My wife turned her head. “What?”
“I’m 30 on the East Coast. The Facebook ‘Happy Birthdays’ just started.”
She smiled, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder. Having just kissed her own 20s goodbye in November, she’d (understandably) had moments of panic when her day drew near and had been bracing herself all week for a potential flip-out on my part. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” And I was. I really, really was. But still… “It’s just…It’s really happening, you know?”
“Oh, I do,” she emphasized, nodding wide-eyed. “Believe me.”
My straw sputtered as I downed the last of my drink and clomped the glass back on the table.
“Let’s get the birthday boy another one,” she grinned, rising from her chair. “Or should I say ‘old man‘?”
“Ha. Ha. Make it a double,” I snarked. I watched her as she zig-zagged through the throng of suits and dresses crowding the dance floor towards the bar.
No, this party was not for me, although I’d been telling the bride and groom for months that I’d pretend it was. But sadly, the best man made no mention of me in his toast, and they wouldn’t even let me put candles in their cake to blow out, which I still maintain was a reasonable request.
Injustices aside, it was a beautiful wedding. I never imagined I’d watch my daughter walk down the aisle so soon, but she was The Cutest, Most Adorable Little Flower Girl in the History of Flower Girls, and we’ve already had agents calling us with offers for my son to be the new James Bond after a stunning tux-adorned display of his License To Bear Rings.
We’d been apprehensive about the Twins actually making it down the aisle as they’d only been walking for a couple of months, and we almost ixnayed the whole idea when, with minutes until showtime, they took turns throwing über-hunger-fits because the ceremony coincided with their normal dinner time. However, they somehow pulled it together. Maybe it was the shock of a hundred people staring at them. Maybe it was a Higher Power. Maybe it was my wife and me standing in the front of the church maniacally waving their favorite stuffed animals as bait.
Regardless of whatever tamed our savage little beasts, their Nina and Tio (my wife’s sister and brother) gracefully guided them down the aisle, gently pulling them away from the vibrant lines of flower petals they kept reaching for along the floor, and as four tiny eyes lit up at first sight of Mommy and Daddy, thus putting a sudden spring in their Ewok waddles, I couldn’t help tearing up at their mind-numbing cuteness.
I just kept thinking, We made them. We made these little fireballs.
. . .
I cracked a grin as I replayed the video of their procession on my camera for the third time and stowed it back in my pocket. Looking up, I noticed my wife navigating through the crowd with a beverage in each hand, absent-mindedly throwing in a little dance move every few seconds. A chuckle escaped my lips.
I wasn’t going to pretend to have any complaints as I hit the three-decade mark. Many people lament their regrets as they turn 30, but I have the best damn wife on the planet and children who already rival that Dos Equis guy for Most Interesting People in the World. As a stay-at-home dad, I have the privilege of spending more time with my kids than many fathers (or mothers, for that matter) are able to, and I’m simultaneously advancing myself in a Ph. D. program that fascinates me. I couldn’t ask for better friends, family, and Loyal Readers, and as it turns out, the gray hairs starting to pepper my mane do not at all threaten my sexiness. (It’s true. My wife said so.) All things considered, I’m living The Dream.
And yet, for some reason, I just couldn’t shake the bummer cloud hovering above me. I sighed over-dramatically for my audience of zero. What the hell is wrong with me?
And then it hit me.
All my life, I’ve seen hyperreal, fabricated versions of epic life moments like turning 30 on tv and film. There’s always a linear progression, a build-up towards them. They’re tied up with neat little bows because they’ve been orchestrated, revised, honed. There’s that ecstatic moment, like at the end of every Wes Anderson movie EVER, where the hipster music swells and everything happens in technicolor slow motion. And in that moment you see beauty. Connection. Empathy. Yourself. Whatever.
But as I glanced around the room at formally dressed suburbanites pretending to be thugs on the dance floor to soulless, robotic, auto-tuned hip-pop vocals and watched my phone light up on the table with well-wishes from Facebook avatars, it felt nothing like that. Don’t get me wrong–I love the Facebook Birthday Blitz as much as the next guy–but it all just seemed so impersonal, so lifeless and mechanical, everything an inhuman simulation of actual human contact and nothing like the way I wanted to remember the final, dwindling hours of my twenties.
I didn’t need the entire wedding to suddenly become about me, for a spotlight to be shone on me and everyone to shower me with attention. My wife had planned a 30th Birthday Murder Mystery Bash for the following week, and I’d get my prima donna time then.
Call me sentimental if you like, but I guess I just wanted a memory I could hang my hat on–a final, climactic moment I’d always remember as my march into the sea of Real Adulthood. Something epic. Something that–
“What are you thinking about?” my wife giggled, poking my furrowed brow and snapping me back to reality, bearing gifts of Jack and Coke.
“Oh, nothing.” I took a swig.
My wife can read me like a Dr. Seuss board book. There was no use hiding my inner pout. I sighed and launched into what surely would be an Oscar-worthy monologue, “I just feel like–”
But I stopped short. I had to, as I was interrupted by the familiar jangly piano intro of one of the Greatest Songs of All Time, and was morally obligated to sing along.
“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world…
She took a midnight train goin’ aaanyyywheeere…”
That’s right. You know it, you love it. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
It was Our Song. I realize it is now Everybody’s Song, but before the terrible “Did-my-cable-just-go-out?” end of The Sopranos and the only-watchable-for-one-season Glee phenomenon made it The Most Downloaded Song of All Time, it was just a badass hit from the eighties (which also just turned 30) and Our Relationship’s Official Theme Song.
And so, as a rule, whenever this sonic triumph is playing in our presence, we simply must drop whatever we’re doing, abruptly end conversations mid-sentence, and belt it out along with Steve Perry.
We stormed the dance floor along with anyone else in the room who had real musical taste, shouting lyrics and acting them out like an elementary school recital, Jersey-Shore fist-pumps flying and Wyld Stallyn air guitars cranked to 11. I surveyed the faces of family and friends encircling us, all rocking idiotically along with us, my wife throwing her head backward, laughing uncontrollably, the bride and groom finding us in the sea of guests to share the moment, knowing it was Our Song. And just as the the song crescendoed to its immortal, anthemic ending chorus, it was as if everything was happening in slow motion.
“Dooon’t stop belieeevin’.
Hold onto that feeeeeelin’.
Streelights, peeeople, ooooooooooh…”
And in that moment I saw beauty. Connection. Empathy. Myself. Whatever.
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If not, don’t hold onto that feelin’.