I hesitate to call it a “crisis” because a crisis sounds dramatic. It’s more of a period of ennui. Or…maybe like an anxiety miniseries. But it’s not a crisis. A crisis is emergent. A crisis is all-hands-on-deck.
I am turning 44 on Sunday. I have good feelings about 44. “Forty-four is gonna be good!” I said, just a few weeks ago. “Forty-four is Obama. It’s two of my favorite number. Added together, it makes my other favorite number. Four plus four. 44. It’s gonna be a good one.”
I had no trouble with 40. I do remember 34 feeling old (not 35, oddly) but I still rolled through it gracefully. I do not hate birthdays. In fact, I freaking love birthdays. My birthday is my favorite holiday. And, actually, I am looking forward to it this year, too. But it’s also different. Tonight, I described it as if something is closing. Like, in a sci-fi movie where some ominous countdown is happening and a huge steel door to the portal to safety is slowly but relentlessly closing. The hero desperately tries to slip through — to get under it just in the nick of time — but it almost seems like he’s moving in slow motion. Like it’s happening right in front of him and he can see it happening and then it has happened and he has missed it. Cut to the door, closed. Cut to his face, realizing it.
I have lots of sporadic memories from my early childhood. I remember my 3-year-old birthday party and the last day of first grade. I remember watching the hot air balloons all go up at once on the field behind my school in 1981. But I really came online when I was nine. The ratio of things I forget to things I remember drastically changed at nine. I got my ears pierced on my ninth birthday. My good friend Melissa, who had moved away, came back for my sleepover party when I turned nine. I was nine at my brother’s bar mitzvah. When I was nine, we went to California and drove up the coast. I got a Michael Jackson velcro wallet when I was nine. I learned how to ride a bike. Nine was a beginning of something. I remember nine.
The Who is nine. He is now making the real and lasting memories that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. He’ll remember bits and pieces from before this, but the things he will recall with specificity and clarity are the things that are happening now. The shape and structure of his childhood is crystalizing. It’s changing from a sort of amorphous glob of days and minutes into something that is hard, shiny, opaque, holdable. Nine. The door to the portal is closing.
The letters of my book are almost all written. I’m not saying my story’s over — this metaphor isn’t that grim. But the words that have been knocking around for all the years of my adulthood — the possible plotlines, the characters, the foreshadowing and bookending — that’s all on the page now. My life is how it will be for the rest of it. I have my wife and my kid and my house and my job. That’s the story I’ve been brainstorming and drafting all this time and now it’s published. And just as The Who’s cartilaginous youth calcifies into something lasting, so too has the rest of my adulthood.
I think this is what I’ve been swimming through for the past few months: this awareness that the portal’s about to close on the last of my opportunities to right the wrongs of his youth and of my own. On my final chances to have a hand in who and what he and I both become, independent of one another.
The other day, I was listening to an Adele song in my earbuds and when the chorus played, I felt this drowning sorrow wash over me: Let me photograph you in this light / In case it is the last time / That we might be exactly like we were / Before we realized.
This is what has been whispering to me in the quiet moments of these last few months. This. The portal. The desperation of being too late. Maybe it is a little bit of a crisis after all.