Do you feel old yet?
Every year. Every damn year, on my birthday, without fail.
Well, let's see. Do I feel more exhausted? Sure. Fatter? Oh yeah. Increasingly disconnected with those around me? Definitely. Less inclined to fight back when pushed? Unfortunately, yes. If those things contribute to the aging process, then yes, of course I feel old. I've felt old since... well, is it possible to be born old?
In a way, it's a little unfair, this being born old. Young people are so fresh, so vivacious, so hungry... even when I was young in years, I was always looking for the calm place, the still place. I don't like surprises, or being shaken up overmuch. No adventure for me... though it looks beautiful from a distance. A friend once asked me at a sleepover what I wanted to be when I got older. After staring at her ceiling in the semi-dark for a minute, I answered with complete seriousness that I wanted to be a pirate. She gasped and said disapprovingly that pirates were godless. I was speechless. I had never thought about it that way. I mumbled something about "fun," I think, and changed the subject. It was impossible for me, at that moment, to describe that I didn't care one sterling shite about the relative godliness of pirates; it was the sheer lack of tether, the freedom of being on the ocean, of being part of a like-minded crew, the idea of wanting something and taking it, if you were able... those were the things that appealed to me. Pirates had their own gods, filthy and vengeful gods, and I didn't care about them. I could taste the salt on my lips and feel the boat rock beneath my feet.
Of course, it was a childish thing to say, and anyone who knows me knows I could never be a pirate, or anything vaguely pirate-ish. I have a hard time taking money from customers whose pets I have helped. But I don't regret what I said. Though I will always find the calm, the still, the safe, my mind will always long for the open ocean, where no man has rule. That, more than anything, makes me feel old.
I think most people feel this, at least sometimes. Terry Pratchett has written about it in his Tiffany Aching series: there's the first voice, which yammers all the time, and can say some damned stupid stuff; and the second voice, which hears what the first voice says and quietly critiques. The second voice is the one that keeps us awake at night repeating everything we've done wrong. Then there is the third voice, which is the hardest to hear - it's the voice that looks at everything and brings it all into focus, as long as we're looking properly. My first voice is transparently awful, and causes me to take root like a mountain; my second voice begs to be let go, to burn like fire; my third voice, as far as I can tell, knows I'm full of it and that I'm the only one holding me back. My third voice knows I'm old at heart, and has no problem with that.
I turned thirty last Friday. Three decades on this earth, not having been killed or severely maimed. I have a son, a few dogs, a lot of nasty scars, an often-decent relationship with my immediate family, a few tattoos, a hundred stories brewing inside me, a first voice that cries and whispers and keeps me still and safe, a second voice that screams and bites and berates the first, and a third voice that can't quite remember how to laugh right now, though everything is funny.
Do I feel old yet? I've never felt young, so I don't know for sure, but I think - I hope - it's possible to feel old first, then young later. I'll tell you when I find the open ocean, and the mountains sink into the sea, when the roots are burned away, and the third voice remembers what laughing is like. If it takes a lifetime, I know I'll get there.