I am trying to remember what I thought people in their early thirties were like when I was in my early twenties.
To be honest, I don't think I knew very many people at all at that age during that time. If I did then they were probably people who hung around college kids, in which case my perception was greatly skewed.
I probably thought about women in their early thirties as moms or as serious professionals. I thought they were old, I guess. Any man in his early thirties who persued me was definitely thought of as old. And creepy. Which is smart and true and accurate.
My age was definitely one of my major concerns about joining the Peace Corps. Would I be the old one? Would everyone else be white boys with dred locks fresh out of college, waving around their prehistoric basket weaving degree like they know everything in the world?
When I studied in the south of France at the age of 19, there was a married couple who also came on the same program. The husband was in school for art and wanted to take his wife with him to study abroad. Her name was Laura and she was magical. She had short brunette hair and an infectious laugh. I gravitated toward her like foam to the surface of an ocean wave. I would cry to her about my mean boyfriend back in the US, and how I missed my mom, and how humiliated I was at the store buying jambon fume with my shy French. She would then cuddle me, and serve me wine, and pour out good olive oil with pepper into a little dish for a fresh baguette. She had her bachelor's degree in social work and was married to a handsome artist. And she never made me feel silly or young for my frivolous little spells or fits.
She was like a mother to me. Looking back now, she was probably around 26 years old.
So I probably did think women in their early thirties were old.
My roommate in Morocco at our orientation hotel and I were talking the first night of our arrival and when she put together some of my timeline she whispered, almost under her breath, "how old are you?"
"31," I said.
"Oh wow!" she exclaimed. "Me too! I thought I was the only one!"
I felt a rush of relief. I had met other volunteers in our group who were older, but just to find someone my age was like a little miracle. "She understands me!" I thought to myself.
Then our other roommate came in.
"It is so funny," I said to her. "We just discovered we are both 31!"
"Really?" she said. "I hope I look as good as you when I am 31," she stated, with an aura of disbelief.
I know she meant well. I know she was trying. But the way she said it- the way she looked at me with big eyes- the tone in her voice told me "you look so young! how are you so old????"
So I guess I need to accept that most of the people here are younger than me. And they will probably look at me like a sweet grandmother. But I can find a tribe of 30-somethings and rest knowing that my experience will be different (and in my opinion, better) because of my age.
Except there is the matter of overnight trains to Venice.
When I was younger and pretending to be a member of the new Lost Generation, galavanting around Europe without a care in the world, I would hop on trains often. The way we dealt with night trains was easy- drink enough wine that you are warm and sleepy and then wake up (hopefully) in Brussels! Or Munich! Or wherever you were supposed to go. "Why pay for a night of hotel when we can sleep on the train?" was a common philosophy.
To be fair, I am sure at that age I complained of being cramped or cold or impatient, but I remember none of it. I just remember being happy and rosy cheeked and eating up the world like a mortadella panini. So last year when I planned to visit Venice for the first time with an illfated paramour it seemed like a no-brainer to take the overnight train down from Munich, arrive awake and happy and ready to take on the canals.
This did not go as planned.
The train cars were sold out, and we did not book a sleeping car. So we attemped for about 10 minutes to squeeze into one of the six seats of the car, rubbing knees with the other passengers. Giving up quickly, we moved to the luggage car where I lay my coat on the cold metal floor and sat, shivering, listening to autobiographies on tape for the entire night while cursing my life and counting sad, tired, 30 year old sheep. The travelers who had also decided to crash there (probably without tickets) made video blogs and drank whiskey and then passed out curled together in a heap. I envied them. When the train finally arrived in Venice I said to my travel companion, "I am just getting too old for this." And I felt a little part of me die inside. I then promptly started snoring on the small banquette in the lobby of the hotel where they were preparing our room.
It is true I am not the same person I was when I slept in hostel rooms with 12 other people or hid in bathrooms to avoid train ticket fares. The question I had to ask myself then was if I was still the kind of person that would join the Peace Corps. Luckily, after many nights awake staring at the ceiling, I decided that: yes, I am still the sort of person who can join the Peace Corps.
Just because I know what being pampered feels like and in most cases I prefer it does not mean that all my rough and tumble training has fallen by the wayside. I can do everything that the newly college grad can do, though maybe not yoga or marathons, at least not as well. I know how to make the saddest apartment a lovely place to live with just a sewing kit and a vision. I know how to make great friends who will make me feel at home whenever I am with them, and I can return the favor by cooking them shrimp and grits or making art together. I know how to brush things off, like the power going out for random intervals or the shower going cold for 3 days.
I may not always like it, but I can handle it. I can handle it and I will. Even at 31. Lookin' good.