When I was 35
Manila — During a chat one day with an elderly neighbor as I was coming back from an errand, she vented about the mobility restrictions for seniors during the pandemic. She envies young people – like me, she said — who can go around anywhere, and asked me if I’m, like, 35, or probably younger?
I was surprised. But like a normal person, I take comments like this as a compliment. I recall some other incidents when I was even mistaken for a college entrant. I told her I’m in my 50s and will be 60 in a few sunsets. She was surprised, too, and insisted that I don’t look mid-century at all. Our small talk stirred up when I showed her the lines on my face and neck and gray strands surfacing from every spot of my brown hair to reveal that I’m certainly past 35.
As I was settling in my place, I thought about 35, who I was, what I was doing, where I was going. I’ve been around so long it’s difficult to recall so I did a little math to establish the year, and there it was – the year I was struggling to make decisions and losing the run on myself.
That was the year I left the daily grind of beat reporting for a newspaper and took the risk of going freelance. I had no job security so I had to work hard and think about the future, which also caused me emotional and mental instability. I was so busy working I forgot that those were the last days of my youth as I was approaching middle age. I was so tired I felt like I was 50. So, 35 was my new 50.
Some friends said it was the perfect age to get married too, although most of them withheld, as we could not see around us the supposed perfect role models of being happily married, which made us think of other life options. I was also trying to please everyone and I wasn’t sure if the people I called friends were indeed my friends.
I abused my body and I began to feel it when it was telling me it was payback time. I had troubles I wasn’t equipped to deal with. I was limited by my fears so that was the year I recall the huge leap I didn’t take, the smarter choices I didn’t make. I was too serious I forgot to sing. I was at war with myself.
But career-wise, that was also a time when people started to take me seriously and offered engagements in communications and development work because to them, I was already an expert at what I was doing. To my mind though, I wasn’t even halfway to attaining expert level, and so I was also halfway to attaining peace and contentment.
But it was a huge watershed; I know that now. There were things I should have done differently but on one side, I remember thinking that some of the best days of my life have yet to happen.
I just celebrated another birthday last month, and as it has always been since I got past being that serious wreck at 35, I always consider every single day as a second chance. The older I get, the more I understand why.
Diana G. Mendoza is a longtime journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org