It’s a number far too big.
So much can exist inside of 23. 11 + 12, yeah, but also college careers and first loves and long road trips and dreams chased and accolades earned and a personality formed.
It implies a life being put together with a plan. It implies you have a list of goals tucked away in the back of your overly organized planner, which neatly and succinctly reminds you of your dentist appointment next Thursday. Which, of course, you won’t miss. You may be forced to reschedule, say if your boss comes down with pneumonia and you need to sub in for him on that all-important regional conference call, but never out-and-out miss. You’re too old for that.
I imagine if you showed that snippet of I’m-getting-older paranoia to a person well through their 23rd year they would chortle at the thought of such an organized life. I do understand, if I’m being honest, that ages always seem way more advanced when they lie on the horizon than when they are staring at you in the face.
But now that I’m here, on the precipice of twenty-three, it still seems like a number far too big. I’m aware that, logically, it makes sense. I’ve been out of college for going on 15 months now, which is a terrible combination of words. I work two jobs and pay for all of my bills and, despite my lack of an overly organized planner, I have never skimped an appointment with anybody in the medical profession and never have been more even a day late on a single payment. These things, for the most part, connote an adult, which I rather plainly am, as loathe as I am to admit it. And adults, like humans of all other age distinctions, grow older by the day. Add enough days up and, well, you know. You wake up one day and you’re 23.
I first became aware of my impending mortality on a breezy Sunday in 2010 at the MLB All Star Futures Game**. Lucky enough to attend, I witnessed a hotshot prospect playing in A+ ball for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play an all-around stellar game on his way to taking home the MVP of the game in the ballpark he would soon call home. A quick check of the program informed me of this young man’s otherworldly stats, yes, but more importantly, in letters that ought to have been bolded and italicized, his birth date was listed: August 7th, 1991.
This made this young ballplayer younger than me. A few weeks prior Derrick Favors had been selected third overall in the NBA Draft and he has a birthdate a mere 10 days before mine. A close call, sure, but not nearly the moment of unstoppable doom that I faced at Angels Stadium.
I had crossed the threshold.
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved sports more than is healthy. I inhaled statistics along with breakfast cereal growing up, quite often literally, consuming equal parts Apple Jacks and box score minutiae from the night before. I paced in front of the television during tense moments, spent hours voraciously seeking out intelligent discourse on my favorite sides, debated endlessly with my friends at all of my childhood stops over the wares of that player or this team.
Athletes were people I looked up to, older folks capable of grandeur my juvenile abilities could only dream to accomplish in the future. That was the important word: future. I figured out about 7th grade I had officially a 0% chance of making it as a professional athlete and yet there was still a sense of comfort in the age difference between myself and my heroes. And while the specific humans I looked up to growing up, the Tony Gonzalezes, Vince Carters and Kirk Hinrichs of the world, continued to age themselves and maintained the age difference, new figures ceaselessly entered the picture, demanding my attention and adulation. The age difference between myself and these new athlets diminished and diminished and diminished and then, on that afternoon in Anaheim, poof.
August 7th, 1991.
It was, as could be predicted, only the beginning. In the four years since I’ve seen a seemingly interminable number of stars and future stars emerge in every sport imaginable, from Jameis Winston to Andrew Wiggins to Yordano Ventura to Kyrie Irving, leading to an undeniable sense of acceptance. Hell, I recently purchased season tickets to Xavier basketball, ensuring I will spend seventeen evenings over the next year screaming my heart out at a jumble of players, friend and foe, wholly younger than I am.
I have well crossed the threshold.
Time is a flat circle and, as those creepy Uncle Rico-types assure you, the wonderful things about high schoolers is you keep growing older and they stay the same age. When comparing oneself to a pool constantly growing younger it is impossible to feel anything but old and unaccomplished.
The glorious thing about youth is the untold potential which could, potentially, be contained within. The unknown is a powerful drug, perhaps the most powerful of them all, and it decreases in potency with each passing year. This is disheartening, yet undeniably true.
But youth, as are most things in life, is relative. I’m wailing at lost potential on the eve of my 23rd birthday and even just typing that out right now I hate myself a little bit. In the grand scheme of things 23 is not too old, or at least that’s what my mom keeps telling me.
Twenty-three feels so old to me. It will take weeks, maybe months, to comprehend the fact that I’m twenty-three, an age which felt so impossibly, in-command-of-your-life old just half a dozen years ago.
And now I’m here, somehow, and I simultaneously feel So. Old. and yet so undeserving of such an age.
Welcome to life, I suppose.
By the way, in case you were wondering, that Futures Game MVP? The first athlete of significance I realized I was older than? Mike Trout. And he hasn’t even won an MVP (you know, a real one) yet, so I guess I ain’t so old after all. Although, before I say that, I am interested to find out if he has an overly organized planner or not, because that would (obviously) change everything.