Remembering Life Before the Commas

on May 22 | in Featured | by

As you pass the big 5-0 and head for the equally significant 3-0, what really matters?

By Sarah Achenbach ’88

Illustration for alumnae magazineOn a milestone birthday two years ago, well-wishers, refrigerator magnets, and Facebook all pronounced that 50 is the new 30.

They lied. I didn’t feel anywhere near 30 before, on, or since my birthday. Fifty felt more like the new 62. Two boys 10 years apart, a full-time job, 10-plus weekly loads of laundry, sporadic moisturizing, and a five-decade love affair with sitting will do that.

Spoiler alert: If you were born after 1993, 50 may seem like a very long way away. It’s not. Enjoy your skin tone while you can. If you passed the 50 mile-marker years ago, go ahead and laugh. Better yet, email me to let me know just how young I am.

On June 1, though, almost-52 will be the new 21. I’m not delusional or undergoing a surgical procedure. That’s the day my classmates and I arrive at Hollins to celebrate our 30th reunion. Yes, it’s our first reunion in our fifties, but no matter. The women in the class of 1988 are the only people on the planet who don’t notice if I get older.

They don’t see that my hair is graying and thinning or that I now peer at them through trifocals. And though I have neglected friendships since we last saw each other five years ago, they don’t care. We will pick up right where we left off, even if it was May 1988. Nor do they care about the other things I have neglected as I have gotten older. My career path. Retirement savings. My pelvic floor. And lines, so many lines—fine lines at my eyes, my waistline, gum line. None of that matters. To them, I haven’t aged a day since commencement.

To most people in my life, what comes after the comma is what defines me. Sarah, Henry and Charlie’s mom. Sarah, coworker. Sarah, neighbor with the wonky Christmas lights. Or Sarah, person who pays for a gym membership and never goes. At reunion, I get to be just Sarah.

I also get to reconnect with the person I was before the commas and with a group of comma-filled women I love and admire. Graduating from college in the 1980s meant that we were expected to “have it all.” And after a few fits and starts and balancing acts no one really talked about in that decade, we have. We are doctors, lawyers, mothers, teachers, artists, CEOs, wives, nonprofit and community leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, cancer survivors. And on and on.

Half a century into my life and three decades past my college days, I now see just how much life gets in the way of who I thought I would become back in 1988. I had big plans, so sure that “You go, girl!” would drive my days. Turns out my daily life typically pivots on three other words—“What’s for dinner?” But bubbling under the surface of pots of spaghetti, loads of laundry, and the trail of Cheez-Its my sons leave in my house are plans for the next 50 years. I know just the people and place to bring out the 21-year-old who can make them happen.

At our last reunion, I said that “every five years, your feet need to touch Front Quad to recalibrate.” That’s no lie.

Sarah Achenbach is a freelance writer living in Baltimore.

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