39

It’s maddening, really. I’ve made it to the last year of my 30s and I know, in the way I usually don’t know until much later with the benefit of time and distance, that this last year was a tipping point, a harbinger of things to come. Momentous, even. I’m bursting to full of things I want to write about.

What’s maddening is that all I can think to write are clichés—things even MY PARENTS have already said. All the ways I can now relate better to them, in fact. All the signs I am in a new category of old. (The “oldies” station now plays ‘80s music. What?) All the ways I want to live stronger, be adventurous, be truer to myself than I have been. I want to surround myself with the things I’ve always loved—writing, music, nature. I’m even pressuring my husband to move 25 minutes away to a 5-acre property with an old barn.

I want change—I want to hang on to its shoulders and give it a head-butt, grab it before it grabs me. To just move, so I don’t look back and see stagnancy. But I am also savoring my little ones because I have a feeling this, right now, is as good as it gets. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Basically, I’m going through a mid-life crisis and my writer self is rolling her eyes at me. Really? she says. This is so….expected. And unexceptional. 

But still, I think:

Man, it’s going fast.

I can’t believe I used to babysit you!

You’re 40?! I once saw you pee on my bathroom floor in a swimsuit! Aren’t we still those same little girls?

What in the world can I write worth reading that hasn’t been written a thousand times before? This past year, yes, was an absolute mind fuck—from finally accomplishing my “someday” dream of publishing a novel (I did it! I did it!), and then watching it whizz by on its way to the past, where it lodged itself comfortably; to the news that my body carries on a family tradition of not having a certain cancer-fighting gene which, really, would have been nice to have (how lazy can one gene be to not even show up?); to the scary surgery monster of metallic dreams and hollow drips, of pain and awakening realizations that this little, old body can only take so much. And at the same time, how goddamn much it can take.

So this year was a culmination of sorts and a push to a future I have always disliked, one I now reach for and hold on to with tired but strong fingers. Something has shifted in me. I have moved from being a consummate fan of the past with its soft, glowing edges, to a lover of the present and future. It is simply too depressing to focus on what I miss—my babies’ fat wrists and dimpled knuckles, my 1981 Strawberry Shortcake shirt. I am here, now, and will not always be. That is this year’s greatest gift to me: the deep understanding that I am fleeting.

It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. ~Abraham Lincoln

Bring it, future. ~Jessica Vealitzek

39th birthday

Counting Change

There’s definitely been something about this year.

I don’t know if midlife crises find us, or if we find them through several culminating, transforming experiences.

Either way, I think I’m in one. Though CRISIS is the wrong word. Much too harsh. Maybe it’s a Mid-life Growth Spurt. Maybe I’ve finally become an adult and this is what it feels like. I thought it happened when I had my first child, but maybe that was just the dig that set it all up—the planting that’s been watered and sunned over the last six years.

This year–I’ll use the school year in this sense–started with my daughter transitioning to a Big Girl Bed and leaving her crib behind. The ends of things have always saddened me, I wrote at the time.

Then my son entered kindergarten. There were times I couldn’t wait for my children to enter school. This, in a nutshell, is the cruel joke of parenthood. I am now, and forever will be, in a constant struggle for space and independence, coupled with lonesomeness in the moments I find it.

I’ve never seen the movie To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, but I thought of that title several times over the last year. Thirty-seven was a big one for me. My year of changes, of feeling older, of seeing the end of the road. That sounds exaggerated, over-wrought. But it’s true. I see that there’s an end to this. I never could before, in that wonderful way of childhood and young adulthood, invincibility and joy. Now, I see that time does indeed fly with great big wings. I know when I am seventy I will look back on today and see softer edges, illuminated by the glow that the past inevitably holds for me. And I will think, “Man, that went fast.”

I turned 38 in February. Unfortunately, whatever black magic 37 possessed did not disappear instantaneously.

It was in that mindset, in April of this year of change, that I found out I’m BRCA positive–I have “the cancer gene,” the BRCA mutation, whatever of the various names for this relatively new diagnosis. I therefore have a much greater chance than the general population of having certain types of cancer, namely breast and ovarian. But also pancreatic, skin, and possibly lung and cervical. And who knows what else; it seems so new and good studies are long and slow, that nothing feels solid. Then again, I’ve been in a bit of denial and I’ve pushed it all off, which is unlike me. But I was diagnosed two weeks before my first book was published and I was determined to keep it at bay until after I could celebrate for awhile.

Well, my book tour is over so now’s the time, I suppose. (Though let’s be honest, there’s no way I’m putting my book too far in the background when it’s less than two months old; it still needs some motherly love.) My sister, also positive (which is actually misleading because in our cases, we don’t even have the gene; it’s missing from our DNA), dove in and learned all she could about the gene and our options. I had a “meeting” with her the other night to get up to speed. I felt slightly numb the entire time we talked, as I have pretty much since I found out.

Once in the car, though, a simple sight broke me: I drove past a father and daughter playing softball in a field. The father pitched to the daughter and she swung the bat  just as I passed and I could have sworn it was me and my father twenty-five years ago. And then time and motion and adulthood and childhood and joy and melancholy converged, and I cried all the way home.

There have been light moments—my sister and I laughed today as we talked about getting double mastectomies together and found ourselves saying things like, “December, maybe? I don’t know, when’s good for you?”

My mother and aunt are also BRCA-positive. Meanwhile, less than 1% of the population are BRCA-positive, according to ABC News. I’ve also heard it’s 2%. Regardless, we really represent in my family. We come to the table. Once your parent is BRCA-positive, you have a 50/50 chance of being positive yourself. So the women in my family flipped a coin four times in a row, and four times in a row we got BRCA-positive. I wish money was involved.

I hope to write about our experiences here; after all, it fits right in with the theme of this blog. But over the next few months, I might not be around a lot, and this is my explanation–to the readers and writers whom I usually visit and comment and correspond with. In this year of changes, there are a few more to come.

DNA