I knew that turning 31 would be more difficult than hitting the 30-year-old “childlike” milestone. Thirty-one was deeper; it meant that I was officially a 30-something, that I was truly in adulthood — whatever that meant. I could think back as a kid and remember all of the hopes and dreams I had and that my thirties seemed so far away. I was never in a rush to grow up, and turning such an awkward age didn’t have the glitz or glamour that 10 or 17 held. I remember moments of my past so vividly — when I was a kid and the mindset I’d have when I wanted a new doll, or why I wouldn’t let other kids play with my toys, or the excitement I’d get whenever my parents would surprise me with a new Goosebumps book. Those thoughts are chiseled in my mind, and it only scares me to know — technically — how long ago they were, but how quickly they seemed to slip by.
The week of my birthday, I broke down. I knew that it was going to happen, but I didn’t know to what magnitude. After getting home from work, I sat and cried because I knew my loved ones would not always be around. I saw what my parents dealt with around my age, understanding that they had some adult tasks to handle at fairly early times in their lives in regards to death and loss. And it scared me to imagine myself ever without them. It scared me to see a world from a different angle. It scared me to not try my hardest for anything for them in order for them to further their best possible lives. And knowing that I was getting older only solidified that they, too, were getting older. I didn’t like that perception of reality; it only made me frantic and worry over things that may not have been real issues.
Getting older also made me come face-to-face with the fact that I had/have a phobia of failing. OK, I always had some idea that I was fearful of failure. But as a kid, I was afraid to fail on a test or not be the best of the best in terms of academics. I was afraid I’d embarrass my parents or embarrass myself since I was branded with the “nerdy” type. I wanted to learn; I wanted to know as much as possible.
However, I had no idea that as an adult, I’d be afraid of embarrassing my childhood self. I stuck to my guns so much when I was growing up; peer pressure didn’t sway me and I pushed myself until I’d learn topics in my trouble-areas. (Science was like learning to code for me.) But I had no idea of what my fears would be as I’d become an adult. And when adulthood came, I was afraid of losing the optimism of those youthful hopes and dreams, or demolishing them, or simply not even considering them. I was afraid of becoming a hypocrite, turning into that person who just lives for a comfortable lifestyle and the “American dream” rather than pushing the envelope on cultural boundaries, or breaking societal norms, or rewriting history with the ink of my quill pen with a cute purple poof on the end. I always thought I’d be a rowdy woman, a rabble-rouser who’d never take no for an answer, who’d push herself until she was physically weak to get a major policy passed, or to nationalize a boycott against a racist company, or have so many book titles to her name that people would rethink their thoughts about writers of color.
So, yes. Two days before turning 31, I sat on my couch and cried. Sunny day in New York City, and I cried by the window of my Harlem apartment. And on cue, once my mascara was a whopping mess smeared across my face, one of my best friends video-called me just to check in. It was as if God and the universe told me that everything would be fine. Despite those fears that would probably never go away, despite the inevitable of life’s wonders, I still had to keep living. And in the process, enjoy the small markers and little wins along the way and hope that they turn into something huge and beautiful and miraculous at the end when my personal painting is complete.
Now that my thirties have truly hit, I’ve come to realize just how much my life mimics somewhat of the livelihood than I did foresee when I was younger. Sex and the City is a real thing in regards to my career and not “creating” a family in my twenties, expensive drinks with friends at private clubs on Tuesday nights, and exclusive invite-only events on Saturday mornings. Living Single is the reality when I get with girlfriends and just hang and laugh and gossip or when I want to be like Régine and just stay in and pamper all day. I understand Waiting to Exhale and Boomerang so much more now. (Don’t trust men and/or act like a man seems to be the ways to success in relationships, according to those films.) Not that trying to have a Hollywood lifestyle is the goal, but art imitates life. And I have to remember that I can’t be the only one who has felt this sort of apprehension when it comes to aging and its responsibilities.
As a kid, I didn’t always have the desire to celebrate my birthday. I would cry about not wanting to get older — and then all of those mechanical animals at Chuck E. Cheese kind of freaked me out. But each year as an adult, I have to accept some form of celebration to signify communal accomplishments and successes that have come along the way. Even though getting older can truly be scary, simply not celebrating with my loved ones and support system is even more detrimental — people who have always been there to fight for and with me, to make sure I stayed on track with those childhood dreams and goals. And no matter what, for as long as I can, I want to continue sharing our memories.