I turn 35 tomorrow and I am stuck.
No, really, I am actually stuck. In my car. I parallel-parked, badly, and now I can’t get out. I want to call my mom, but I’m too old for that, and she wouldn’t be of much assistance over the phone anyway.
Surely I can figure this out on my own. It’s pure physics; if I got in this space, I have to be able to get out, right? Is that physics? I never took physics, so that’s not going to be of much assistance in this situation, either.
In my repeated attempts to escape, my little Volkswagen is participating in the slowest ping-pong game ever, repeatedly hitting the edge of the curb and creeping dangerously close to the giant monster truck parked in front of me. I feel like every passing driver and pedestrian is laughing at me, judging me, which sends me into a mild panic that isn’t helping my already questionable spatial orientation skills. I feel powerless. Flustered, I give up.
Maybe if I just wait for a while, the owner of the monster truck or the car behind me will show up, and as soon as they leave, I’ll be free. I can be patient. I just got a coffee, I have my iPhone for amusement, and I always have snacks in my purse. I should be set for a while. I turn off the ignition and wait.
I leave the music on as I scroll through my emails. I’m bored within a few minutes. I open the sun visor and inspect my face in the mirror, which is a terrible idea when you’re bathed in harsh morning sunlight and your coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. I reflexively frown at myself, and when I stop, the lines remain. I guess this is what they mean when they say, “If you keep making that face, it will stay that way.”
I pull my eyebrows up, encouraged by the mass improvement of this temporary facelift until I let both of them go. My left eye is drooping more than the right. How much would it cost to fix that? I’m about to google that very question when I notice that I’m getting a zit. In a wrinkle. I slam the sun visor shut. I give up.
A romantic little death ballad called “A Journalist Falls in Love with Death Row Inmate #16” pops up in my iTunes queue, and it suits my souring mood perfectly. I turn the volume up as I slink down in the driver’s seat. I close my eyes and listen to the sad, weird story while I slide down the rabbit hole of feeling sorry for myself.
I try to rationalize that I’m only feeling sorry for myself because I’m trapped in my car. I’ve been driving for almost 20 years, but I don’t even trust myself enough to put the car in forward, or in reverse, to get myself out of this stupid jam.
But that’s not the truth. Being stuck in my car is a stark metaphor for my life right now, and I know it. Recently, conflict has been smacking me in the face from every possible direction. Instead of trusting my gut and making a move, I’ve been wallowing in uncertainty. I’m restless. Panicked. As I stare down the barrel of 35, I feel stuck.
Stuck in the post-quarterlife crisis, pre-midlife crisis phase of life, where you’re older but not quite wiser. The state where, as a single woman, you’ve aged out of the arm-candy category but not quite into the cougar one. The time when you’re still irresponsible enough to stay out until 4 a.m., drinking a bunch of twentysomethings under the table, but responsible enough to have a mortgage and a 401k and to remember take out the trash before you get cockroaches.
Which, actually, is not a bad place to be.
I’m not that stuck, if I really think about it. I’m not powerless. And the only common factor in this hurricane of conflict is me. So I’m the only one who can hit the gas pedal and get out. And I know how to do that.
I’m the one who has to extricate myself from a long, hopeless love affair when I know there is nothing I can do to push that relationship out of neutral. I’m the one who has to confront my sister on issues that have plagued our relationship for years, and even if it means that we have to move in reverse for a while, we’ll eventually move forward. I’m the one who has to try harder to be a better friend, a better daughter, a better coworker, a better human being, or I’m just going to be that sad person sitting in her car by herself.
Because, if I take an honest look at my life as I earn another year of it, I have absolutely no reason to feel sorry for myself. I’m being ridiculous.
And speaking of ridiculous, waiting around for someone else to come along and help you out of a situation that you got yourself into is the most ridiculous thing of all. If you’re stuck, that’s on you. We’re all responsible for our own misery, or our own happiness.
I’m not sure if it’s this obvious revelation or my ever-present impatience that drives me. But I take a deep breath, turn the ignition and check my mirrors. And I get out.