I turn 30 on Friday. I’ve said that a few times out loud, and it never quite sinks in. The words just hang there in the air, waiting almost it seems, for something to drop. Like certain parts of me that are losing the battle with gravity. What is it Dolly Parton said in Steel Magnolias? “Time marches on, and pretty soon you realize it’s marchin’ across your face!” While my face is pretty much mostly spared still, I’m beginning to feel more aches and pains, and noticing weight sitting differently than it used to. Marchin’ on.
In my last post, I said that for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m really living. And even as I typed those words, I found myself perplexed, questioning, “Is this the first time I feel like I’ve ever truly lived?” I caught myself drifting back to another lifetime ago, the anniversary of that lifetime’s end which came up last week.
Four years ago, I was with a man I thought would become my husband and the father of my children. We took a weekend trip to Austin to watch my cousin’s car race team at the Formula 1 track, and then took a trip to the Salt Lick with his friends. He rented a cute little AirBNB, and we went to brunch at my favorite brunch spot on Sunday morning after church. It was a perfect birthday weekend. We’d been together for a good while, and we did life together. We loved each other. But the crux of our problem was that I could never be who he needed me to be until he showed me how committed he was, and he could never commit to me fully unless I could be who he needed me to be. It ended tragically, and for years I felt like it was all my fault; I was never good enough. But the question I should have been asking myself the whole time was: Is he the man I need him to be? The answer to that lies in the answer to his question regarding us, which was, no. Marchin’ on.
So three years ago last week, he called it. I yelled and threw things and drank and fell asleep on his couch. He cried and sat and waited for someone to come get me. We were supposed to go to a wedding that day. I remember I was so angry that day and said all sorts of horrible things that today I’d probably apologize for if we came face to face, not because they aren’t true, but because I hurt his feelings. Probably. At one point, he tried to wake me up in my stupor, and I noticed he was crying. I was too out of sorts to really do anything, but I remember asking, “Why are you crying?” and he couldn’t answer me. He just cried some more and sat down next to me on the couch. I curled up with him, and said very sleepily, but peacefully and assuredly, “It’s going to be okay.” I had no idea at the time just what that meant, and I was so hurt, but I knew it was true, and I believed it even then. Eventually, my friend came to pick me up and took me to her house to stay for a few days before I moved in with her. I slept in her bed with her and her dog.
I remember in the days that followed, I realized I was 26, about to be 27. When we’d started dating when I was 23, I thought we would have been married by that point. So suffice it to say, my 27th birthday was a hard birthday. I knew I’d be okay, but the immediate hurt and losses impeded my peace. I had thought, up until that point, that being with him meant I was really living. And indeed, I was in love, which is definitely a big part of life. But the way I was living life with him, wasn’t living. I had friends who celebrated it with me, and prayed blessings for my life in the years to come, but I was still sore. That year turned out to be the hardest year of my life. Mom died. He started dating someone new, to whom he’s now married. My grandmother died. My father was hospitalized for severe depression. I moved four times that year. It was a year where I clung to God because that was all I could trust.
But one day, in those early days after he and I parted ways, I woke up in my friend’s bed, and she asked me how I’d slept. I’d had a dream just before waking. I told her, I had the strangest dream that it was years from now and I was living and working in Korea and I was really single and really happy. She asked me how I felt about that, and I think my response was to burst into tears. I didn’t remember it at all until shortly before I left; I’d had a deja vu moment in my friend’s apartment where I stayed in the upcoming weeks, and I remembered that dream during that time. It’s funny how we forget dreams like this until we see them starting to take place in our waking lives.
I used to model for figure drawing classes in college. I try to keep that on the down low because I’m a teacher and I don’t want to cause scandal or anything ridiculous, but I think the thing about turning 30 is you gradually stop caring so much what other people think and are willing to take more risks. You start to really live. The art teacher at school is teaching a PG version of figure drawing (read: clothed) and she expressed in the lounge that she was having a hard time finding people to come and pose for her. I naturally volunteered. While I was sitting there, in front of my students, with my most colorful and patterned dress, an overwhelming sense of familiarity came over me. I smiled watching her go around, making suggestions. I thought of all the years and different times I’d posed before, and how such an unexpected and curious skill has come in handy, even in a small Christian private school in Korea. And it hit me: Everything in life has led up to this life here, in Korea.
I turn 30 on Friday, and I’ve never felt better about my age. I’m exactly where I should be. A friend of mine and I are going to Wonju, a town southeast of Seoul to try some Texas style BBQ (supposedly the best in all of Korea, or Asia, maybe) and I’m throwing a Chili Bar Party on Saturday. I would so love to have a good man by my side to celebrate this big milestone birthday, but only if he can keep up. I’m fortunate enough to have my friends (and chosen family) here instead. I guess I’ll keep on marchin’ on.