Happy Birthday to Me

Today, November 20, is my birthday. Not a milestone birthday, but a solidly middle-aged year, just past the likely halfway point of my natural lifespan, if my family is any measure of that.

My grandmother has been lying about her age for as long as I have known her. Once I became an adult, I would adjust my age when anyone who also knew Gram inquired so she could gracefully maintain her game. It helps that I’ve generally looked young for my actual age.

But gray hairs are finally turning up in significant numbers on my head. I used to be able to pull a stray gray every six months or so, but there are slightly too many for that now. Not enough, however, to dye my hair bright colors without first bleaching the hell out of it. I keep checking with my stylist, and she keeps frowning at me for even asking the question. My hair is dark brown; it is an hours-long effort to change its color. So when I say that I have significant numbers of gray hairs, I still mean double digits. They are a countable number.

I’m still running four days a week with my dog, Mabel, who is maybe two, maybe three, years old. The age on her adoption papers—six months—was a complete fiction. She was full grown when she arrived in Oregon from Texas, and our longtime vet took one look at her teeth and said they were all adult teeth. The bad news: We did not get the puppy we thought we were getting. She was not ever going to be the fifty-pound dog we anticipated. The good news: She was old enough to start running with me immediately, since her bones were done growing. And it turns out a thirty-pound dog who’s up for literally anything is a great pal to have. She’s fun size.

In class last week, we were discussing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre through the lens of British self-image. The book was published in 1974, so we talked about the difference between the glamour of James Bond films and the grittiness of George Smiley novels. The professor shared an image from the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, where Daniel Craig’s James Bond rushes Queen Elizabeth II to the stadium via helicopter, where she parachutes into the ceremony. One of my classmates mentioned that she hadn’t seen this stunt, being six years old in 2012, and my professor called out, “No numbers! Nobody wants to hear the numbers!” My classmate—who by the way has gorgeous hair worthy of an anime character—laughed and said, “Okay, okay, I am an ageless being who has been alive since time immemorial.” And she went on to make a very good point about British self-regard on the world stage in the twenty-first century.

While writing this essay, I realized that immemorial is a very particular word. I detest essays that say, “According to the Oxford English Dictionary,” especially in the first paragraph. But here were ware near the end, and I do love looking up words and etymologies. Immemorial means what you think it means: beyond memory. What’s interesting is that it has always been used following the word time, since its first appearance during the reign of Elizabeth I. It’s also unusual in being one of the few idiomatic phrases in English where the adjective comes after the noun. We’ve been saying it this way for nearly 450 years. The only difference between then and now is that there used to be two l’s: time immemoriall.

I have decided, on my birthday at something like the halfway point of my life, to go with my classmate’s vibe from now on. I am an ageless being who has been alive since time immemorial. If I need to share my actual age for some reason, likely a medical one, I know what year I was born. I’m good at doing math in my head. Otherwise, ageless. Immemorial. And waiting for enough gray hair to make vibrantly purple dye worth the trouble.