Today I am fifty years old. FIFTY.
And, just as my high school yearbook predicted, I’m an unemployed alcoholic.
I KID. Well, it’s halfway true. I have returned to temping while I wait for someone to pay me for being awesome. Too bad I couldn’t have just been a temporary alcoholic, huh?
The card up there was given to me by my best friend Ben twenty-five years ago, today. Ben died from complications of his alcoholism last May and it has left a dark and abysmal chasm in my heart. I have no idea how I’ve kept up with that stained and tattered beaten-up yellow thing for all these years. (Ben, I am still talking about your birthday card, you jackass) This will be the first time in over 25 years that I haven’t received my annual snarky birthday message. I find myself absently glancing at my phone to see if I’ve missed his call. It’s been almost a year and his absence still, at times, takes me off guard. I mentioned this to a sweet and wise friend and she replied, “good days can be when we miss them most“. The simplicity of this truth surprised me. Of course I’m going to miss him today. We’ve celebrated half of my life together.
I’ve had grand birthdays, and lonely birthdays. My high school birthdays usually revolved around ice cream, scary movies, and me and my girlfriends agonizing over some terrible quiz in Cosmo. By my early twenties my birthdays usually involved hitting the bars in Hollywood full force with my posse and then ending with someone trying to pry my drunk ass off the back of a stranger’s Harley. Of course, that was pretty commonplace at the time, anyway. I’ve spent many birthdays at the lake laughing through the night with dear friends, and even spent a birthday on Alcatraz. Ten years ago today there was an epic surprise party thrown for me at my favorite dive bar of all time and I’m surprised I’m not still nursing that hangover all these years later. Now, before you balk and get all Ralph Furley on me with your “stop whining for the love of god, you’re still a young whippersnapper”, remember, I almost didn’t make it to 48. I arrived at 48 much like the space shuttle when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere – shaking violently with shrapnel flying everywhere and trying not to shit my pants.
Now, I’m not going to get all morose and somber on you, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that this birthday has a bittersweet ring to it. The joy in this occasion is obvious but what else is glaringly obvious to me is how much time I’ve wasted in those fifty years. Maybe it would be better reworded; how much time I spent wasted. This, I know, is a game I cannot win and it would behoove me not to play it at all.
Yet I do. It’s usually in the wee hours of the morning when the shitty committee comes out in my head and runs a reel-to-reel film featuring all of my mistakes, discarded opportunities and regrets. Often, it’s a double-feature.
Does everyone get reflective with introspective bullshit when they approach a milestone birthday or it is just me obsessing? Sometimes while driving I muse about what could have been. What I could have done. Who I could have been. What could I have accomplished in all those years while I was so raptly and selfishly engrossed with my reckless and audacious lifestyle? I overheard someone once in a meeting say “getting sober is basically growing up in public”. One could concur that I, too, have a lot of growing up to do. So, I look at the past fifty years. What I’ve done, where I’ve been, and who I’ve become. And here’s the thing, don’t get me wrong; I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun – too much, you might argue. Memories dance through my brain like an out-of-focus montage. I’m ashamed of a lot, proud of a little and lucky as hell. So that begs the question; what’s next?
Well, I’m glad you asked. I can’t dwell on the past. Like I’ve said before, I’m really good at tripping over things that are behind me. No more. I have to forgive, starting with myself. I am not the same person I was and sometimes the best apology is changed behavior. I am determined to make up for lost time, and if I can’t do that, I guess I’ll just try to live every day forward trying to be grateful, humble and authentic. If I can help someone, I will. I mentioned when Ben died last year that I feel like now I have to make my life count twice as much, like somehow I have to live enough for us both, as if I haven’t already. I still feel that way.
So here’s to the next fifty years. I promise you, Ben – we’re just getting warmed up.