When I turn almost-30 it is a perfect day: jazz fest, blue skies, brass band, beer. I planned it to be just that, perfect, first by quitting my job and then by throwing myself into the finer pursuits of life: reading, yoga, art, teaching. I sway in a big brown field listening to brass band, beer in hand, breeze on back, thinking that this year, this one, is going to be unstoppable; that this song, this one will fuel it.
I notice the gray hair spiraling off my head like a slinky and call my best friend.
“I found one,” I say, half worried but half excited for this newfound puberty of old age.
“I found twenty-one,” she quips back.
We account this difference to her being more almost-30 than me.
As an almost-30-year-old, I look the same as I ever have: brown eyes with hazel specks, fair skin that burnishes gold in the summer, except everything is smoother, bigger, like a tomato so ripe it’s ready to burst.
One single brown age spot fades in and out of existence below my left eye, showing its outline after a weekend at the beach, disappearing after a week indoors.
I stop reading tech magazines that adore profiling successful entrepreneurs who have built billion dollar businesses by age 25. As an almost-30-year-old no where near that marker of success, I prefer to listen to Spotify playlists with songs that call out to me in rhythm and timbre.
One day, sautéing balsamic glazed red onions in the kitchen, I catch a lyric of one of the songs on the playlist.“Will you still love me when I’m old and no longer beautiful?” coos the sultry female voice. “I know you will, I know you will,” she answers herself.
At almost-30, I regret letting the plaster cast of my 12-year-old face decay in the corner of my backyard. One summer when I was young, my parents sent me to welding camp where a French metal artist directed me to make a self-portrait table. Welding the table together with scrap metal, we mounted a plaster cast of my face in the center, filling the tabletop with concrete and shards of mirror mosaic.
“In the future you will be able to see your face then and now,” said the French metal artist.
The plaster absorbed every single detail of my twelve-year-old self: puffy cheeks, bushy eyebrows, small zits, heart shaped lips.
The table sat in my parents’ attic for sixteen years, looking so real that each time I climbed the stairs to move a portion of my childhood possessions into my new house – books, clothes, pictures – I beheld the table in awe, astonished that I could grasp my past so vividly.
Then one day after there were no more books left to move, my parents dragged the table downstairs and set it by the backdoor. When I arrived to their house for family yoga, they told me to take it with me or else.
My husband loaded it into our VW bus, and the van sunk with the weight of metal and concrete. When we got home, he encouraged me to place it in the backyard. “It will ware well.” Overwhelmed with stuff, I waved my hand and said, “Fine.”
Now every day when I walk onto the porch to water the ferns, I watch chunks of my face fall off, washed away by thunderstorms and sun and hurricanes so that I come face to face with the slow decomposition of my face.
Two stray cats use the jagged face potholes as a rubbing post, and sometimes I catch them with specks of plaster on their heads and in their ears. A bird perches on my nose and pecks at my chin, taking two giant gulps.
I consider cleaning my crumbling face for our Mardi Gras Party so that what’s left of my 12-year-old self shines. The cast was originally spray-painted gold, and flakes still glitter under my eyes and across my jaw. Dirt has crusted in my eyebrows; my ears are filled with algae. “You look rustic,” my husband assures me. “It’s kind of cool.”
At the party, my face-table serves as a resting place for food, drinks and napkins. People get drunk. A guy teeters over the table peering down at my face pensively and I say, “That’s a self-portrait of me when I was 12.”
He looks up, confused.
“I can’t figure out which beer is mine.” He grabs a half-crushed can of Bud Light off the table. “Is this one yours?” he looks at me absently, swaying.
At that moment, I want to carry my face table inside. I can Windex the mirror mosaic and scrape off the rust. I can repaint my dented face gold and it will look like rustic art. I can put it in the corner of the guest bedroom that is shuttered and cool, and I can make sure it doesn’t see any sunlight ever again.
“That beer is totally mine.” I take it from his hand, and he gives me a palmy high-five.
“I knew it!” and grabs a different half-crushed can of Bud Light and guzzles it down.
In two months, I will turn 30.
I will be at Jazz Fest in a burnt field swaying under a hot sun listening to a brass band that I have danced to since I was sixteen. I will wear tie-dye and drink Blue Moon and wear SPF50 and go to that festival every single day because my husband gave me a brass pass for Christmas, an all-access entry ticket that also gets me into a tent with coffee, water and fruit.
And I will keep my face table outside.