m not so sure I take much stock in this boy’s opinion that 25 is the perfect age; that’s just way too much pressure for one single year. Besides, his opinion was uneducated and probably influenced by excessive Skittles consumption. Sure 25 has been great for all forty-five minutes that I’ve lived it, but there’s still a lot more left, and when it’s done there are hopefully a lot of other candidates for “perfect age”. In fact, I’m much more concerned about what my 80 year old self will think, what year he will think is the perfect age or if he thinks it’s still in the future. Will he still recongize that the changes that were made this past year were for the better or will he not even remember or care? I hope this is a kind and wise man that doesn’t think about these things so much on his birthday but instead thinks more about the cake, and the people eating it with him. Dear God I hope this isn’t a bald man.