Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What it's like to be 36

It's like all your friends move to Paraguay.

OK, that's an exaggeration, they don't all move to Paraguay, and it's not only when you're 36, but slowly, surely, the lion's share of them go. Most of them move to Jersey first. Some stay in Jersey for a long time and you get a chance to learn how to deal with them being out of the neighborhood while it's relatively easy to visit. Some of them, though, some just like spend a week in a cheap motel down the shore and then move straight to Paraguay.

Actually you know quite a bit about Paraguay. You've spent a lot of time with tourists from there and you know a ton of people who live there. You know a good mortgage broker over there and you know where the good neighborhoods are and enough about local cuisine to get by. But you don't want to live in Paraguay. You've thought a lot about it, you've done the research and somehow you just don't feel like you're ever going to pick up and move that far away.

You don't mean anything disparaging by that, though. Paraguay is a beautiful place and you can see the appeal and you're just certain it's the perfect place for most of your friends to live. Hell, in a lot of ways it's less frightening than Jersey. The ones for whom it isn't perfect, well, you know the locals are good and you figure they'll get by and you'll do all you can to make sure they're happy there. You can't make it perfect but you can give them support and what guidance your small experience can offer.

You like to visit Paraguay. It is, after all, an amazing country with a rich culture and the tax benefits are enormous. They're very lucky to live in Paraguay and very brave to move so far from home and try something that, though it's been done before, is so new and different for them...for us.



But you aren't going to live in Paraguay. You can't afford a house there or you're allergic to the flowers they grow or you just love New York too much. It doesn't matter why you won't live there, it only matters that you've come to understand, fairly recently even, by increments, that you're never going to go. It's hard to say exactly why, you just know (as much as anyone can know such a thing) it's true. Even though you'll probably always wonder if you're doing the right thing by staying here and you worry that all your friends sit in cafes in Paraguay drink exotic cocktails and talk about how backwater you are for staying.

Sometimes you know long before a friend tells you that he or she will move. They might not know for sure but you do. You even dream about it. You can't wait to see them have their first glimpse of the landscape as their plane lands, you look forward to hearing their account of their first night in their new palatial home there. When you're feeling particularly selfish you dream about what your visits with them will be like, what kind of sheets they'll have in the guest room and which local restaurant they'll take you to first.

Oh, you visit Paraguay. Not often, but almost whenever you're asked. You like to spend time there, you know it's a privilege and you try to leave it a better place in some small way than it was when you arrived. You want to be asked back. It's a wonderful place to visit and you want to maybe spend your winters there when you get old.

You don't dream about the announcement, though. That part is hard. No matter how often you go through it or the enormity of your good intentions and your true joy in their new adventure it's the announcement that you never learn to receive well. You never quite manage to train yourself to express the depth of your belief in and love for them on the spot like that. To show them the bottom of that well you have to take down the safety fence around the opening and you need time for that. You should build a gate, one of those ones that keeps the dog out of the kitchen, so you can take it down quickly then put it right back up. Those gates aren't strong enough, though. You need something hardier to keep you from tipping over the side or even from just spending all your days looking down for your reflection. The fence does you a disservice, though, and them. Although, they probably don't know about the fence, you've learned to cover pretty well with practice, to throw up your hands to shield your face but make it a gesture fueled by the joy you know you have and just need a moment to reveal.

You know why it's hard. For all the good that does you. It's because the announcement is the part where you learn that they're leaving. And you're afraid they'll forget you when they've gone.


  1. I have much more to say about this, but I have to get going or I'm going to be late. I'm going to leave you with this to think about, however: did you ever consider that there are those of us (um, ME!) who couldn't survive in Paraguay without you, being EXACTLY where you are? How many times have I called on you to help me navigate around here? How many times have you called me back from the brink of moving BACK to New York because the life here can be too unpredictable? And how many times have you picked me up at Penn to open your home and give me a respite from the Paraguayan way of life? Consider that for a moment. There'll be more later....

  2. Anonymous1:41 PM

    yeah, ok, maybe, can't say it's not on my mind, it's just weird that it is. How did you know? -ponyexpress

  3. It may help that we're both 36 and we have a lot of the same friends. I mean, I'm sorry you had a bad time and I wouldn't wish the aborted relocation on anyone but I'm really glad that you moved back from Jersey.