On reaching 30: A birthday monologue

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Back in early high school of the early noughties, when I liked Playstation 1 and Wheatus, there’s one moment I recall in between bland vacant times of no meaning. My teacher’s aid was having a bad day. She was turning 30. “I’m old,” she said, miserably. She was cool, someone allocated to keep an eye on me given that I was on the educational radar – the one to watch out for, a sign of troubling behaviour. She lent me her Playstation games, like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot: Warped.

I turned 30 today, and I’ve been struggling for weeks to write something that was a combination of humble-bragging of my past and a declaration of my positive future. It’s 6pm and I haven’t had a shower, and I’m having dinner with my colleagues in 55 minutes. There’s not a lot of time to write something, if I want it published on my birthday.

I’m tired. I just returned from Perth, where I visited my family for a few days. My mum drove me back to the airport and on the way we stopped at Grilled for burgers. And I told her how I feel that it hasn’t been the same since I returned from South America seven months ago, that everyone around me is starting to look old, even my younger brothers.

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An earlier birthday. Judging from my pimples, somewhere in the early 20s

She gave me the look. The one where her lips are pursed, her eyebrows are raised, and is considering an “mmmm”. And she said, “well you’re not a kid anymore. You’re an adult. When you were in your 20s you could pretend to be, sort of. But you’re not.” And I had to absorb that for a moment, because in my heart I’ve thought I have the best of both mindsets, where I have experience in my profession, but am young. I guess I felt that everything I was doing was training me, preparing me, building me for something else in the future, when I was in my prime, when I’d have it all figured out and controlled.

Since I came back from Peru, I haven’t felt that. I’ve felt that where I am now is who I am. And I’ve felt a bit flat over it, as I see that I’m still not having much of a social life, where I’m still struggling with work at times and balancing the feelings of inadequacy that comes with it, with the occasional sense of pride that I know exactly what I’m doing. And I’ve felt that everyone else my age, and younger, have established themselves, have their voices too, and are prepared for this world that constantly is being branded as more frightening and dangerous, in its various forms.

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Possibly my 13th? 

As I continued eating my burger, I carried on with my rant to mum. “You know what the population is? 8 million. Sorry. I meant 8 billion. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe when I was in high school in 2006, when we were told it was 6 billion.”

In that time that has been another 2 billion people who now exist, who soon will indirectly compete with me for resources, food, and are part of a collection of experiences that I won’t be able to relate to.

“Haven’t you ever felt the same?” I asked mum, who would by my count be 48. She shrugged, as if she either hadn’t thought of it, or had long ago taken such a thing for granted.

While the population itself doesn’t directly impact why I’m 30, or the significance of it, I am saying there is a lot that can change in three decades, and even in 15 years.

Such as myself.

I was fostered for three years when I was 10, and I left home when I was 15. It was only the other week that I realised the odds of going to university and completing a degree was low if you were fostered, and when I look back to the kids I knew then, I know that I have accomplished much. People over the years have said I’m hard on myself.

I’ve had to be.

I guess what I’ve done though, in the meantime, ever since my Beenleigh Centrelink careers adviser helped me apply for university, is avoid stability. It’s only since Peru that I’ve even taken out a bond, and rented on my own. I kept a job in Mount Isa for more than three years, and I told myself I would serve that time, but I questioned it every six months.

I’ve always wanted the chance to escape, or have a choice to do so, without feeling bad about it. And I can still do that. Being 30 doesn’t change that. Reaching 30 doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a milestone year. And milestones help us to reflect on what we did and what we want to do.

 

That’s where I should wrap it. And I will. Today I didn’t do much. I tried out cricket powder in my breakfast cereal. I signed my rental lease for another six months. I bought an expensive pair of jeans from a store that offered me a 20 per cent discount because it was my birthday, only I didn’t see it until after I made the purchase. I bought Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and tried watching it. It’s not a good movie.

And really. That’s it. And I’m about to go out for dinner. And I’m okay with that. But I’ll have a birthday party in two weeks. It won’t be tonight, because I work tomorrow.

Feliz Cumpleaños: The Legend of Peru

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I cannot remember the last time I’ve been so sick after a night out. My girlfriend rubbed my back or sat on the shower floor next to me in the tiny bathroom. “It’s okay,” she said, reminding me that I likely wasn’t going to die, even though it did feel like dying.

When we woke up, gradually, the following afternoon, she said, “maybe you shouldn’t have mixed your drinks.”

It’s my second birthday in Peru, and the plans were almost the same, without realising it until I checked the blog post about it: Feliz Cumpleaños. I didn’t get so sick, but it was a late night involving pisco and pizza.

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There were two observations I made this year about my birthday. The first was that everyone hugs you when they wish you well. And given that I spend my life in relative isolation with only physical touch from one or two people, away from family or the overly familiar bro culture of ‘Strayan blokes, the manly hugs from normally conservative people is actually welcoming.

The second thing I noticed was that when you turn 29, nobody is interested in the fact you have turned 29. It instead is, “wow, not long until you are 30.”

But who cares about 30? I’m 29.

I had invited a bunch of people to a favourite pizza place of mine, and after splitting the bill, most went home. A few of us continued the party at a favourite bar of mine, at the intersection next to the Plaza de Armas. I drank a Machu Picchu and because I held balloons that said ’29’ and wore a crown (corona), I caught the attention of the Spanish singer who constantly asked questions about who my girlfriend was, and where I was from. She tried to get me dancing along with the others, but I preferred to watch. But my refusal to get up and dance with my girlfriend, I sensed, drew some irritation from the crowd.

A year ago all fresh with the novelty of trying to be a new person in a new continent, I would have danced.

That night I preferred not to be the token gringo that couldn’t dance. We watched traditional dances from across the country, before moving on to a place on the other side of town we called ‘the Irish bar’. It wasn’t Irish, exactly. How could it be when the first word of its name began with ‘El’, but because it was green and had that rustic, British colonial vibe to the walls and the roof and the tables and chairs, we labelled it as such.

The night before that I had a small get-together at my girlfriend’s house. We played Jenga and ate burgers (with beetroot from Australia), and Tim-Tam Slams. For a Tim-Tam slam you need a hot chocolate and a Tim-Tam. Use the Tim-Tam as a straw and suck the hot chocolate through it until it’s about the melt and collapse in on itself.

I opened a present from my girlfriend. My favourite thing among the gifts was a shirt that looked like the cover of ‘Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, but had been given the Peruvian treatment. Link looked out at Machu Picchu instead of Hyrule, and the shirt said “The Legend of Peru”.