I turned 50 last week. I wanted to equally forget about the milestone and commemorate it appropriately so I assembled a small army of 6 other women and went to New Orleans. I figured that this city had enough distractions for an aging lady and I needed a place where I could bring a drink with me wherever I went.
It hurts a little, being 50. You don’t live this life without some failure on the way that’s still clinging to you somewhere. It’s hard to not see how I’ve neglected myself, the scars from car accidents or surgery or general stupidity. The issues are clearly there, but they aren’t unmanageable, at least not yet.
I was chatting it up with my bartender. A guy slinging pricy drinks in a white tuxedo jacket in one of the fancier restaurants in the French Quarter. (Some drinks really are worth spending some cash. The drinks that are prepared for you with equal parts love and magic and are topped with champagne…) I asked the usual questions, “how did you get here…” and he unfolded a little story about working in the Coast Guard and how he got to travel and see the world but I could hear somewhere, the other story, the real story. The one about wanting to get out but the only path was through places afflicted by war and poverty and disasters. The “it wasn’t easy, lady” parts that people imply but don’t say. Working in mental health, I see the aftermath of disaster everyday. The failure of the healthcare system, the judicial system, the educational system and families who are forever changed by brain chemistry they can’t control. Even with all of the medical intervention in the world, some people live with active psychosis all damn day. One way or another we all go through it.
Part of me wanted to tell that bartender that he was running away from what he saw. That he wasn’t going to spontaneously recover from trauma. But it would have been silly for a middle aged ½ drunk woman ordering one $15 drink after another to start giving life advice. Plus, maybe sitting behind that bar was a therapy, a penance of sorts. I was reading a lot into his life story, after all.
New Orleans was a perfectly damaged place for me to go. The city I barely saw seemed to be just broken enough to handle my sadness and still celebrate the absurdity of everything that happens to a person in 50 years. When I saw the kids in the Marginy writing poems on the streets for cash, I really regretted not at least attempting to make a go as an artists more. I should have been there 30 years ago but I don’t know how a midwestern girl used to structure and sameness would have handled all of the creole architecture. I wasn’t made for such beauty.
I have anywhere from 15 minutes to 40 years left of this life. I think I’ve maximized my capacity for pain enough. It’s time for me to maximize my ability to see and fully appreciate beauty. It’s the only real way to stuff the hole from regretting the many things that I didn’t do. From the beautiful grace of the loblolly pines outside of my windows to the sparkly heart shaped beads hanging in Walgreens. We share a lot of pain with each other in our lives but we share a lot of joy, too.