By Em Faerman
“Except keep your back straight when you squat down,” a trainer corrects.
I’m on my second-to-last circuit holding a 20-lb. dumbbell long ways beneath my chin. I squat down, attempting to do as instructed.
“…Or you’ll have back problems when you’re an old lady like me!” A fellow gym goer comments.
“Or me!” A second chimes in.
And of course that cute boy I’ve been eyeing just walked in. Getting active remains a strong player on the “25 Before You’re 25” lists the Internet has been riffing for the past 16 years. The trend can be attributed to the famously misattributed “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30.” First published by Vogue in 1997, the wise words have been credited to both Oprah Winfrey and Hilary Clinton (and are penned by neither). Physical activity also made the cut this month’s most recent list, landing a spot on Salon’s super short “Five Rules for being a Grown Up”. Only five, since, well, millennials have such short attention spans and please, don’t even get me started on “having it all.”
The timer beepbeepbeepbeeps me on to the final circuit (thank god! Those squats were really killing me!) I count one-two-three, one-two-three (a waltz) keeping both arms poised above my head, swatting at the small speed bag with the pinkie side of my right fist, with the pinkie side of my left fist alternating at the pause between the -three and one-, willing it to be over. I concentrate on the even momentum of my arms’ swings, their mid-air arc. I’ve never punched someone in real life, knuckles to jaw. Now, though, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like, what all the things I’ve yet to do would be like. I pick up speed, filling the small gym with the thumpbumpbump, thumpbumpbump of my one-two-three, one-two-three, reserving some strength for the endgame.
Now, a week out from my 25th birthday, my brain auto-piloting my body’s movement. There is no doubt I am experiencing a quarter-life crisis (also known as the mid-mid-life crisis), albeit rather silently. At least I have the “getting active” part down, right? I mean that’s a whole fifth of the (updated) list and I wanted to get a good start on it ahead of time.
At 25, most of us are out of school or close to completing grad school and the path we are going to travel into our 30s has been plotted, if only as a tentative, dotted line. At 25, we’ve assembled the girls who will be our bridesmaids if our Pinterest weddings ever become realities. Since, well, we all know how it ended with the last guy and this new one—who knows?
At 25, we’ve lost job one and are on to job two (or three, or four) and we know what kind of environment we work best in, even if it’s not our “dream” one. Me? I was engineered to be at a desk. Give me some work, give me some quiet, give me some office supplies and endless coffee and I am happy and occupied and paying taxes. Paper cuts and staple snags are, in my view, a badge of honor to be worn as proudly as your favorite heels.
At 25, we’ve paid down some debt (but hopefully haven’t accumulated much) and we’ve begun a small nest egg. Late night outings are no longer mysterious or romantic, they simply leave us groggy in the morning and mess up the sleep cycle we’ve worked so hard to establish and a “night out” encompasses no more than two beers or one cocktail and no, I am not going to order the loaded nachos with that. Who wants to be hungover or, worse, bloated? Hell, I’ve started reading Money Magazine and am considering setting up an online dating profile (any suggestions?) and according to the New York “Times,” it is now perfectly acceptable to ask someone their credit score on a first date. Oh. My. God. Have I become…boring?
The answer to that question is dependent on the benchmark. Take this example: I pass an SUV with eyelashes (EYELASHES!) on my way to work every morning in the South Floridian Suburbs. Perhaps the owner of the SUV is experiencing a quarter life crises too and is expressing it in pimping (primping?) her ride. I pass by, at exactly 8:53 a.m., Monday through Friday, driving what has been the bestselling vehicle in America for over 50 years to which I have made no after-market modifications. So yes, compared to the owner of that SUV, if that is the benchmark, I would agree: I am boring.
But if you follow the list! And I assure you I am the type of person who loves lists, who reads instructions, and heeds all warnings. Oh Internet, why must you fail us when we need you the most? After all, what those lists don’t tell you is that at 25, there are many things you can no longer aspire to, some things no longer achievable. Infinite GIFs of vintage typography against a pastel background instructing you to “Trust the Process” and things of the like aren’t going to change that. (Yes, you know exactly the kind I am referring to and have probably re-pinned at least ten of them today alone).
For instance: Upon reaching 25, you will never be a child prodigy in any field. Your chances of becoming an Olympian, statistically speaking, are also pretty slim and you are unlikely to be the youngest person to [fill in the blank]. Yet the urge to blast Miley Cyrus from my (shitty) sound system while mouthing all the words has not diminished. Yes, I will sing into my hairbrush if you don’t mind.
Leanings toward extreme actions is a common side effect when experiencing a life crisis, half or quarter—like going skydiving (any takers?) or wanting to move across the country (look out Portland, here I come!), both which I have considered over the past months. Now, with an impending birthday, such leanings have been replaced by the strong and undying desire to consume all that has been accumulated over the first twenty five years—those little bottles of shampoo and bars of soap swiped from hotels during overnight stays, gift cards to places I never go with strange and useless denominations left on them, ($1.23 at a local burrito joint), foreign spices and seasonings obtained for exotic dishes I’ve only ever attempted (and likely failed) to prepare once. The first bottle of (good!) alcohol purchased legally on my 21st birthday (which seems a ways ago now), all the books I’ve acquired but haven’t read. The beautifully crafted notebooks my mother has given me as birthday gifts each year, all of them in a box, still empty and blank. All of them too beautiful and expensive to deface with my scribbles, my lake of wisdom, opting instead for recycled scraps. These pieces and parts which bear witness to the telling of my life’s story, these pieces and parts which I must consume, as if to destroy all evidence. Evidence of failure, but too, of success. These pieces and parts which are only that.
Some harbor the need to hold on, to assert a presence of self. Mine is the longing to let go, to renounce, to create void where there once was substance. Like an arrow held taut in a bow’s string, releasing the quills lends it freedom to fly. Graceful and fierce, it hurtles full velocity toward the arc’s apex; the arrow’s potential dependent upon the string’s tension, the space it no longer occupies. Yet the pull of gravity will always influence the arrow, forcing it to drift toward the dirt. The trajectory a calculable parabola, set and predetermined.
At 25 is the acknowledgment of regret but also liberation from what is no longer attainable, forcing the remaining potentials into sharp focus. At 25, I am stunned, pausing here mid-arc, contemplating my momentum, how much I have reserved for the endgame. How much I have accumulated, but not yet used. No, I may never have it “all,” but I will have all I need. Perhaps too, the strength to overcome the downward drift of gravity’s pull, gaining energy from the spaces I no longer occupy, traveling unmapped as a deer in the woods.
Em Faerman is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University where she studied philosophy and literature while dabbling a bit in scribbling. She works as an engineering technician in Southeast Florida.