I am at the hip and trendy LAX nightclub, where the model agency A-List Talent is throwing a big industry party. Yes, the music is too loud. And the club is too crowded, too dark, and it's all happening too late in the evening for me. For someone who usually goes to bed around 9:30 p.m., the party didn't even start until an hour past my bedtime.
I see a lot of people I know, models mostly. But it's mainly packed with strangers, most of them much younger than me. Well, actually since I'm still in my 20s (just, I know, but humor me) and the youngest these people could legally be is 21, there's at the most a eight year difference. Later on in life this may not be such a glaring gap in age, but in your 20s, it's a lot.
I'm sitting at my booth, watching cute young girls dancing on the next table, wearing skimpy skirts and low-cut tops. They look really sexy, and they look like they're having fun. I gaze down into my glass of sparkling water and sigh. I really don't fit in here, not anymore. Did I ever? Sometimes I like to envision myself as a fresh-faced young girl, sexy without trying too hard. But I realize that I have moved past that stage—that if I got up and joined the girls who were dancing on the table, I would feel like someone who's trying to be the "cool mom." And though I realize that the actual age gap is not that immense, mentally it feels like the Grand Canyon is separating me and the brunette shaking her ass about eight feet from my left.
But there's no sour grapes here, no resentment against the pretty young girls who are making me feel old. I smile at them, like a mother would smile at her child playing with other children in the sandbox. I'm glad they're having a good time, but I'm just not in their world anymore. And it would be sadly pathetic if I tried to be.
I see my age manifested not in the tiny lines beginning to form under my eyes, or in the lessening excitement at the prospect of my birthday. It's watching the people around me grow up — such as my siblings — that makes me feel old. My little brother has passed the BAR exam and was just sworn in as a lawyer, and my baby sister just turned 21, which means she can drink — well legally, anyway.
Today I met an old friend from high school for lunch, someone I hadn't seen since our graduation. He went from the stoner kid who sat next to me in English class and cracked jokes about our teacher to a sophisticated, sober businessman who runs an art gallery in Pasadena. We exchanged stories about friends from our respective cliques and what they were doing now. His friend who used to flirt with me in photo class and once got punched by my boyfriend for lifting up my skirt is now an Orthodox Jew, married with children. My best friend from high school, whose partying rivaled mine, is a medical student at USC. I could never have looked around at these kids on the day of graduation and imagined these lives for them. Nor could I have imagined where mine would take me.
As my drinking problem continued to progress and the drinking habits of the people I grew up with lessened, I kept waiting to grow up, as they seemingly did. I figured that one day I would wake up, and I would suddenly have matured and grown out of my partying ways. But that never happened. And as my 30s loom ahead, I got the sudden panicky feeling that it wasn't going to.
But it was this inability to emotionally mature that forced me to take probably the most adult action of my life: surrender to the fact that I was an alcoholic and undertake the difficult task of changing my ways, and ultimately my life. Some people mark their transition to adulthood by starting a family, or by embarking upon a serious career. I made that transition by attending rehab (for the second, and I believe the last, time).
A year has passed, and I've grown so much during these last 12 months that I scarcely recognize the girl I was before. Only with my head cleared from booze and pot can I see how incredibly childish I really was, even though I had all the semblance of being a mature woman. This wasn't the way I expected things to turn out, but my adolescent dreams of the perfect life are just that: adolescent. And there's no room for that kind of idealism in the real world. Do I still fantasize about the future — a perfect husband, beautiful children, my dream house on the Venice canals? Of course I do. The childlike imagination is still there, but I'm not going to throw a temper tantrum if things don't turn out my way. And that tells me that I've grown up, not grown old.
I may not be able to hang out in nightclubs and dance on tables anymore, but I remember what those days were like, and I have to say I'm glad they're over.