I’m going to be thirty soon. A matter of months. I shuttle between terror and indifference: the common assumption that i’m a scruffy undergrad or hovering disgracefully around my early-to-mid-twenties at war with both my despairing anger at the insidious assumption of youthful appearance being some sort of index of female worth and also, apparently, with an increasingly ‘confident’, ‘mature’ and ‘self-possessed’ manner. (Nb: adjectives borrowed either from one of my tutors or from the random swimming pool attendant who stared at my bikini-clad body and guessed my age as ’23’ until I started talking, whereupon he announced I had a ‘really mature voice.’ I hadn’t even been smoking, and have yet to puzzle out what the fuck he was on about.) The prospect of leaving my twenties terrifies me because it (culturally) signals the loss of appeal, the loss of opportunity, the loss of that malleable feeling of potential; the loss of status, of femininity, of worth. Obviously, much of my life is fundamentally geared towards being appreciated for my words and talents instead of my looks, such as they are; but nevertheless, the prospect of people ceasing to *notice* when I enter a room or listen when I speak; the absence of the twisted reassurance I gather from the attentions of strangers even as they flabberghast or anger me; the absence of the kudos that I know I get, amongst my sexually open and literate friends, for being perceived as vaguely attractive, is going to hit quite hard.
And suddenly, my lost years – the years between 18 and 25, give or take, when I was basically lost to the world, first through ME and then through anorexia, are thrown into sharp relief. Suddenly it *matters* that I only lost my virginity at 22, or graduated at 25; suddenly it *matters* that while everyone else was growing up and making friends and having sex and fucking up and *living* every glorious mistake as only the young can do because the sense of perspective or of equilibrium takes a while to develop, I was essentially trapped, subject to a malfunctioning body, indulging only in the supposedly ‘mature’ and certainly more stereotypically midlife pastimes of reflection, contemplation, self-analysis. Not for me the high-speed immortality and travel (physical or symbolic) and intense emotional rollercoaster traditionally associated with youth, from 18 onwards at least; after an immensely destructive relationship, I withdrew, choosing on some level not to engage with a world that could be so hurtful, or (later) to engage only through the medium of food and with the protection of my own pre-emptive punishment, self-deprivation. And suddenly, that matters. Part of me wants to rage at the world that it’s not fair, that I want those extra years back somehow, added on, I want more chances – and yet I wouldn’t for anything (well, happiness? no, for that’s fleeting, and at least innocence cannot be lost twice) wish that hard-won self-knowledge unlearned, or those experiences undone. Absurd, given that I *do* look slightly younger than my age, and so maybe the world’s doing the best it can there. Like my build, another instance of genetic luck: another area in which I feel I’ve lucked out, cheated a culture that prizes youth and slenderness above age and weight and presence, in women at least; another way in which I’ve managed to scrape together a few extra shreds of self-esteem from the bombsite that was my sense of self-worth for so many years.
And yet, why does it matter? Partly, because I’m practically as well as physically a bit behind my peers: i have no money, no marriage, no stable career, no savings, no property, certainly no children. (If I wanted those, I’d probly’ve missed my chance.) Had I made different choices, I likely could’ve managed at least a few: but I didn’t, and so all I have, really, is myself and a laptop full of writing and a jumble of books and secondhand clothes in a poky but much-beloved flat that I’ll be forced to leave in a matter of weeks. (Altho, ftr, I’m well aware that however meagre that may be compared to some of my contemporaries, it’s a good deal more than others, and certainly much, much more than the majority of people in the world. I feel guilty, about caring so much for the crises induced by a fundamentally luxurious society). For suddenly, sometimes, it feels like I’m standing at the top of a waterfall, watching all the cards I had in my hand tumble down, dashed on the rocks below. I know that the chances are, because of the person I now am and the choices I’ve made, that I will spend the rest of my life alone. I know the chances are that I will die alone, in pain, surrounded by strangers. I know that the rest of my life will probably be shaped and conditioned by a profound loneliness, however much I am loved by my friends. I remember as a teengaer reading about Germaine Greer and her farm in Essex and feeling horrified, despite myself, that she could possibly be content thus, let alone prefer it to marriage and cosy domesticity. But that horror is the flip side of hope, the kind of hope I don’t have any more for a kind of bond and connection I’ve had and lost and never expect to find again, and having accepted its loss, all I would ever ask of life, now, is not happiness, but anaesthesia. Enough little happinesses to make up for the lacunae. Somewhere to lie, and work to do, so I can stay inside this carapace and close my eyes and turn away instead of forcing the soft, flabby fragility of my vulnerable emotional self against the sharp edges of a world whose cruelty to those with no beauty or youth or money to recommend them – and no cosy coupledom to use as a buffer against demands of rent and bills and work and the stubborn, incontrovertible insistence on individual insignificance – is well documented. I know I will never matter, really; all I can imagine asking,now, is a (symbolic) place to go where that doesn’t matter so much.
And I know too much about old age in this country: my mother has been wrking with the elderly most of my life. I know just how harsh, and lonely, and cruel, contemporary ‘care’ can be, especially for those with no families to protect them.
First major break, I’m considering suicide. Major, as in serious-lifelong-mobility-impairment-or-pain-type major.
Yet, maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll go another way. Maybe my older self, years along the line, or even sooner, if given choices, would choose differently. Maybe I’ll compromise, forget, despair. Maybe once all sense of the cultural worth attendant on youth and potential has gone, I’ll give up on desiring somebody to whose feelings it’s irrelevant. Maybe I’ll stop resisting so fiercely the idea of exclusive commitment without understanding and learn once more to love somebody simply for wanting me, or for being there.