Well another birthday has come and gone, and I have now reached the ripe age of 35. If the average life expectancy for a woman is late 70s to early 80s, this means I am pretty much middle age. This is a bizarre notion for me, as it probably is for most people who find themselves knocking on the doorstep of any significant change in age. Aging is something that other people do. Movie stars. Politicians. People I knew from childhood. But not me.
And then one day about a year and a half ago, my dermatologist recommended Botox to “freshen” up my face and help me look “more rested.” I had a moment. A moment that lasted about a year. According to my sleep tracker, I’d been sleeping a restful 7 to 8 hours each night. I had skipped the bronzer that day, but I wouldn’t say I looked “unfresh” (or whatever the opposite of fresh is? Rotten? Decomposing?**). But as stood naked under a paper gown, undergoing my annual skin check, I suddenly became painfully aware of myriad things I’d not been conscious of a few years earlier. The “girls,” lovely as they were, didn’t rest as high as they once did. I was developing crinkles around my eyes, those lines disparagingly referred to as “crow’s feet” (of all birds, by the way, why crows? Why not hummingbirds? Doves? Songbirds?). I had to work a lot harder to stay in shape and despite an obsessive gym and diet regimen, I still had some faint dimples on the back of my thighs that I tried to spray tan away.
So it was happening. I was aging.
Several months ago, I plucked a thick white hair from one of my eyebrows. It was like a piece of wire. Was this a benefit of aging? As you grow older, your face produces raw goods that you can collect and weave into a brillo pad? I always thought it was funny that as men age, their hair growth seems to redirect from their heads to their ears, noses, and eyebrows. But who was laughing now? It wasn’t me – the 50 units of Botox I had pumped into my face a month earlier wouldn’t allow it.
Even before aging became a thing, I had never really liked birthdays. I remember crying on my 10th birthday, devastated by the cruel reality that I would never again be a single digit. As I got a little older, I settled into life as a double digit, but birthdays became more macabre – I thought of them as some sort of marker that I was one year closer to death (that perspective probably began in my mid-teens). I don’t really like being the center of any sort of celebration or congratulations. That stuff has always made me uncomfortable. And besides, what had I done to deserve any sort of celebration? Escaped death another year?
So as you can see, birthdays have always been kind of weird for me. As I found another one approaching this year, I chose to look at it differently. I decided that I was going to celebrate it – not in any sort of traditional sense, but in a way that felt good to me. I hadn’t earned any sort of congratulation in my mind, but I had developed a stronger appreciation for life, for living – and that was something that felt worthy of celebration. I busted ass for a few days to clear my schedule so I’d be able to take a couple of days off work. I woke up on the morning of my birthday, had coffee with one of my camp neighbors, came back and cooked a proper breakfast for myself. Then I got on my bike and rode to Milner’s pass in Rocky Mountain National Park. Climbing a mountain – that was a perfect way to spend my 35th birthday. I had planned to drive into Denver that afternoon to adopt a dog I had picked out, but weather didn’t permit. So instead, I lounged around, listened to nice music, drank some wine, had a campfire, and sent thanks into the universe for everything around me. And it was good.
Then on Saturday, I woke up, drove into Denver, and picked up the puppy I had planned to get on my birthday. For my birthday, then, I took her on a shopping spree at PetSmart.
I’ve spent the last few years wondering a lot about happiness – what it is, what creates it, if it varies from person to person, or if it’s universal… and most importantly, how to find it. Real, true happiness. The kind that just sort of bubbles up from within. Isn’t that the purpose of life? To feel and share happiness?
My happiness took a hit after Chloe died. And there was part of me that felt like I was cheating on her when I decided to get a new dog. As I said in my last blog, I had thought about how much of a time buffer I should create before I opened my heart to a new four-legged friend. But I also realized that I couldn’t feel sad enough about losing Chloe to bring her back. No amount of heartache or time was going to undo her death. So, I could stay in that place of sadness without a dog – as someone who had always had a dog – or I could give a pretty awesome life to a new pup. So I chose the latter.
I named her Lola. She’s about 4 months old, a rescue from New Mexico, part German Shepherd, part Boxer (and maybe a little Border Collie). And I think she will be an awesome road dog. She slept during the whole drive back into the mountains from Denver.
Yesterday, Lola and I drove up to the top of Trail Ridge Road in RMNP, just a couple miles past the Alpine Visitor’s Center. I snapped a few pics. The Aspen are changing fast – it’s quite spectacular. I’ve never been anywhere to experience the full shift in seasons, so this is a treat for me. The temperatures are definitely dipping (we may even get flurries this weekend, according to the forecast). Sherie will probably get to see the tail-end of fall when she visits in early October – after that, I’m heading west to Utah.
To close, here are some pictures from the last week.
**According to dictionary.com, a variety of antonyms for “fresh” exist, including old, exhausted, lifeless, used, and worn.