24/7

It offends me that there are oodles of books about growing old gracefully and none of them are aimed at 20somethings. I turned 24 last week, and I’ve had a crick in my brain ever since.

Twenty-four seems old. I can’t help feeling it’s a milestone at which I should have more on my “done it” list than I do. (I suspect this reveals more about the enormous expectations put on my generation than it does about my personal achievements, but that doesn’t make it any better.)

You see, now it’s not really feasible for me to continue blowing around as a member of the “just out of college” group. Now I’m supposed to be gearing up for some kind of quarter-life crisis or a cocaine addiction or both.

But the scariest part about 24 is that it’s almost 25. And 25 holds a lot of weight for me. When I was a little girl, maybe 7 (at that point I would have just gotten out of my refuse-to-wear-pants stage), I envisioned 25 as the prime of life. I saw myself in a city, with lots of girlfriends who did things like lie on my bed with magazines and eat chocolate (we would magically look like we spent each day in constant movement, sculpting gorgeously lean bodies with hair, nails and teeth that showed we were spinach-eating, water-drinking health nuts).

I envisioned a happy job, saw myself walking past desks with a snappy joke for each coworker. I imagined getting nicknames from my boss and published in important magazines. A stunning success at such a young age!

There’d be a man in the picture, obviously. Not the one I’d marry, but someone I’d be with for two years or so. He’d be homey, handsome and a hardworker, and I would look back on my time with him fondly.

I don’t know where these visions originated.  My idea of my ideal self is equal parts Edith Wharton and Edith Piaf. With a pinch of Myrna Loy. I’ve always been susceptible to thinking perfection is possible, and I have decided to examine my old Martha Stewart magazines and Doris Day movies with a more critical eye. The point being, maybe my expectations were, well, off.

Whether it’s sensible or not, I’m still under a hell of a lot of pressure. My younger self is depending on me to fulfill those hopes, in New York, where people dash dreams about as often as they toast bagels.

I admit on my birthday-day, I let the momentous occasion overwhelm me. It was hard being away from my family and dearest friends, though they all did a magnificent job rallying round, electronically. I went to sleep feeling melancholy. (Or to personalize it– mollycholy.)

But I awoke happy. And it was the first time in months that the day’s starting emotion was joy. I don’t know if it was all the love and attention from the day before, or if my self-pity had worn off, but I felt good. And so far, it’s stuck.

Maybe I’m just getting older.

Shuffle Underwater

One of the interesting things about submerging your head under water is the moment between your neck wetting and when you feel the liquid coursing into your ear canal. (I always imagine it like a flash flood — the desert after a rain. A clear blue day and suddenly, with a trickle and then a roar, all the cacti are washed away and the tumbleweeds go all soggy.)

My life is like water in my ears right now. For some reasons which don’t bear going into and some which do, it feels like, as my mother would say, “someone has upsot the apple cart.”  (The apple cart being me.) It’s restlessness and discomfort and exhaustion and exertion.

Nothing’s going my way. Everything’s harder than it should be, takes longer than it ought to. Just this afternoon I went for a walk in the park to cheer myself. I saw a huge leaf pile, and instead of walking around it, I thought it might do me good to skip through it. I hit a rock and twisted my ankle. You see what I mean.

It’s a tough time. But what makes it interesting is that I know I’m in it. I know the water’s about to trickle into my ear. Somehow I got lucky enough to be aware of how much fun I’m not having. And I can’t decide if that makes it more bearable or less.

I know it doesn’t make it any better. Yesterday, I was slouching down 42nd (not to Bethlehem, but Times Square, where there’s no room on the inn), scowling and feeling pretty tough.  That area of New York is always crowded and seems particularly prone to wanderers or little lost citizens who get in the way. I was not in the mood for packs of tourists. I was about a block away from my subway — I could see the glittering yellow circles, smell the grease on the turnstiles — when I slammed into a girl about my age, walking the opposite way. I was knocked a  little off balance and turned to scoff when I saw the crash had made her drop her purse and most of its contents had spilled on the sidewalk. She was frantically trying to scoop them up amid the tangle of feet, more treacherous than jungle vines, and people were starting to complain. Even from my haze of misery, I knew I should help.

I didn’t want to. I wanted to give myself a break. “I’m in my blue period!” I said to myself. “I don’t have the strength to do anything I don’t want to, and I shouldn’t have to pick up some chick’s lipstick that’s in a shade too kitsch to bear anyway.”

And as I walked away, I realized that acknowledgment doesn’t make things better or worse. But it does change who takes credit for things. And I wondered — what if every time you feel the ground shifting beneath, maybe, like in the old disaster movies, it’s just you moving your feet.