On turning 40
by David Weinshilboum
Turning 40 is a wonderful, exhilarating experience. You become older, wiser and more prepared for what the world has in store for you. One doesn’t get older; one gets better!
As someone who recently turned “the big four-oh,” I can confirm that the aforementioned lines are a load of crap.
You know how I woke up on my 40th birthday? In pain. I had been horsing around with my10-year-old son (and my niece and nephew) the day before. We wrestled. I tossed the kids about as if they were sacks of potatoes. Then I had the audacity to go to bed without lathering up on Ben Gay or dosing up on ibuprofen. I woke to back spasms; my poor little vertebrae firing off a Morse code warning: You… Aren’t …. Young … Anymore… Idiot…
Yes, physical exertion now involves a significant recovery process. A few years ago, I could go to the gym, work out and get up early the next morning ready for another day of activity. Nowadays, a hard workout will incapacitate me for the next 24 hours.
Worse, I don’t even have the ability to imbibe to excess now that I’m older. In my younger years, I could drink with the best of them. (I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where drinking was a prerequisite to graduation.) Once, I drank a boot of beer, more than most fraternity pledges could handle. When I first arrived at graduate school in California, I celebrated with my fellow scholars by having a shot with about a dozen of them—one after another. My body could handle it. Most of the time, I never had a hangover.
Nowadays, a single glass of wine will give me cotton mouth. Two pints and I’m completely done.
But that’s not the worst of it. I don’t even need alcohol to feel hungover. I have a one-and-a-half year old, and some nights can be hard. Once, when he was sick, I was up between 3 and 5 a.m. I changed him out of his vomit-laden clothes; I coaxed him into taking some medicine to reduce his fever. I walked him around the house until he fell back asleep. At 7 a.m. I heard his cries of “Daddy” echo through the house. My brain throbbed; the room swirled; the sunlight streamed through the window like God’s flashlight—but this time S/he wasn’t condemning me for my actions; S/he was mocking me. “That’s what you get for surviving this long,” S/he seemed to be telling me.
In addition to the larger physical issues, a few additional body changes have irked me.
When I was younger, I worried that my hair would disappear, as it did for my father. Boy was I wrong. Instead, my follicles have spread. I’ve always been rather hairy (as a result of my Jewish heritage outstripping my Asian genes), so the expanding amount of hair has been unexpected. Luckily, I don’t have the tufts of fur coming out of my ears (yet), but I now understand what Berkeley Breathed was talking about when his comic strip “Bloom County” expounded on the unpleasantness of back hair.
And the hair—wherever it is—is just bound to get whiter and whiter. Just a few days ago, a friend of mine—one who is a good eight years younger—looked over my salt-and-pepper mop of hair and ruthlessly asked. “So, how far down does the gray go?”
To top it all off, I’ve had to alter my professional persona. As an instructor at a community college, I used to describe myself as a “young” instructor. I’d insist that students not call me “sir.” “That’s a term for old people; I’m not old,” I would tell students. Now, when I get out of bed and look in the mirror, I see a “sir” looking back at me.
Others notice this too. Grocery store baggers don’t ask if I need help to the car. They automatically assume I need it. When I walk into high-end purchase stores—say the Apple store or a car dealership—the employees flock to me now. I can read their minds: “Dude doesn’t have that much longer to live; he’s gonna spend his money while he can!”
As you have probably noticed, I haven’t handled the transition to 40 very gracefully. But I am determined to handle the aging process more thoughtfully in the future—with Ben Gay, lots of analgesics, hot wax and a boatload of denial.
David Weinshilboum, who really doesn’t want think about what 50 will feel like, can be reached at email@example.com.