The Wheat and the Chaff
“How does it feel??”
I’ve been asked that about seventeen times in the past week.
How does it feel? How does it feel? How does it feel?
What they want to know is: How does it feel to turn 40?
My birthday was on Sunday. The big 4-0.
Wow. Even the shape of the number is strange. 4. Upright. At attention. Goodbye free flowing ‘3', hello quit fucking around ‘4’.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
As a kid, I always looked forward to my 30s. They seemed exotic. I pictured fancy food being served to me on golden plates.
There was that show, Thirtysomething. That was cool. It starred the guy with the long hair from that beach volleyball movie. 20s was still seemed wrapped up in college and shitty jobs. 30s… that was adulthood to the fullest.
40s never had that allure. Maybe because I was a there when it happened to my parents. I remember my mom’s 40th birthday like it was yesterday. My dad was working overseas, so my mom went to dinner with her four kids and the babysitter Becky. I remember my uncle’s 40th birthday too. I saw the pictures. There were black balloons and the cake was in the shape of a coffin.
And my 30s did not disappoint. They were epic. Epic I say! I got divorced. I quit drinking. I travelled. I fell in love. I fell in love again. I left New York. I left Charleston. I left Atlanta. Moved back to my hometown. I started teaching. I was on TV shows. I went to Edinburgh. I wrote eight plays. I played Hamlet.
These last few months might have been the most epic of them all! I opened my new play, Stages, that went incredibly well. I am working with an agent in New York to turn that play into a book. Joined a group of incredible writers and went on tour with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. My play A Sudden Spontaneous Event is going to have new life. I had been living the life I always imagined! A life in the theatre. Of writing and performing and traveling. A life that lots of people try to achieve and here I was, after years and years of dedication and work, actually achieving it.
And right in the middle of all this life, all this amazing news, an old friend came back to say hello.
Cancer. One of the other epic things that happened in my 30s. In February I had a scan that was totally clear. The word remission was starting to be thrown around. I was going to take a break from chemotherapy. We decided to do one more scan in June, just to be safe, and there they were. Two lymph nodes that were showing signs of metastatic activity. My oncologist said I was going to need to go back on the big drugs. I saw my old doctors at Emory, they said the same thing.
So with five days left in my 30s, I was back in the chair. The battle had reconvened, and it was once more unto the breech.
Last Tuesday, as they were leading me into the infusion center, they asked if I wanted a room with a television or a room with a view. A view I said, and that’s where they took me.
“It’s not much, but it’s something,” the nurse said. “I’ll bring you a blanket.”
She was right. The view was just a bunch of weeds. But it was framed in a way to make it look intentional. I appreciated the effort, and decided I was going to think of it as beautiful. As I got out my laptop and begun to settle in, a butterfly flew across the window and landed on one of the weeds.
The nurse brought me a warm blanket and put it over my bare legs. “There’s a butterfly on the weed,” I said.
“Look at that. Told you it was something.”
“Yeah you did.”
“Ready for me to go get the medicine?”
The nurse laughed. “Maybe you’ll be ready by the time I get back.”
I wasn’t, but we started anyway.
So how did it feel to turn 40? Confusing. But that is life. The ups and the downs. The wheat and the chaff. It exists simultaneously. The prime of my life, served with a side of chemotherapy.
The butterfly hung out for a long time. That wasn’t a weed to him. It was a warm safe place to sit.
There’s a metaphor in there somehow.