Birthday dreams

I’ve been having dreams, recently, where I forget to study for my final exams in college and I have just an hour to cram a semester’s worth of material in my head. In my dreams, I never actually start studying, but I make plans on how to budget my time so I can scrape by and pass each exam. Then I wake up and have a few seconds of panic before I remember I graduated 9 years ago.

These dreams are cliche, I know, but my subconscious doesn’t seem to recognize that. It insists on feeding me these dreams, regardless. It doesn’t seem to realize that this doesn’t make sense: not only has this never happened to me, but this hasn’t ever really been a fear of mine. I never had dreams about forgetting to study for finals in college. Instead, I’d have dreams that I was still stuck in high school, stuck in my double period French class, waiting endlessly for the bell to ring.

Maybe that’s because back in college time seemed infinite, and my biggest worry was that it would stretch on forever. But now my biggest fear is not just that time is finite, but that it’s precious and I’ve wasted it. I turned 31 about a week ago, which is the oldest I’ve ever been. It’s not quite so monumental a birthday as 30, but, for some reason, its mundanity makes it feel more impactful. I’m firmly in my early 30s now. I’m a man, with no adjectives like “young” in front of my noun.

I will no longer ever again be a child prodigy, read above grade level, or be remarkably mature for my age. I am expected to fully participate in society and nobody will give me any leeway. My startup can’t be considered a lark or cute: it’s a business, with legal and ethical obligations. My signature is final. My girlfriend and I are assumed to be “serious” about one another; there’s no point in dating in your early 30s if you’re not. A sports career, if it was ever a path for me, has been shut off forever. When I think through the sports I’ve loved: tennis, breakdancing, jiu jitsu, I’m older than every single person at the top of those sports.

A child dreaming of becoming an adult, surreal but realistic, digital art, midjourney

The worst part is that I’m getting used to all of this, all of these ridiculous accoutrements, indignities, and obligations of getting older. I feel the callouses that have formed and are getting thicker. I’ve seen loved ones die and come close to death, broken up with best friends, sat quietly in hospital rooms with people through their darkest moments. I’ve celebrated with friends as they became millionaires, mourned with friends as they’ve lost millions, and tried to comfort them with empty platitudes about money not being everything. I’ve seen a lot, I think. Not everything, maybe not most things, but a lot.

And yet I try to keep a fire burning within, to wake up every day and tackle the problems of myself and of the world. I brush my teeth each morning and each night, pick up trash on the sidewalk, and try to call out bullshit where I see it. I work out, although less than I should, take my dog to the park every day, and call my parents at least once a week. I read scientific papers and novels, write scientific blog posts and sentimental ones, and create slideshows containing the word “update”.

This is me at 31. Hello, world.