Some of the people, who used to be the little kids, in my life are 25 years old now. They’re making decisions for themselves that are contradictory to what was expected of them. Others are caught in the current of life, floating unwillingly along because they don’t know how to finish…much of anything. A few are staying the course with minor deviations.
Last week, I was called upon by one of them seeking reassurance. Tears fell over an unmanageable life, sorrow for opportunities refused, the tragic realization that this is IT; work and drudgery, nothing special at all, no glamorous MTV (un)Real World. It is humbling to admit it’s your own fault that life sucks. It is not a sudden epiphany, but rather a slow awakening.
Yesterday, I talked with the parent of another twenty-five year old; a young person with an abundance of intellectual ability, who could be a NASA scientist, if NASA weren’t so dreadfully underfunded. We discussed his abrupt departure from academia. My friend projects only aspirations for personal happiness to the kids. The other parent relished saying, “My son is an assistant professor, working on his PhD.” Our children’s accomplishments do not belong to us. We had our turn.
My favorite twenty-five year old has also had a turbulent year. It’s been a year of self-inflicted struggle that has produced growth and enlightenment. I’ve said some harsh things to her, this year, that I may not have said to someone younger than twenty-five. Hard lessons can’t be learned secondhand. I was self-taught. I didn’t always learn the first time around or the second, maybe not even the third.
I was on the brink of getting married for the first time at twenty-five, to someone I did not know at all except through the smoky haze of the neighborhood bar. I married that time strictly because I was twenty-five. I thought I was spent. Like my troubled friend from last week, I had difficulty finishing. I distinctly recall thinking, “I haven’t finished anything else, this is all that’s left.”
Do not bother wasting sympathy on my unsuspecting first husband. He had his reasons for marrying me. He’d been indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy with intent to deliver. Imagining himself to be more clever than reality suggested, he bought a bale of marijuana from an undercover DEA agent with the hope of selling it to fund the purchase of a new motorcycle. It only made sense to marry a woman in the COAST GUARD to create an impression of innocence.
Don’t waste sympathy on me. I had my own ulterior motives. I wanted out of the USCG. Marriage seemed like a good escape. It worked. I was married on Friday and placed on terminal leave on Monday, while the command processed my honorable discharge. Toodleloo!
I spent seven months actively married, another 4 years and 7 months passively married (separated implies the possibility of reunion) while I waited for him to divorce me. I made a whole bunch more mistakes in that time. Closed a lot of doors, slammed some of them, nailed ’em shut behind me. A couple of those mistakes nearly cost me my life.
While my young friend cried with despair, I told this story and a few others. It’s reassuring to know that nobody has it all figured out. Misery is not unique.
The good thing about life is, if your mistakes don’t kill you, it keeps going on. Twenty-five is not The End.
Writing this installment recalled, with fondness: worn comfortable, leather, bar stools, cigarettes, Guinness or a good IPA, and a shot (or several) of something smooth (or sharp) before I called it a night. Another door I closed, gently, behind me.