on being 39

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Acceptance: that there are choices, and there are consequences. The narrative of your life may already be set.

That the desire to run is perhaps no longer the dream. (Was it ever, or just delusion?)

That there is nothing wrong with you for no longer wanting to, or being able to, stay out past last call, stay up until sunrise. No more lost weekends, no more benders.

It’s being on a precipice, a conscious and careful footing, placed between before and after. Everything that came previously, everything that is happening now, takes on a blaring quality.

Is settling into your life the same as settling, letting go of all of the things that a young woman says that she will never do, in her own pledge to be singular, different?

But still, the uncertainty!

*

I am taking a meditation course on dying. I am not planning on dying soon – as if death could be planned – I have no desire to. I am taking it because death terrifies me, the prospect of time running out. How can make sure that you have done enough? Our days are finite, but we don’t know how finite.

A quote I remember scrawling in a notebook in my twenties: Should you live as if you are going to die tomorrow, or as if you will live forever?

As an only child and an only grandchild in a family whose favorite stories are of loss, regret, the fatal turns and wrong choices, I’ve always been scared of forgetting. So I’ve kept notebooks since I was five years old, when I first learned to write. Into these notebooks was the story of my life. It was a true story, something I could up as proof: I was living, truly living, and my reward was accuracy, fact checking; I could validate my experiences. I would remember them, and when I grew old, I could be satisfied at a life well lived, at being able to look back and recall. Here is what I did on that day, that month, that year. I made the right choices, after all.

The notebooks were more accurate than the lived reality.

Yet as I grew into my thirties, the compulsion to record has skipped. I dropped out for six months during a tumultuous move, months I had no desire to remember. While I’ve gamely scribbled in my notebook for hours on vacations or at writing retreats, I often go for two weeks, or a month, without remembering to write anything down about my days, and then I have to scavenge – what did I do three Mondays ago? – checking my phone, email, and calendar for clues. The notebook has become a lie, posthumous.

When I think of finally letting this habit go, no longer recording my days, the weeks and months spiraling into the ether, I feel dread. Without a record of my life, will I cease to exist?

*

I’ve been having trouble writing lately. There’s a novel languishing, waiting and breathing, on my laptop, and a collection of short stories that needs proper attention. And when I come to this page, I freeze. I’m frozen.

Today, one of the first warm days of city spring, I took my bike out for the first time in six months, rescuing it from winter hibernation spot in a friend’s parking garage. This will be my tenth summer in Brooklyn, my tenth year back in New York after being away. I know the streets look different than they did ten years ago, but I can’t tell you how.  But the feeling of steering my bike, autopilot, around the familiar corners; the same burn in my legs; the same gauzy breeze on the back of my neck – that hasn’t changed. That’s a certainty, a reassurance, a clear and beautiful thing.