I guess we were talking about it at work, somehow, during afternoon tea at 3:30 on a Friday when there hasn’t been much on except, like, writing email and reading policy papers and wandering around the office, counting the hours. One of us had some popcorn and I had some biscuits and someone else had a single kiwifruit, so we sat around and ate and drank and watched the clock tick down.
Anyway, I mentioned something about all my gray hair, which I first noticed when I was twenty-nine and which I have been noticing more and more ever since. The girl who brought the kiwifruit has this amazing purple hair—and I mean purple, like grape purple, like she dyed her sink purple by mistake when she was washing it out purple—and I said that if I were going to start coloring my hair I’d want to dye it purple too, not some boring old dark brown like my regular hair. We talked for a while about hair, and highlights vs. all-one-color, and how I am still, five years after I saw the first one, not ready to be gray, quite yet. (I sort of think I wouldn’t mind going straight to white, though, like a very bright sort of clean snowy white. That could look kind of cool with short messy curly hair, don’t you think?) “I’m just not ready, I’m just not ready to look my age,” I said.
That’s not the kind of thing you can say without expecting some sort of protests—You do not look thirty-five AT ALL, said the girl who brought the kiwifruit to afternoon tea, the twenty-five year-old-with the grape purple hair, and of course I said, well, of course I do, even though I’m actually still only thirty-four, and so on and so forth. I didn’t mention how last week someone complimented me (I think) by saying, Oh, I thought you were only thirty!
Seriously, though, she said, if you hadn’t told me I wouldn’t know. And I said that I didn’t think that my youthfulness—if that’s the word I want, as opposed to “jejeune” or just plain “immature” has more to do with the way I live than the way I look. Even though there’s obviously no real timeline, anymore, about when you’re supposed to tick off the boxes that delineate a grownup from a kid—well, there sort of is, though, isn’t there. I have ticked off some, I guess: master’s degree, real job. I don’t own a house but I did use to sort of own a car, and I did even live on my own in my very own one-bedroom apartment, once upon a time. What else is there? I guess adults are supposed to be married or in marriage-like relationship situations, and I used to do that too.
And now I talk about being broke and flatting with two other people and about boy trouble and friend drama and occasionally staying out late at night—although not that often, lately, so maybe I really am growing up a bit more in that regard—so I guess it’s not unreasonable to think I am not a complete adult in the way that people who have partners and children and mortgages seem to be. I still don’t have any responsibility, really, other than pretty basic things like paying the rent and eating my vegetables and treating other people the way I want to be treated. No one depends on me, no one needs me. I’m beholden to no one, really.
(And if that’s the case, I sometimes wonder, why am I wasting such a glorious and golden opportunity for freedom by, like, going to work a nine-to-five, you know? Shouldn’t I become a war correspondent or an Artic researcher or something like that? How did my big adventure on the other side of the world turn into the antipodean quotidian?)
Of course, we all secretly know that those adults, the ones with the children and the mortgages and all of the rest of it, probably don’t feel grown-up either, or like they’ve arrived at some arbitrary arrival point that signifies the ever-elusive Real Life. It’s hard to know, though, sometimes. It’s hard to tell from the outside.