Life expiration — 26
Photo by Whit Griswold
"That's the end of the first quarter, with the score..." It's hard not to realize that the day you turn 26, one quarter (if you're lucky) of your life is already in the books. What follows feels like the longest commercial break you've ever experienced, an interminable period of limbo, anxiety, and waiting before the second quarter can begin. It can't be as bad as halftime, I try to tell myself.
They say that as you get older, the first thing you lose is your vision. For me, it was my health insurance. Finally off my parents' plan, which not long ago seemed as if it would carry me forever, now I'm left to fend for myself, and scour my family tree for anyone with socialist roots. Didn't Obama just pass a healthcare bill?
The worst part is the fear. All of a sudden I went from 21 and invincible to 26 and expired. Want to play hockey tonight? Not interested — a puck to the face could cost me my savings account. The paranoia comes in ways I never imagined: The more you try to avoid getting hurt, the more tentative you are, the more likely you are to actually get hurt.
It's like knocking on wood. Why would someone make that up? If you don't do it, you're left with a tiny seed of doubt in your mind, and that seed is all you need for things to go awry. It wasn't because you didn't knock on wood; it was because you thought about not knocking on wood. It's a great system.
Fear. It's what our country is based on, in a way. Fear that you will drop dead one day and not have left anything for your family. "Oh you didn't have life-insurance? That's gonna cost you." Fear that you'll get hurt, that you won't have enough money, that we'll be attacked by foreigners. Fear is the most powerful instinct and motivator, and that's why we are such a powerful country.
I at least knew about my health insurance, but I was completely unprepared to hear that my license had also expired — by a bouncer at a bar in town. Great, one more thing to worry about. Now I'm driving to DMV uninsured and without a license. Going 25 the whole way, which is probably more dangerous. Temporary license, you'll get your real one in the mail in two weeks. Back to being 16 again, with a feeble piece of paper for a license. "Oh, don't touch it, it might rip."
You know it's nearly time for the second quarter when you get a dentist appointment as a birthday present. "Have you considered braces?" "You mean the invisible ones they use now?" "Ohh no, I'm not sure those would work for you." Three years ago my teeth were beautiful, but now, "It's like the Rocky Mountains in here." "I prefer to think of them as the Alps." "Your gums look great though." "That's because they're Italy and France."
Back home I open up my computer, my jaw in great pain and the taste of blood in my mouth. "Your Norton Anti-Virus software has expired." You gotta be kidding me. Is everybody in on this, conspiring against me somehow?
At least my computer hasn't been hacked into yet, and I'm able to open an email telling me I've failed a credit check necessary to rent an apartment in New York I'm supposed to move into in January. I've never had a credit card in my life. Yet somehow, because I've never been in debt and clawed my way out of it, my credit isn't worth a thing. Who benefits from that, I wonder? Time to get a credit card, I guess. Time to buy now and make no payments until the next bailout.
Thankfully, I've got something that somewhat resembles a job, although I worry now that my college diploma may only have a year or two left on it, so I'd better be on the lookout for something better. What's next? When will I be kicked off my family's cell-phone plan? Unlimited texts? Doubt it. That Steamship Islander Preferred plan? See ya.
I need something to take my mind off all this. "Want to go watch the Pats game?" "Yeah!" Oh wait, it's snowing and there was just an accident right up the road. "Did they have health-insurance?" is the first question that comes into my mind. Not even "were they all right?" What a system. That little seed of doubt in the back of my mind can make all the difference. Brave the snow, the fear, and the system? Or be tentative and conservative, and be consumed by it?
The good news, and what's important to remember is that all commercial breaks, even those on FOX, eventually come to an end. Whether you like it or not, the game must go on. The biggest difference between the first quarter and the second quarter so far appears to be ownership. All these things that I used to have by proxy are now becoming my own, whether I like it, or asked for it, or not. But in a country where so much is defined by how much you own and have, do these things not, in the end, end up owning you? As the second quarter finally begins, a line from a song is stuck in my head: "The less you own, the more freedom you have..."
Maybe it's the system. Maybe it's just growing up. Regardless, the game goes on.