Over the phone, I was told that Faith and Ty couldn’t meet me for a while, because they were going to spend the next few hours at the gym. I sat up from my couch, where I had been lazing in weekend afternoon splendour, disgusted and repulsed. I was in my underwear, and probably crusted with a fine corona of cookie crumbs. It was 3 p.m. “That sounds terrible. Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know,” Faith muttered. “I think we’re getting boring. I came home from grocery shopping the other day and was excited and asked if he wanted to know what new spices I bought.” She paused, as though wondering if I myself might inquire about these new spices. I did not. “Being an adult sucks.”
As I drift through the nebulous divisions in my time as a twentysomething, from the halcyon, liberated days of the “early” to the murky and harrowing “mid”, I’m left with a great deal of time to consider what, if anything, would make me an adult. What things might demarcate my transition to grown-upedness, my great leap forward in maturity and self-reliance? What will take me from man-child to man-man?
There are, of course, great milestones flying by me all the time, ones that I could theoretically cling to as my markers of my entrance into shadowy, aloof netherworld of adulthood. Living on my own. Holding down a job, and saving money. Managing to do so in the field which I studied at university. Travelling the world. Maintaining my Ericsonian sense of stable identity. Owning and regularly operating both a frying pan and a washing machine.
But I think the true, legitimate threshold I’ve broken, the one true demarcation of transition from child to grown-up, is that I’m becoming kind of boring.
Youth is marked primarily by a disconnection from your own mortality, or, rather, a rush to meet up with it. You know that you’re going to die eventually, and also that you will age and deteriorate and break-down and start to really dislike modern music and strong flavours and hitching your belt at anything below your belly-button. And in turn, you do everything you can to speed up the process. Anything that will destroy your body a little faster, that will bring upon your demise any quicker, is intensely, deliriously alluring – drugs and cigarettes and booze and bad music and greasy food and Twilight and terrible decision-making. The end of life seems gross and unpleasant and thankfully distant, and finding ways to remove the rotting middle years seems like a perfectly legitimate plan. Will it maybe shave a few days off of my life-span? Cool. I’ll take a double-shot, and if you can serve it to me via a razorblade, that would be sweet.
Being a grown-up means taking care of yourself—it means taking a good hard look at your waning, derelict husk of a human body and trying to maintain it. Recognizing that our shells are essentially ticking time bombs made of meat and rickety engine parts, some degree of upkeep is necessary if you want to keep it running for more than a few decades.
In youth, if you care at all, you can focus on the now: put in food, output with your genitals, and occasionally give yourself a good scrub to fend off leprosy. Hormones and your sprightly metabolism take care of the rest. But in time, you have to become pro-active. In the long view, what you do now to your body will have great repercussions on what you will do in the future. Do you like solid food? Well, better start flossing on the regular, lest you lose all your teeth in your mid-fifties and need to learn how to gum down an apple. Want to stave off cancer and liver failure and some unfortunate horror befalling your colon? Better give up smoking and delicious food, and cut down your drinking to what is recommended by your doctors. While you’re at it, abandon overly loud music, risky behaviour, and fast cars. Cut out anything that’s fun, because it’s probably terrible for you.
The problem, of course, is that many of these changes sneak up on you when you’re not really looking. One day you are enjoying yourself, blending grain alcohol and cigarette butts and injecting it between your toes, and then the next you’re calling it an early night because you need to get up early the next day to do your taxes while mainlining Muesli. You rarely find the conscious decision to start taking your winnowing mortality by the reins, rather it just sort of happens, and sometimes as though it is against your will.
At some point recently, I started noticing these changes in myself. My apartment is cleaner. I stay in more often, to both save money, to cook at home, and to find serenity or inner peace or whatever. I have grown repulsed with the idea of a pub-crawl, where only a few short years ago I would have very nearly been salivating at the prospect. Undue and terrifying amounts of my time and brain capacity are spent thinking about what I will do in the future, and how to prepare for it in the now. I had no desire to take on these changes, rather, it is as though they have been inflicted upon me from on high. Some righteous and stern and health-conscious deity, or some deeply ingrained, evolutionary time-bomb of tedium in my brain has set about making me care about myself.
One night, after having a few drinks with my friends and taking a cab home, I stumbled stupefied and jelly-legged into my apartment. Robotically, I drank a half-litre of water, took some advil, placed a bottle of acid-coloured sport drink near my bed, and proceeded to brush and floss my teeth with delicate, laborious precision. Fingers deep within the recesses of my own mouth, it struck me: I’m taking care of myself. I’m trying to make sure I don’t fall apart.
Where previously I would have just endured whatever horrors of a hangover the next morning wrought, or bounced back from them with my sprightly, youthful ebullience, now I needed to maintain. To prop up. I needed to set up a scaffold just to make sure my shambling frame did not shatter and crack under the strain of regular use. Suddenly I’m trying to fend off decay, and age, and nasty hang-overs and regret. I’m preparing. I’m looking forward.