Tomorrow (Wednesday) is my birthday! I’ll be 53. I went out to dinner with a bevy of old pals from high school, and we talked about being in our 50s. We thought we’d feel a lot older in our 50s… imagining ourselves wrinkled with our walkers, dried up…. you know.. life being over kind of deal. But, we’re not. We feel young. Yeah, we have our aches and pains and our ever-blossoming collection of wrinkles and facial hair, but we don’t feel our lives are over. Lori asked, “Didn’t you expect that we’d be further along by now, though… You know, I thought my house would be paid off …. my kids would be grown and gone? We all laughed at how things have changed, and we just don’t have the clear path that our parents had. But, I’m happy about being 53.
I read a study about happiness awhile back. I can’t tell you what it was because I’m too lazy to look it up right now, but, trust me, it was relevant. It said that overall people are happy in their early 20s and they continue to get more and more unhappy until their late 40s. Most people are at their most miserable at 48 or 49. Then, something happens at 50 that turns the path around, and people get happier and more content until they reach age 75 and health issues start cropping up. I find that very comforting. I know, for me, the year I turned 50 was the start of a major turnaround, and I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I don’t know why, and I don’t care why. I just know I am.
These ladies that I dined with tonight are the girls I colored with in the first grade, chased boys with in the 6th grade, rode around and partied with in high school. Lori taught me to eat pop-tarts with butter on them, and I think about her every time – no matter what city I’m in – I eat a pop-tart. She and I were little girl cheerleaders, and I remember tossing my pom poms down to fight her one day when she made fun of my skinny calves. Tonight, she reminded me of a day that she and I begged Momma to take us to a baseball game in New Roads to see my high school heart-throb play. We got on our knees begging…. nothing’s going to happen, Momma….Please take us. Well, we had an auto accident that day. I had totally forgotten about that, but Lori even remembered potato chips flying all over the place. And our friend Jean Ann who is still recovering from her surgery was with us, too.
Some of them were friends that I wasn’t very close to in high school, but I knew them because we all knew each other. Tammy was the arguably the prettiest girl at our school and exotic with her long silky brown hair. She had a personality that was much more grown up or reserved – I don’t know which – and it made her seem so different than the rest of us silly country gals. I asked them all a question that has been haunting me for decades. “Why – with that new gym that we had – did we never take showers after PE class? In that Louisiana heat with no air conditioning we sweated in PE class and got dressed without taking a shower. Were we morons? They had never thought about it, but I thought about it every time I went to a gym and got dressed for work. I thought of how sweaty we were, and we’d change with the backdrop of dry showers in the locker room. We speculated that maybe we didn’t want to be naked in front of each other or maybe we couldn’t really do our hair and makeup so it just seemed easier to stay like we were. Apparently, it never dawned on ANY of us to take a shower. What were we thinking?
We talked about the boys we grew up with – yes, if you were at Live Oak High between the years of 1975 and 1980 – your ears were burning for a reason. We talked about Angola and how an insider knows that every man in that prison is there because of something to do with a woman. We talked about where we’d been, what we’re doing and where we hope to go. Sha, my best friend from early childhood, talked about how odd it is that we all started out in this one place. Some of us went around in big circles and went far and wide; others went in small circles and didn’t go far. But, whatever we did, at this particular moment we all ended up in the same place with the same gals all over again. It is ironic. I think of Sha all the time, too. When I open a new account, and they ask that question Who was your best childhood friend?, Sha is always my answer. We’ve now exchanged phone numbers again, and she petted my dog before we left. We have spent so many minutes on the phone over the years. She was the first girlfriend that Daddy let me call long distance on a vacation. I hung out for hours on our harvest gold kitchen phone talking about boys with that girl. She was my catcher, and one day I’m going to blog about that connection. We caught up once in the 1990s for a brief period, and she came to my parent’s house that Christmas to see me. It was fun to see her again.
Birthdays make me think of the circle of my life. I love to hear my parents tell the story of my birth. They had gone to an LSU basketball game – University of Tennessee – and Momma went into labor early the next morning. I was the first. Momma’s water broke, and they rushed to the hospital. They pulled up to the Baton Rouge General, and Momma looked up and told Daddy that we needed to go to the Lady of the Lake. That wasn’t the first misjudgment of the night. Michael Jerome, as I was to be named, turned out missing a very important piece of equipment, and Daddy had to come up with a female name while Momma was under anesthesia. He decided on Sharon Kay. Momma says I never liked going to sleep. I wanted to play all night. I was a born communicator. I started talking in full sentences. I had a stint as an only child for only 14 months. The rest, as they say, is history.
When we arrived at the restaurant tonight, our classmate Bryan happened to be there. He was so surprised to see us. He lives in New York and was down for a funeral. The first time I was in a room with all of these faces that I’d known since I was a child, it was a very odd feeling. I felt like a deep memory was being needled, but I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t really describe it, but it felt like it was old and new at the same time. And, I felt a little torn. I knew them so well, but I didn’t really know them at all. They looked so familiar, but I might not have recognized them in another place. Bryan had that look about him and even commented that it was weird to see us all together. I told him about my experience, and we laughed. I don’t know if anyone else at Don’s could talk over us. We were loud and laughing and couldn’t stop talking for a minute. At one point we set ourselves up for a group photo, but we didn’t have photographer. We stood in the corner in our group until our waitress came back and captured the moment. It was fun, and I feel pretty happy right now in my bungalow in Mid-City. It’s my birthday, dammit. Party on.