In the weeks leading up to my 33rd birthday last March I started to think about entering a repeated digit year of life for the third time. Eleven, twenty-two, now thirty-three. I’d never attached significance to it in years 11 and 22. Why now? I’m not sure.
I don’t think I kept much of a diary or journal at age 11. But I’ve pieced some memories together through a few photographs. Back then the camera only came out on special occasions. There I am posing with a cake in a 9×13 baking dish. The icing is yellow and in blue frosting it says “Happy Birthday Awesome Anne Marie”. I’m wearing a colorful floral dress my mom sewed for me and I have bangs that look like a toilet paper roll was glued to my forehead. If along with those bangs I traded in my half-grown-out perm (given by my Gramma two years prior, much to my mom’s dismay) for a bun, I could today be regarded as quite the hipster with those large specks. But alas, this was 1991 and they are a red wire-frame variety.
In another eleventh birthday picture I’m surrounded by my smiling friends. They watch me open a gift of pajamas. Though they fit differently, I wore that nightshirt well into college–maybe until age 22. I remember all my classmates in the photo: Tina, Amy, Rashelle, Pauline, Laura. It was a special time; by high school everyone belonged to their own social groups, but still at age eleven we were young enough to be unshakably happy and inclusive. Although we all knew Tina was destined to be in the cool group, with her big hoop earrings, brunette ringlets, I.O.U. sweatshirt, perfect handwriting and club volleyball skills.
Later that year I boarded a plane by myself and flew down to New Mexico to spend two weeks with my bestie cousin Autumn and her family. I rode horses and slept in a hogan, scavenged for ancient pottery and learned how to grind corn the traditional Navajo way. I think there was a rodeo, too. I was fearless and confident, feeling grown-up and free in my fanny pack and french rolled jeans.
Fast forward eleven years to repeated-digit year #2. It was 2002 and I was 22. I have boxes and boxes of journals of writing from my high school and college years but had completely stopped writing by this time. There was, however, e-mail correspondence with a young man I’d never met. Reader, I married him. So those emails, printed and stashed in the basement, document that year better than anything else. I started year 22 with a dyed-red pixie cut–a souvenir from a spring break road trip to visit a friend in Cleveland. She had graduated already and was employed full time. That trip made me so anxious to finally have that Bachelor’s degree. I could smell freedom. I took the LSAT that spring and said my last goodbye to my Gramma (yes, the amateur hair stylist). Her funeral was the same day as graduation. Instead of taking a job at the newspaper where I interned I moved back to Chicago. I was motivated by curiousity about that boy I’d been e-mailing since Christmas. He invited me over in June. A good writer and so handsome? I couldn’t let this one get away. I hadn’t even tried his cooking yet. So much for law school.
Now this repeated-digit time around I entered into the year with some self-awareness, making notes about things that defined the year as it happened. Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence at age 33. While I can’t compete with that, I did wipe out on my bike for the first time in probably 22 years so I bought my first bike helmet. I discovered the PBS Newshour, Pilates, and a deep appreciation for red onions.
I stumbled upon the writings of Marilynn Robinson and read everything she’s published. Bless my soul I’ll never be the same.
I also tried squirrel and coon meat at a birthday party. I got my cholesterol checked for the first time. Just this week I made my first layer cake. I wrestled with insomnia and learned the art, craft and joy of shutting up. Too bad I’m out of practice on that one already. It’s been a year of horrible diagnoses of friends and family. And then of course there was the polar vortex and 105 inches of snow in the middle of which we put our house on the market. The sign went up when the piles of snow were so high you could barely see the house from the street. We can’t all write a Declaration of Independence or its equivalent by 33. But here’s to eleven years of possibility. I’m coming for you 44. I’m gonna show you what I’m made of.