down and dirty

 wrinkles or wrinkle-free?                                                                             Jonah Allen Photography

 wrinkles or wrinkle-free?                                                                            Jonah Allen Photography

In a month, I'll be thirty.

I look in the mirror, that terrible magnifying mirror that doesn't let me get away with anything anymore. And sure, I see some wrinkles here and there. Many more than in my highschool graduation photo, naive and carefree as hell. Not as many as my mother - she's had double my life to get that wise, you know.


And let's face it, wrinkles. Like oh-my-fucking-god, wrinkles.

Mostly in the places my smile grooves into. Like around my eyes and in that spot where the corners of my mouth fold into the fleshy part of my cheeks. Joy lines etched slowly but surely into three decades of laughter, love and lightness of being. Of epic surf and too much sun in paradise seas off tropical coastlines near and far. Of starlit bonfires and full moon dance parties till dawn. I kinda like the way those lines look, or at least the story they tell. Like I was so happy for thirty years that my smile got stuck there for forever. People love that story.

Thirty, thirty, thirty.

I look a little closer to see what else I can see in this godawful thing no woman in her right mind should own, ever. Among sun spots and clogged pores, I notice some other lines there, now that the light hits differently into where I'm seeing, or at least into where I'm looking. That little vertical one between my eyebrows, just left of center. Two thin ones above the bridge of my nose, centered horizontally in line with my eyelashes. Three deeper, crooked ones across my forehead. All those lines, the ones you only see when you're looking, I could do without, I tell myself. Or at least without the memories they bring to mind. Moments of darkness inscribed over nearly three decades of me, chiseled into scars that speak of self-loathing, loss and loneliness. Of keeping my heart stupidly wide-open almost all of the time. Of nights spent wishing for meaning in a life I often felt lost in. Of missed connections in the cosmos I convince myself were never meant to be. Of days and dreams praying for someone to hold onto longer than the nights, or weeks, or months I got lucky. They're all there, staring at me like a storybook sculpture, frozen in time, impossible to escape.

Wrinkled memories of days like today when I cry rivers and don't even really know why.

Maybe it's the rain.

Or maybe, it's not. 

Maybe I'm just almost thirty.

When my sister and I were kids, we'd have family poker night once a week. We'd play this game my father may or may not have invented called Top Card, Card Underneath. Everyone would get two cards dealt to them face down that only they could see. Then the dealer would hold the deck in a stack in one hand, flip a card face-up on top of the stack, and ask each person if they wanted the top card showing, or the face-down card below it.

'Do you want the top card, or the card underneath?' he'd say, forcing a difficult decision one way or the other. Whichever one you chose, everyone would see those cards and they'd remain face-up in front of you. We'd repeat the rounds of top card, card underneath until everyone had six cards total, two in their hand and four showing on the table in front of them. The seventh and final card was always dealt face-down. Down and dirty, we called it. Your secret weapon no one else knew about as you shifted spades and diamonds around to make your best poker hand with five of the seven cards you were dealt throughout. It was like a kid-friendly variation of seven card stud. Hands down, the best part of the whole thing was card number seven. I lived for the anticipation of that final card, the hope in its momentary uncertainty, the magic in its fleeting possibility; getting to hold in my hand a secret known only to me. That final card. Down and dirty. I fucking loved that game.

We haven't had poker night in probably twenty years.


Between tears, I look again, this time into my own eyes, red and watery in the mirror. I see deep brown rings lightened on the insides by the sun, darker around the edges when I get close enough to see. Or at least close enough to look. The dark circle on the outside makes the lighter parts on the inside look pretty. I wonder if anyone else thinks that. Or if I even care.

Now, I've forgotten what I'm looking for. Was it wrinkles? Memories? Signs of the thirty years of joy and defeat I'm blessed to call my beautifully insignificant little life? What did I expect to see when I looked at thirty-year-old me?

I think about that psycho-emotional workshop I did last year with the guy who taught us to erase the emotional trauma of memories we no longer wish to carry with us. I remember how creepy I thought that was, erasing feelings that live in us of moments in time we'd like more than anything to forget. Botox for our memories, I remember thinking. Fucking creepy, right?

I did one. Just to see.

It was the one where I'm in my old studio apartment, and I'm crouched down on the white tile floor next to the wall, holding on for dear life to the edge of the king-size bed I had been sharing with my ex non-boyfriend who just dumped me for the fifth time in four years and I'm heaving in fits of barely-breathing, soul-numbing sadness I can't seem to shake for the life of me.

I figured that was one moment in thirty years of feeling memory I could stand to forget.

To be honest, I don't miss it. But without it, I wonder, am I still all-the-way me?

Fucking thirty.

I wonder if thirty-me will measure up to the dreams I made for her when I was twenty-me? I wonder if I even want her to. I wonder if she'll choose the top card, or the card underneath. Or if it even really matters. I wonder if her smile will get stuck and she'll make a life forty-me will be proud of. I wonder if she'll even make it that far. I wonder if the uncertainty of all that will someday feel a little more like the seventh card on poker night when I was ten-me and wrinkle-free.

I take a last look into the magnified mirror version of thirty's-just-around-the-corner, just for fun. Side to side, I pick out the things I'd like to hide. Raise an eyebrow in intrigue at the ones I've never looked close enough to see before. Nod in approval to the ones I hope stick around for a while.

Now that's what I'm talking about, thirty.

And the wrinkles? Oh yeah, them. I decide to let the wrinkles stay. The pretty happy ones, the ugly scary sad ones. They can all stay. Even if I didn't think actual botox was creepier than memory botox, I'd probably choose to keep them all anyway. Because nearly thirty years of mistakes and wisdom tell me that maybe the wrinkles I wear are there for a reason. Maybe my wrinkles remind me who I am and how I've played the cards I've been dealt on the days when I forget to look, or see, or feel. And maybe my wrinkles help you see what I've seen, too, when you dare to get close enough to look. To feel what I've felt, on the occasion I let you close enough to care. To get a glimpse into the darker parts of me, the down and dirty ones, that make the lighter parts look pretty. Maybe my wrinkles are my story, ugly-sad and beautiful, whether we like it or not.

And maybe wrinkled old thirty-me can stop crying because she finally has it all figured out.

Maybe it's the rain.

Or maybe, it's not.

Maybe it's just life.


And maybe the day you turn thirty is no greater than any other day, just another mysterious wrinkle in the magnifying mirror of life's impeccably disturbing, ugly-sad and perfectly irreconcilable beauty.

May we play her cards well.

So here's to thirty, down and dirty.