God love the optimism of these young people, unafraid of ghosts or under-employment about to begin punishing job interviews.
Last week I was briefly held hostage in Trenery. Of all the places! How middle-aged can you get? Look, I’m not saying I’ve never shopped there. If ever I need a sensible high-necked jumper, or my wardrobe runs dangerously short of camel, cream or oatmeal staples, Trenery is where I’d go. It’s just I’d prefer to go there as a free agent, not forced inside by a warm press of humanity.
Yes! It was Capping Day in Wellington! Good grief, I’ve never seen so many well-dressed Boomer-adjacent parents surging the pavements (the silver-haired cool dads in straight jeans and tan leather Oxfords, the mums glittering in statement necklaces), hurrying in parallel with the graduates, who were marching along the length of Lambton Quay.
It was six-deep on my side of the street; I’d picked the wrong day to shop for tights.
“Not a good idea,” panted another wild-eyed pedestrian on the corner of Lambton and Panama as we tried to breast our way upstream. I knew when I was licked so I ducked into the shop where, after a few minutes, I knew when I was bored. (I can now tell you what’s seasonal for middle-aged women of means this coming winter: sexlessness, the same as it was last year.)
I knew it was safe to return outside when the brass band marched past, playing a tubular version of Ghostbusters. God love the optimism of these young people, unafraid of ghosts or under-employment, about to begin their first punishing rounds of job interviews, psychometric testing and corporate hazing (a lot of photocopying and mocking up PowerPoint slides for presentations other, more senior people will give).
I wanted plum tights – too curveball for Trenery – so I dashed over the road to Farmers. Not a bunch had really changed about me since my graduation, aged 23. My hair was a problem then and my hair is a problem now. I was surprised back then that I couldn’t get a job I enjoyed; I’m surprised I’ve a job I enjoy now.
I wish I could remember whatever farewell speech we were given that year. Some graduation addresses pass into legend (Barack Obama: “Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table”). Others fade into the fog, and I guess ours was one of them. What could they have told me that I would have absorbed, though? The only certain thing about my future was that I’d make mistakes.
I don’t know why, but the rest of my week progressed in a dreamlike state of remembering the past and half- experiencing the present. That afternoon I volunteered to help in my son’s gym class – little knots of 5-year-olds stepping gingerly, heel-to-toe, along a chalked line.
“That’s right! Look at me, not down! Imagine you’re balanced on a wire, high up in a circus tent,” I urged them. Here was a little girl, her arms outstretched, a Big Top dancing in her eyes, dazzled by her own imagination. Here was a grudging little boy, refusing the exercise and scuffing out the chalk with his toes. Were they really going to grow up and change?
The next day I was drowsing on an evening flight. The flight attendant passed my row (“Tea? Coffee? Fudge?”) and I felt myself detaching and floating away, his voice getting fainter and smaller (“Fudge? Fudge?”) as he receded into distant rows.
Fudge? Fudge? Was I truly living my full potential or, as he seemed to suggest, only fudging it? Why did I still have no authority in my voice? Had I peaked intellectually? What about sexually? What exactly was my tax code? Were those age spots on the back of my hands or, as I liked to tell my children, the places where the sun had kissed me?
Earlier, I’d had drinks with three of my favourite people – two friends my age, and a gorgeous Millennial.
“She has so much initiative,” one friend marvelled, indicating the younger woman. “And look at her colouring.” We gazed at her pale skin, glossy hair and National Velvet eyes.
“Come on, guys,” she said, shifting in her seat as the three of us, the Witches of Eastwick, encircled her. We started to cackle as we realised how we were behaving. “Your youth!” hooted Ness. “We want to suck it from you,” I shouted, and collapsed into snorts. Who could believe that the three of us were supposedly in charge, our generation now represented as Prime Ministers, Big Four partners, parents of children, mortgagees, owners of pod coffeemakers and carbon-fibre road bikes and life insurance? I still felt 23, although the consensus seems to be that I no longer looked it.
“Flight attendants, prepare the cabin for landing,” said a voice, and I felt myself fall through a cloud.
“Come on, guys,” said the Millennial, shifting in her seat as we, the Witches of Eastwick, encircled her. We started to cackle.