Jun 24, 2004

Please don't make me care about this.

I have never been someone who cared all that much about my age. When I was younger, I was often mistaken for older. I was a precocious child. An annoyingly precocious little peepot of a child. I wanted to be a prodigy. I remember watching some "news" magazine story (probably on That's Incredible! or something like that) about a family with an Asian mother and a Caucasian father and four daughters, all of whom had been raised to be geniuses. Their mother read to them in the womb. They were performing simple math problems by the time they were like four days old. They were reading before they could open their eyes. The oldest one was in college at age eleven. And I envied them. I resented my parents for not ever giving me a chance to be that brand of brainy freak. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that by the time I was fourteen and on the debate team, I was occasionally mistaken for a teacher rather than a student. And I didn't mind in the least. The only embarrassment was to be had by the Nabokovian lechers who wanted to get to know me better, only to find that they would be judging my debate round. And that I was still a sophomore. And a sophomore who skipped a grade (and was therefore all the younger).

Looking back on it, I was proud of such things at the time. I could hang with the parents just as easily as with the kids. Maybe more easily in some cases. But I never used this chameleon gift to buy cigarettes or liquor. I was afraid of consequences. And by the time I actually realized I wanted to buy cigarettes and liquor, I lived in Japan, where you can buy nearly anything you want from a vending machine, no questions asked.

So, I was always mistaken for older. Until such time as it no longer made sense to be. And then I started being mistaken for younger. In the Asian tradition. As I have actually gotten older, I have found myself in a sort of age-appearance eddy, swirling around a twenty-something epicenter. And now that I have cut my hair, it seems that I have regressed all the more. I met a few of Beulah's high school/college friends tonight, and they asked which of us was older. Said that we looked like twins. A stylist at the hair salon asked me the same question. I'm seven years older than Beulah. And for a good stint there, I was often mistaken for her mother. It's a wonder what a little barrette will do. I'm sure it's not that Beulah looks older than she is. If anything, it seems that we all just collapse inward towards some vague mid-twenties appearance. Fashion tugs us there. Music, maybe. Something like that anyway. Tonight, a clerk at the drug store looked at my i.d. as I was buying beer and cigarettes and said, "Fifteen. Just as I suspected. Do you have a note from your mother for these?" I laughed, the way you do when you are participating in the social formality of not saying, "Please shut up and complete my transaction. You are troll-like and wasting my time." He made a few other conversational quips. Flirting, of course. I have to admit, I laughed at each line, but I honestly couldn't understand what he was saying anymore. I wondered if he knew it. If he had asked me a question to which laughter would not be the appropriate response, we might both have experienced a moment's awkwardness. Fortunately, I didn't care if he thought I was a moron. When that happens with a friend, I'm mortified. When someone says something to me and I mishear it or try to play along without actually understanding, I might laugh or nod or say some packaged thing, and then in my internal instant replay, I begin to sound out what was actually said, some interpolation happens, and then all of a sudden I realize that my friend asked, "What time is it?" to which I scoffed, "I'll say!" There's no fixing such blunders. You have to just walk away and pretend it never happened or look the person in the eye and say, "I don't know why I just said that. I'm retarded."

I don't take special note of instances when people think I'm younger than I am. My mom always used to. She always used to brag that no one believed she had a pair of grown daughters. People would see her with me and my older sister and tell her that we all looked like sisters, and she would coo over it, and it would make her day. I don't know if any of these people weren't hitting on my mom or trying to sell her something. It's possible these sentiments were genuine. My mom was a very young mother, and she's Asian, and she takes good care to look nice all the time. There's no reason anyone should think she's not a good deal younger than she is. But the difference is she cares about it. And I don't. My older sister likes to cite instances of twenty-three year-old dudes thinking she's twenty-four. And there's nothing wrong with that. But I have never made it a thing on the list. I don't want to care about it. And I fear that all this youthful mistaking will leave a greying hole if it ever ends. If someone tells me I look exactly as old as I am, it might actually hurt my feelings. But it shouldn't. If a crass street urchin points a soiled finger at me one day and cries, "You're old, oldie!" it shouldn't make a crumb of difference. It shouldn't even matter when I one day cross the threshold after which people start saying, "She looks great for her age." Age is for census-takers and tree surgeons. Who cares how old you are or how old I am? The only time it matters is when we're trying to figure out whether we both watched Charles In Charge. This isn't Logan's Run, is it? And if it is, cool! -- I love domed cities.

posted by Mary Forrest at 4:03 AM | Back to Monoblog


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