I remember it like it was yesterday. We had been married for a full year before the teasing began, and it was only the beginning. “Happy 28th birthday sunshine, only 12 more years to 40!” He delivered the line with a shit eating grin across his face as I laughed and pretended to try and hit him. It was all so far away it simply had to be funny. After all, I’d just married my high school sweetheart. I wasn’t even in my 30’s yet. Forty felt like a lifetime away.
I remember when my mom turned 40. It was 1986, I was 10, and we were still living in South Orange, NJ. My dad had thrown her a surprise party and she enjoyed it but was mortified at the same time. She brought home a cane that night since gag gifts were the theme of their dinner. There was a photograph someone had taken of my mom shaking that cane at the camera with an angry smile and tears in her eyes. She told me that turning 40 was a hard birthday for her, 50 was a piece of cake on the other hand. Looking at her life at that moment 40 looked really good. She had two healthy and incredibly stunning and talented daughters, though I’m not biased in the least. She had a 5 bedroom house in the most charming suburb which she resurrected from a borderline tear down. She had a husband with a good job and fancy dinners and parties on many a weekend. She had a closet full of black tie outfits, a dresser full of perfume, and the luxury of being able to be a full time mom to me and my sister, and we loved all of it.
I imagined my life would be pretty similar when I turned 40. I suspect many of us imagine a life similar to our parents’ at that same milestone of a birthday. And I suspect many of us are pretty far from where we imagined. Turning 40 is somehow supposed to signify becoming an adult, or at least planting you firmly in the realm of the grownups. Yet every time I walk into a friend’s home that ground under my feet starts to give way as I feel my own sense of adulthood sliding out from underneath me. My totally undecorated, in desperate need of repair, two bedroom condo that was supposed to be just a starting point certainly shows it’s 13 years of abuse. My what a life these walls have witnessed, with their ball marks from dog toys, punch marks from heated moments, and over abundance of dust bunnies as our cleaning lady has been on vacation for the last four years. I think people expect that the photographer has a photo ready home, not just a conglomeration of life haphazardly arranged in two bedrooms. Pulling up to the drop off line in our very banged up and battered car I can almost hear my own engine shouting out my dark secret, “this one, she doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
I do try to pretend with a wink and a smile, but my nerves are raw and my emotions are constantly at the surface. I go from feeling like my heart is so full of love it could explode and light up a million others, to fighting that darkness as it wraps itself around my guts squeezing out my confidence and sense of self, watching it ooze down deep into the crevices of my soul. I go from loving what I’m doing, shooting & writing, recognizing that I’m truly living out my biggest dreams on a daily basis, to wondering when the masses will discover that I’m a complete phony who’s just faking her every move. If this is the decade about coming into your own with a strong sense of self then clearly I’m standing in the wrong line.
Today is my 40th birthday and today I hit that number, just a number, that held my dreams for my life and my future. But I’m not there yet. I don’t have that sense of permanency as I know this home is only temporary. I don’t have that sense of security as my career unfolds on a month to month basis. I don’t have that sense of closure as I’m still nursing my dreams for another little Persin to one day enter our lives.
So fine, bring it on 40. This is my book and I say when the chapters end and this chapter isn’t even close. Hell, I’m right in the middle of something and I’m only just getting started. I can feel the momentum building but we haven’t even reached the climax, and I’m certainly not driving on some fast road out of nowhere looking at anything in my rearview mirror. Life just isn’t that neat and tidy. Just because you finished a decade doesn’t mean you’ve also finished dealing with all the issues that came with it. And just because you’ve hit a number that sounds nice and round and strong doesn’t mean that you will embody everything that goes with it.
On my mirror in my bathroom I keep my favorite fortune cookie findings that help propel me through my everyday. “The luck that is ordained for you will be coveted by others.” At times I read it to mean that things will get better and it’s helped to give me the push I’ve needed to take risks and step out on my own. And at other times I read it to mean that what you hold at any given moment of your life someone else would see it as a great fortune. On this eerily significant birthday I’ll take it as the latter, because even during the darkest struggles I know I have a life worth coveting, even if it feels like I’ve got miles to go before I reach my own vision of 40.