Now that I’m 36, I don’t know what to call myself. It’s not like we walk into rooms and announce ourselves formally — “Marika of West Seattle! Thirty-six, ladyperson! Consumer of Tater Tots!” — but when addressing myself, I have no idea what to say. I still feel like a girl, but the word girl conjures up
pigtails, jump rope, crocodile tears, the inability to look clean after eating ice cream;
hairspray, attitude, unframed Depeche Mode posters, ignoring Mom’s advice to put a jacket on;
heart-thumping firsts, metallic prom gowns, broken curfews, the treacly taste of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine;
overpriced textbooks, an English professor crush, getting the munchies, coffee shop conversations about bands and God;
résumé writing, fruity cocktails, GIRL POWER music, precariously high heels;
sleeping in, road trips, hopeful interviews, falling in love with The One before meeting The Actual One.
Now I eat ice cream with a spoon without wasting any of it, frame all of my art, read from a Kindle, wear flat shoes, rarely sleep in, and always wear a jacket. There’s no curfew and no heart-thumping firsts because a lot of them are behind me, at least the ones I was actually looking forward to.
Rock music: SO LOUD. Hairspray: environment sad. I wake up next to The Actual One and always have an updated résumé on file. And I never walk into a salon anymore and say, “Do whatever the fuck you want. Hot pink? Fine. Chop it off? Whatever.” Now I just ask for the gray to be covered… and to look cool but not, you know, too cool.
This isn’t to say I’ve got my shit together and that I levitate above the swollen masses; I just grew up a little bit. Not a lot, but enough to be noticeable had you known me at 26. I thought being 36 would be different somehow, like I’d wake up with a new haircut, a mortgage, and an extended lease on life, but no. The differences lie in what I know I will not or cannot do now, like
Ecstasy (a drug I never got around to);
cubicle work (a beige-colored death march plus health insurance, basically);
buy shoes from Payless (they’re cheap for a reason!);
stay up until dawn (only unicorn blood can cure sleep deprivation in humans over the age of 35);
camp in a tent on the ground, anywhere (a view of nature is majestic enough for me);
own some kind of hairy pet (not in this apartment, anyway).
So what am I now? The things and experiences that made me a girl are technically behind me.
A woman makes me think of Michelle Obama. A lady is old, or British, or both. Chica and gal are safe to call others, but people who self-reference themselves in that way (“I’m a go-get-em kind of gal! I’m a super sassy chica!”) should have their throats ripped out, fucking Roadhouse-style.
I recently sent this in a catch-up email to my two best friends:
When you turn 36, are you technically still a girl? I remember meeting 35+-year olds and thinking, “Wow, they sure are COOL for being so fucking OLD.” And now? Here we are. The older I get, the less far back I look, and when I deign to reach back into the recesses of remembrance, I pluck the good, shiny eggs from our worn-out basket. I don’t want to let go of the truth, the real stories that got me here — good, bad, ugly, though mostly ugly — but neither do I want to descend upon them like a shadowy girl from a land beyond time. Life is hard and sweet and bursting enough without dragging the past into it. And the future doesn’t look so uncertain to me anymore, but I think that’s because I’m okay with uncertainty and not because the future is set in stone. Would a girl feel that way? A girl of 36, a girl four years away from 40, a girl who has an almost 14-year old? Probably not. I guess that’s called ‘progress.’
Labels don’t really matter that much, or rather, they matter as much as you let them. I’m also brown! And loud! And tall! And weird! The thing is, I’ll always be brown, loud, tall, and weird — but I can’t be a girl forever. The older I get, the more I feel that transition from girlhood to whatever hood I’m living in now. A friend of mine calls it Oldergirlhood. What would you call a female roughly mid-thirties who liked tea and crumpets and challenges and f-bombs?
Two thumbs: this guy.