I am not too sure when this happens. I don’t know when it is or if this is something that happens and one day, we open our eyes and there it is, the first gray hair. I don’t know when age happens — at least, not really. When do we cross the line from youth to adulthood? Is there such a thing? Is there an imaginary line that we step over and that’s it? It’s too late. I know people who have been adults since childhood. At the same time, I know people who look to relive their old high school glories because they never grew up.
I don’t know if everyone will age gracefully. Nor am I sure if I am graceful or as clunky as I was on my very first date. Somehow, whether I was ready or not, age took over. Music changed. The styles changed. However, there’s a piece of me that didn’t realize this. There was piece of me that saw myself as the same. And maybe I am. or, maybe I’m not. Either way, my age. was pointed out to me one night on a train ride home.
I had finished work and was on the train heading home after a long day. There was a group of college kids standing in the center of the car. One of them was loud and I mean exceptionally loud. She was tall and pretty but annoying as ever. I’d look up on occasion because she was in front of me. I heard her say, “This old guy keeps looking at me!”
I didn’t pay this any mind. Why would I? Besides, I thought she was talking about someone else. Right?
When she said it again, she said it loudly.
“That old guy keeps looking at me!”
This time, I took notice.
One of her friends suggested that maybe it was perhaps because she was talking so loudly or perhaps this was because she was standing in front of me.
“Maybe he knows you from someplace,” said one of her friends.
The realization was like a blade that slit the throat to my ego.
“Wait a second,” I said out loud.
I asked, “Am I the old guy,” rather loudly and certainly aggressive.
“You keep looking at me,” said the college girl.
“That’s because you won’t shut up!”
Her friends just laughed.
To be clear, nobody ever called me “Old” before.
I have to say, I didn’t like it.
I suppose nobody else does either.
I take a look back and think about this time of year. It was August in my youth and soon enough, we would be back at school. It was only a matter of time before the days would consist of classrooms and teachers — or in my case, my days would consist of ways to get out of class or to ditch and be someplace else.
But ah, the summer. It wasn’t over yet.
I swore that I would never look back. Once this part of my life was over, I promised I would never step foot in a classroom again.
Maybe this is when age started to happen. Maybe it was the days when the classrooms were a thing of the past. I had to find a job. I had to pay insurance and bills. I had this thing called credit, which in fairness; this was a new concept that I was not prepared to handle. It’s not free money by any means. Lesson learned: interest is a bitch.
There is nothing like the invincibility of youth. I used to heal. I used to be able to go out every night and make it to work the next day. The next day, I’d swear that I was going to stay in that night. I swore that I wasn’t going out. But then the phone rang. It was one of the knuckleheads asking, “Are ya coming?” Of course, I was coming. How could I miss out?
There was a summer when I was out every night. There were some mild attempts at romance with a few occasions when I almost pulled it off. There were the late nights in the city with me trying to pull of my James Dean approach.
Admittedly, I was not the smoothest. I was awkward and certainly uncomfortable. But I was also out there; and I mean this in every sense of the word. I was out there in the world. I was seeing new things and meeting new people. Maybe this is when age took place. Maybe age happened when my friends had their first gathering since the new jobs or the new apartments. Maybe age happened the last time I closed the door to my childhood bedroom and there was no going home anymore.
I remember this very clearly. I stood in the doorway of an empty room that was filled with my childhood. There were secrets of mine that would never leave this place. There were hiding spots that were sealed off. I lived here and as well, a part of me died here. A part of me sweated out terrible cures in this room. The walls knew my secrets but I knew they’d never tell. This bedroom saw me at my worst. I was sick here and reborn here. I changed in this room and on the final evening before I shut the light and closed the door, I took my last look. There was a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.
Man, I hate goodbyes.
I don’t know when age happens. I suppose age starts to happen from birth. Of course it does. But there are different parts to aging. For example, do you remember the first of your friends to ever get married? I remember one of the first weddings. All of a sudden, we were grownups. The function itself was beautiful. The reception was black-tie.
I wasn’t ready for this.
What were we? Was this adulthood?
Was I grown (Were you)?
The reception was beautiful. The pictures were of us, all together, and perhaps for the last time. Maybe we were too young to start on certain endeavors. Besides, who knows what marriage is? It’s a theme; marriage is a thing we do because we are taught that this is what happens. We are sold on the idea that this is the natural succession of life.
I’ll tell you this much, marriage is more than an excuse for a bachelor party, which common decency and moral fiber prevents me from revealing here in this text. However, none of the pictures from this occasion are available anymore. At least, not after the divorce.
I remember the end of the night. I drove off in my beat up old Chevy. I drove to the beach to watch the sunrise. I was in my rented tuxedo — more aptly, I was dressed as an adult but yet, the kid in me felt the same old fears of graduating to the next class.
I stood in my tux with the wind blowing on my face. This was a Sunday morning at the birth of summertime but the summer nights were no longer the same. The hangouts were changing. People were changing. I was changing too.
I faced the sunrise and watched the waves come in. And I cried a little.
That’s right. I cried.
I’m not sure why.
I’m not sure if this was because of my fears of love or the lack thereof. I’m not sure if I cried because I was afraid that I’d never make it. Maybe I was crying because at the time, I was only making $25,000 a year and I couldn’t figure out how to make more. This meant that I would have to work harder. But maybe if I made 50. Wouldn’t that be something? I’m sure I’d have been happy. Or maybe if I made 60 or 75, or certainly 100,000. I’m sure I’d be okay if I made that much.
Maybe age happens when work consumes us more than our recreational wants and needs. Maybe age happens when the IRS sends you a letter in the mail that reads something like:
We noticed that you told us to go screw ourselves last tax season. Although we understand your sentiments. Unfortunately, we are writing to tell you no.
You go screw yourself!
See you soon.
Like I said, interest is a bitch!
There was a conversion that I had with someone very dear to me. I asked in a million years, if somebody went back to us when we were in our twenties and said, “What do you think Benny will be doing when he’s nearly 50?” I’m pretty sure that no one (including me) would say that I’d be writing diversity, equity and inclusion programs. I’m pretty sure no one would think I’d be doing presentations or lectures or least of all, no one would have ever pegged me for a writer.
Back then, I’d never share a word of poetry.
But I’d write it.
My closest friend talks to me about his attempts to secure a role as a chief officer. I laugh because I remember us when we were out at places like The Second Avenue Bar. I have to say this; he is one of my heroes. He’s my best friend. I am not placing him on a pedestal. However, I am simply expressing my admiration and support for someone who has overcome and grown in leaps and bounds, which as a result, I have done the same because success can be contagious, especially when shared with the right people.
Maybe this is when age happens.
Maybe it’s parenthood.
Maybe it’s the first time you learn that one of your childhood friends is a grandparent.
Maybe age happens when the cycles of life begin to take place.
Maybe . . .
All I know is that I could have never made it this far
How truly lucky I am
(because of you).
I don’t know when the gray hairs started. There’s a bunch of them now. But I won’t complain.
Instead, I’ll just keep going (and hope to be graceful).