Having a birthday at the year’s end was torture when I was in high school. Everyone did everything before me. They got a permit, tested for a driver’s license, and even held employment before I could. I wished for time to pass so I could do the things they were able to do with age. I wanted to be older. Twenty-five years later it’s not so bad. I get to sit back, be the youngest of the group, and watch everyone else turn 40 before I do.
With 40 looming, I’m happy to see the days slow to a crawl. Facebook statuses remind me (almost daily) the number is approaching. Each day someone I went to high school with is photographed at a party with a giant 40 on their face or carting around the dreaded “Old Fart” walker. Dear God if anyone thinks of doing this for me, you can shut it down right now because I will kill you.
I’ve been able to ignore the impending doom because those birthdays didn’t hit close to home. Those people are acquaintances I shared a classroom with when I was a teen. Or maybe they were dear friends then that I’ve fallen out of touch. It’s not “real” if I don’t know these 40 year old birthdays personally, is it? Maybe I could’ve lived in that denial before, but that all changed a few weeks ago when my best friend from high school turned the big 4-0.
I faced the fact it was coming weeks before. I knew I wanted to make Tara something special to mark our long-standing friendship more than the fact we are hitting an age milestone. Cookies seemed like the best answer. I went for a design that represented her. Something girly, classic, and not too lavish. They were fun to make because I got to remember the great things about her, not the birthday the cookies represented.
Tara didn’t grow up in the same school district like most who went to my high school. In our freshman year, I knew her through mutual friends and it wasn’t until sophomore year where I had my first awesome interaction. It came at my 15th birthday party. She was quiet and timid while others mingled in comfortable conversation. I don’t remember anything we might have talked about. I don’t recall anything much about the party. I only remember opening her present and finding the Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians cassette tape I’d been wanting forever. (Forever being a couple weeks in teenage time.)
The special thing is the fact I’m sure she had no idea who they were. (Most people didn’t.) Tara was a die-hard country fan. I’m not even sure how she knew I wanted it. I remember her asking me if I liked it because she knew music was important to me. I fell instantly in best friend love with her thoughtful gesture.
In our high school experience she was responsible for my big hair, my attempts at make up, and reducing my self-loathing. We became co-editors on our high school paper and I found someone who loved writing as much as I did. We shared our insecurities and hopes for what would come after high school. All this love while rockin’ our differences — She was crowned in the winter formal court, joined a debutante society, and listened to her mother’s opinion.
After high school, she packed up her life and moved halfway across the country for college. We grew up in our own directions, matured through marriages and children, and have come out the other side with our friendship still intact although changed. I’m still finding it hard to believe we can be this age.
Although I wasn’t there to celebrate, I’m sure Tara set an inspiring example by handling her 40th birthday with grace. Big smiles and gracious thank yous accepting her fate stepping over the line to the era we regard as being our parents’ time. More birthdays are coming and more friends will be labeled “Over the Hill” as each day passes.
I hope by the time my day arrives I learn something from these examples. Maybe I’ll be a little more mature about it only being a number. Maybe I won’t freak out when someone says to call the fire department when the candles are lit on the cake. Or maybe I’ll be a little wiser about appreciating the four great decades and the fantastic set of people along the way that got me here.