I was 13, on my grandparents’ couch in June of 1987, when it first struck me that I wouldn’t live to see my 27th birthday. I had been reading a romance novel whose hero was the exalted age of 27, it struck discord in my soul. I couldn’t envision myself at that age. 27? A bottomless future I couldn’t picture myself reaching. It lingered at the edge of my conscious for years; this growth ceiling I would never break through.
9 years later my baby sister was born, my grandmother died, and I encountered ‘best by’ and ‘expiration dates’ on relatives. It shook me up; a rupturing panic drove me forward like a desperate ghoul looking for a sign of life. I found a suitable man to marry. He was equally suitable to divorce. My starter marriage …one more closed chapter in my ever shortening life story.
1999, my last year of life.
I wanted to test limits, my own and the limits of everyone who knew me. I burned bridges without looking back; I was dying soon. I fought and fled with equal intention. I partied like it was 1999. I traveled, I broke laws, lived dangerously, met people, visited foreign lands, ran up bills and emptied my bank account. I was dying soon.
Imagine my disbelief upon the morning of my 27th birthday, 3000 miles from home with nothing more than a backpack, camera, debit card, and road journal, I was of the living. Greyhound was cheap as hell and I was supposed to be dying, I hadn’t thought there would be an after or that I might have a need to carry more.
Life after 27 was ripe with opportunity: college, boyfriend, degrees, art, music, moving to a big city, anxiety, breakdown, marriage to boyfriend, panic attacks, failing out of college, diagnosis of bipolar disorder, gastro-surgery, a psychotic psychiatrist, psych wards, lost and broken friendships, gaming, reading, another psych ward visit and a pit of despair. Not all opportunities are created equal. Life is like that… ups and downs.
In another failure of foresight I prepared to off myself on my 37th birthday. I didn’t get any more original with age and this birthday thing had to work the second time around. I was my own doomsday cult and my loved ones weren’t on board with that. My husband was torn apart with my plan. My mom was speechless. A friend of mine told me he wished he could be my sin eater. My world was my body and I wanted to end the world. My bathroom was stained in blood, littered with razor blades. I got admitted to the cray cray house and the first thing that happened was I tried to slit my wrist with a plastic fork. I was dying anyway, and no one could call me back on it.
On my 37th birthday I was freshly released from yet one more psych ward visit resulting from ‘The Downward Spiral’. It was hard for a long time after I was released. Learning that breathing isn’t terminal and tomorrows would come was a hard concept to grasp. I was starting the third first day of my life.
It was 2012 that I realized that, for the first time in my life, I liked me. For 27 years I had been lost between the pages of a romance novel I read at 13; I was meeting me for the first time. I was a cool chick with a great guy, an awesome best friend who is a cat, and a great sense of humor. I was productive, positive and working toward something.
It has been a long and winding road for so long that the before, during, and after were each lifetimes of their own. The hardest part, realizing that my life expectancy was endangered by my lack of imagination. I couldn’t see further into my future than the next book I would read when I was 13. I was a broken child who wanted badly to stop the turmoil in my head, even if it meant giving myself a death sentence. I couldn’t put together my own story that wouldn’t end in tragedy. Sadly at 36 I was as equally incapable.
But I did get some perspective somewhere along the way and my world got bigger and more light.
If only I could go back to younger me, both 13 and 36 year old me, and tell her, “Imagination is the pen that writes a rich life. An empty page doesn’t mean the end of a book. Write on, girl, and live! Life doesn’t end at age 27”. Perhaps my storytelling would have developed younger, my happiness would have come sooner, I would have found how awesome I was even at age 13.
Write on, girl, live!