I jumped into the Hillsborough River on December 28. Shortly thereafter, I celebrated turning 50. Turning 50 was a milestone that had initially bothered me. I can’t explain why 50 bothered me and 40 didn’t. I guess we all draw lines in our heads sometimes. I don’t mind gaining a few pounds, but 10 pounds is unacceptable. I didn’t mind turning 40, but 50 found me at the mailbox opening registrations forms from AARP, complete with a laminated card. It was a tad insulting.
50 comes with strings attached.
Strings that seemed to be tied at one end to me and at the other to the coffin I’ll someday be placed in.
I’m being cremated.
I don’t really mean it like it sounds. I don’t look at other 50somethings, or even people older than that, and plan their memorials in my mind. It was just the harshness of the number, somehow.
But because it was hitting me funny, I had made a list. Fifty things to complete by the time I turned 50. I don’t really know how many of those I completed. There was this thing that happened called the Coronavirus, which took people’s bodies and minds and 50×50 lists and tossed them all into wind. And good luck to all of us in finding them.
I did all I could. And I was satisfied with how I ended the year. It was the first time in my 50 years that I entered into January already eating well and exercising.
But it’s almost February now and 50 is basking in the memories of that cold swim in the river. Time to move on to 51. I’m approaching 51 like I attempted to approach 50. I think I have a much better shot at finishing the list. My 12-year-old daughter climbed up onto my bed with me the other night and was looking over my shoulder at my list, which I was editing on my laptop. I probably should have closed my laptop and started an unrelated conversation with her about whatever she wanted to chat about. But I didn’t know I needed to do that at the time.
My list completely stressed her out. Before she finished reading it, she was in tears. I can assure you that was not my intention. I am deriving nothing but joy from the list. And I derive no joy at all from other people’s tears over the list.
“What’s wrong, Jenna?” I asked, trying to have sympathy without sacrificing any of my list items.
“Why can’t you just be normal?” She asked. “Why can’t you be like other 50 year olds? Why do you have to do things that will kill you?” I looked from her distress to the items on my list. #22 was clean out my email inbox…for the first time ever. It has over 100,000 unread emails from places like Sam’s Club and Neiman Marcus and Americans for the Americanization of American Democracy. Annoying yes. Dangerous, no. #28 was Organize Attic. That one is slightly more dangerous, because of the piles I have accumulated. #32 was Floss Regularly. Get a mammogram. Read all the books in my room before buying new ones.
What’s the problem, man?
I kept reading.
#35 is Wear stilettos to walk the dog for any entire day. Any time I walk the dog, I wear the heels. Hmm. She found that one awkward. #50 is Hang Glide. #51 is Skydive. I guess I could see her point.
The list will continue, but I’m going to keep it a little more hush-hush around my youngest. And I intend to stay alive through all of it. If I do die this year, I have a strong inkling it won’t be a 51 List item that kills me.
As I go along, I will likely share a few of the adventures. Some will be worth sharing. Some will not. Sharing the mammogram would get me arrested. Sharing an appointment the podiatrist would cost me every friend I have. And sharing some of the items would be too much talking about me.
Item #4 was to take the jon boat across the river, tie up to a tree, and climb out on the other side to explore the woods I have looked at for 25 years. I have always wondered what is over there. When I said this to Jenna, as I wrote up my list, she had a quick answer for me.
“I know what’s over there,” she replied, her voice drenched in a tone of disdain. “Ticks. That’s what’s over there. You’re going to get bitten on the head by a tick and get Lyme Disease.”
Oh Jenna. What fatalistic thinking. I then Googled when ticks are most active and decided I’d check this item off sooner than later, while the weather is cool.
Last week, on Thursday, I tossed my friend, Melissa into the front of the boat and took off toward a spot I had been eyeing for awhile. Melissa is up for almost any adventure as long as she doesn’t have to get too tangled up in it. You won’t have to be involved, I said. You’ll just sit in the boat. That sounded good to me and to her both until I ran off into the overgrowth and left her floating alone on the Hillsborough. She didn’t exactly trust the knot I had tied. While exploring, I received a series of “Are you Alive/What the heck was that sound” texts from her.
I was alive. The sounds were me. I didn’t see any ticks. And I checked that bad boy off the list.
Here’s how it went down.