The night before I left the island in Maine, I made a list.
50, I wrote at the top of the first page in a fresh notebook.
I would celebrate my fiftieth birthday in exactly 245 days, and if I was going to do everything I needed and wanted to do before I hit that milestone, I needed to get organized. And busy. And serious.
I underscored the number 50 twice, hard.
Under 50, I wrote Home.
I’d been craving a home, a real home of my own, with a new intensity. I’d enjoyed a creative and healing few years in this rustic cabin loaned to me by my publisher, Mrs. Whitney. I’d been comfortable enough before that living first with my friend Maggie, and then with my boyfriend, now ex-boyfriend, Josh.
But I was heading back to New York and I wanted a place of my own. The first place all my own I’d ever had.
Healthy baby, I wrote down.
My daughter Caitlin’s baby, I meant. Some things were so self-evident it seemed silly to put them on the list. But scarily presumptuous not to.
Friends. I already had friends. But I hoped they’d be a bigger part of my life.
I’d spent the last two years getting over the previous three, and now it was time to put that phase of my life behind me. The phase in which I first pretended to be younger, and then lived as if I were, and then wrote about the whole thing. Time to grow up and own my real age, my real self, in time for the big five-oh.
I tapped my pen on the notebook. I knew what I was supposed to write next. Relationship. Man. Dates. Love. Or something like that.
I didn’t want any of those things. Was that terrible? Did that mean there was something wrong with me? I’d spent nearly two years alone now, no man, no love, no sex. It took a while getting used to. For a long time I felt lonely, incomplete.
And then lonely turned to peaceful. Incomplete became whole, strong, perfectly balanced on my own two feet.
So no, I did not aspire to be in love or engaged or married or even dating by the time I turned fifty.
Sex. Some sex would be nice. I wrote that down. Then crossed it out.
I closed the notebook and slipped it into the side pocket of my suitcase, then I got into bed with all my clothes on, including my fleece and down jacket. I turned out the lamp and lay there for a few minutes, taking in the view that had become so familiar but that I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again. The cabin looked so beautiful in the light from the embers of the wood that had been burning all day in the big stone fireplace. Usually I’d throw some fresh logs on before I fell asleep, so the place would still be warm and the fire would still be alive when I woke up in the morning. But I didn’t do that tonight. I wanted the coals to be cold when I left, because I wasn’t coming back.
I woke up at dawn. All I had to do was tie on my boots before I set out for town and the dock and the boat to the rest of the world. April was still winter in Maine, but the temperature wasn’t quite as biting as it had been, even at sunrise. I wasn’t wearing gloves and I’d taken the daring step of unstrapping the cleats from my boots, given that half the ice had melted to mud.
The Volvo I’d bought when my daughter, Caitlin, was in sixth grade was waiting for me in the parking lot on the mainland. I felt like I was rewinding my life, going back to New York, back to my friend Maggie’s, back to where I’d been before.
But nothing was as it had been before. Josh and I were no longer together, Maggie and Caitlin were both married, and my publishing friend Kelsey was making TV shows in LA.
TV shows, Kelsey told me via Instagram message, were the new books.
At least I had a book, the old-fashioned kind, to show for the time I’d spent on the island. Called Younger, it was a thinly veiled novel about the year I pretended to be a millennial. Mrs. Whitney had wanted me to write and publish it as a memoir, but as the real millennials say, I couldn’t even.
That younger woman I’d been was as unreal as the character in the book. Tonight, Maggie was throwing me a party to celebrate my book and welcome me back to the city. I’d been preparing practically the entire time I’d been on the island to leave my younger life behind. I was ready. But that didn’t mean, I suddenly realized, that I was ready to be older.