Hung - Notes on Turning Thirty
I woke up yesterday with a body pillow over my entire face, a damp towel under my neck, a full water bottle tucked into the sheets next to me, and one foot dangling off my bed in hopes that the world would stop spinning if I pinned it down with my toes.
I’m thirty-six-and-a-third years old. There should be no reason whatsoever for me to have been that level of hung over. Or as my friend’s little brother once called it after seeing us all in our early twenties, a pile of hot messes in his living room, “Hung.”
I was hung. And I felt like I had been hanged. But, like, not in a good way.
Apparently, several gallons of Bombay Sapphire and about a grove’s worth of limes will leave one’s throat feeling like they just spent a year eating sand. No, sand would have gone down easier. This was like the cinnamon challenge met the saltine challenge on Tinder, then hooked up in my mouth. What’s rude is that the several drunk men that were tap dancing on my brain wouldn’t even shut up long enough for me to even think about taking a sip of water.
I know it might be a little late in the game, but yesterday morning was when I knew for sure that I would not end up being an astronaut. The last Netflix documentary I watched on NASA training whilst eating my weight in Chinese food, they get spun around a billion times at mach fifteen or whatever, and just walk away and fly to the moon.
I played one failed round of cornhole and rolled an ankle, and yet I wasn’t able to move my head an eighth of an inch without feeling like my eyeballs were melting out of their little sockets.
After a hero’s journey toward the John to drink from the sink and figure out if I had actually gone blind from drinking too much or if my mascara had just glued my lids shut (ladies, she’s single), I found my clothes from the night before strewn across my apartment floor leading from the front door to where I was standing. My bra being the closest thing to my little toes. I don’t know how or why leaves would have gotten into my cups, but you know what? If The Girls had a good time, who am I to question them.
That’s when I looked down with my one working eye and noticed that those clothes were not replaced with pajamas. I thought the breeze I felt was a stroke. One less thing to WebMD later.
Waddling back to bed (after catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror looking like Danny Devito as The Penquin), I found that pre-party me had laid out several Advil and a bottle of water on the nightstand. She knew me so well. I love pre-party me. She’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had.
I closed the good eye hoping for death or maybe another hour of sleep, when my phone sprang to life. Show off.
I was in charge of a dozen bagels, cream cheese, and four fountain sodas - the original hangover cure.
We do love a good post-birthday debrief. And we sure did. All looking progressively more green around our respective gills, we shoveled down bagels and donuts and waters and coffees, and for some inexplicable reason, deviled eggs. We ate and laughed and eased ourselves back into the land of the living.
Days like yesterday, when you have the rolling brown-out of a hangover strong enough to make you wonder if they were on to something when they used to drill holes in people’s heads to let headaches out, you have a choice to make.
Well, I did anyway.
Binge drinking is a serious problem that is dismissed as a social norm these days, and the discussion of which is far above my pay grade.
That’s not what I mean, also, I didn’t binge drink. I’m old and it doesn’t take much to put me into urgent care.
I made a choice to not fall into a pit of shame, and to lean into the celebration.
I had the great privilege of being invited to celebrate one of my best friend’s 30th birthday. She happens to be one of the truly great people to grace this earth. Her humility and kindheartedness makes a lot of saints look like a buncha back alley street thugs. My friends and I have been awaiting this birthday for literal years, and all prepared diligently for the marathon that it was.
And, true to our friend’s beautiful free-spirited nature, she wanted this birthday to be the celebration of the year. It’s a big turning point in life, and one that should be kicked in the pants with a rager.
I was one of 203 guests to a printed invitation. I think my graduating class had less people.
I love my friend for this. She may be the only one in our little group who could get away with planning a wedding for her birthday. She didn’t ask for a thing, but we would have gladly helped. We knew that she was probably having an existential crisis as the tent went up, and the tables and linens were chosen, and she picked out an outfit, and inevitably cried while sweeping up the shards of the broken scotch bottle the day before the bash. We knew, and we supported her as best we could. Turning thirty is something you have to do on your own, even if most of your Girl Gang is waiting on the other side, cheering you on.
Thirty can be a lonely place to lay your head. For some reason, the things we do in our twenties seem just a little more impressive. At thirty, you’re not praised for taking on that extra project. Your great aunt brags about you to her Bridge partner with decreasing exaggeration now that it’s just expected that you have a full time job. Getting a good-night’s sleep starts sounding almost erotic.
And it can be tough to do those things alone. There’s a pressure that comes along with growing up the way we did, in this little city tucked in a crook of the Hudson River. We are a city that is always adjacent to something else. We’re near Albany. South of Saratoga. On the way to Vermont.
That’s sort of what thirty feels like too. You’re just sort of adjacent to something else. Just past your twenties. Near to being in good shape, but things start sinking south.
And most importantly, on the way to something great.
What I learned about this hangover in particular, is that we really were celebrating the welcoming of our friend on to that road to something great. Greater than ever before.
This road looks a lot like the last one, but you have the benefit of choosing how high you hold your head. You have thirty whole years of knowing what it feels like to keep moving forward at your disposal. At thirty you get to start piecing everything together, and you still don’t have to know the exact steps to take. It’s a magical place. There will still be tears and disappointments, there will be failures and flailings, but it will feel just a little more manageable, if you let it. I promise.
We don’t have to be our parents, just like they weren’t theirs, just like our kids won’t be us. We get to put aside someone else’s insecurities and anxieties and criticisms that haven’t done us a lick of good, and let our own voices guide us. We get to take our time and cultivate the happiness we really deserve, and let go of the false perfection we coveted. I think of those little perfect things I dreamed of as being party balloons that fly away just hours before the guests arrive. I thought they were needed, and cried over not being able to hold on to them, but no one noticed that they weren’t there, and they would have popped anyway.
Thirty started the most harrowing and gut wrenching and rewarding and breathtakingly beautiful years of my life thus far. And I wouldn’t trade a second of them for all the tea pots at Mackenzie Childs’. Not one second.
So yeah, I would let my head be split open by Paul Bunyan any time to be reminded that sometimes overdoing it a little at a good old fashioned celebration is just what we need to feel alive again. No shame. No worry. Just making better choices this week, and finding my path again.
That and drinking all of the coconut water in three counties.
Happy birthday, Jack. You sweet freaking angel, you.