No Turning Back

I don’t miss my youthful indiscretions. Mostly.


I just turned fifty. There. I said it. It’s not so bad, really. There are a lot of things I don’t do anymore, but it’s not like I miss those things. Like I no longer pass out in parking lots. I’m relieved to be beyond that period in my life. I remember one night, years ago, I was at the famous Atlanta strip club Clermont Lounge with Grant Henry and Daniel Troppy—both now respectable local businessmen, if you look at them through heavily squinted eyes—and after a drunken revelry into the wee hours, they left me there, passed out in the parking lot. I survived to berate them about it in a subsequent column, which brings me to another hard-earned element of over-fifty wisdom: Don’t write about passing out in a parking lot unless you’re prepared for your readers to go there to this day and expect to find you. I still get emails from people standing behind the Clermont, imploring, “Where are you?” To those people I say, “I’m fifty. I’m tired. Leave me alone.”

Then there’s camping. Until last year, my twelve-year-old daughter often went camping in the Georgia mountains. Then the family who took her moved away. Now she wants me to take her, but I’m fifty, you see. I don’t do tents.

“You used to,” she protests, and she’s right. In my twenties, I dated a Welsh soccer player who loved to camp, and I loved to pretend I loved it too. But that relationship ended, and so did my idiotic belief that I could base anything lasting on a pretense. But today, framed on my desk, I still keep a picture of me in a campground outside Lyon in France. Behind me is a field of mustard flowers—a blanket of gold against the sunset—and I am standing with my arms out, as if to say, “Ta-da! Look at me.” There is a bottle of wine in my right hand. I am twenty-five years old. It is exactly half my life ago.

I guess if I were to pick a midpoint in my existence, this would be a good one. I’d ridden my bike there from Zurich with one of the loves of my life (maybe the third out of five or six, but don’t quote me; I’m fifty and entitled to lose count). I liked to cycle and he liked to camp. I kept one other picture from that excursion: a cluster of albino cows in a pasture, the morning fog still clinging to the grass at their hooves like a little layer of smoke. To me they looked like a small host of bovine angels.

Last summer I took my girl to Tunisia. We didn’t stay in a tent—we stayed in a room with a balcony—but I remember there was a dead cat in the gutter in front of the market across the street. Every time my daughter brings up camping, I remind her of the dead cat, because encountering dead cats is about the worst hardship I’m willing to endure when I travel these days. She reminds me that the cat was not even dead, it was just extremely tired in the intensely hot weather. I tell her I’m still not ever sleeping in a tent again.

“You won’t even try,” she pouts, which cracks me up. I did try, long ago, over and over again. It didn’t work out. I admit there were moments, like the pasture of yellow mustard flowers, and how one morning we woke up to the soft singing of a four-year-old French child from a couple of campsites over. But I like walls now. Real walls. Without them you’re just sleeping on a patch of land with a bunch of strangers. The beauty of being fifty is the relief that comes with the conviction to stop sleeping with strangers. My friend Grant hates that I have this conviction. He still wants me to use that wild week camping with the Welsh soccer player as a standard for my behavior to this day. But seriously. I just want to lie down. By myself. I want my space. I want my walls.

Still, I do keep the picture, the one of me at a campsite in France, framed on my desk. I don’t know why, except to say that sometimes—not often—I think maybe I could go back to that place and expect to find everything still there: the field of mustard flowers glowing in the sunset, the four-year-old child singing softly, the bovine angels lying languidly in the early morning mist. Sometimes I expect to find myself still there too, young with no walls, standing against the golden pasture with my arms out. There is a bottle of wine in my right hand. “Ta-da!” I’m saying. “Look at me.”

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  • Polly

    Awe sweetie, lets take your girl camping. I’ll dust off your walker and it will be fun! 😉

  • Myra

    Great article! Made me feel wise rather than old!

    I think we keep pictures of those wild, young times not because we want to someday go back there but rather to remind us that once we were there. To signify that being young and adventurous helped shape who we are today. Think I’ll dig through some old pictures and memories!

  • Linda Sands

    For a woman a month shy of the fifty mark—who still calls herself a girl—and once backpacked through Europe, alone, I get it. We’ve earned the right to say no. And yet, as writers and moms, there’s an obligation to be more than a voice of past experiences and get out there in the dirty, dead cat world with our daughters and show them… something. Right? Just imagine the essays that could come from a week on the Appalachian Trail. Go on, I dare you.

    signed, a loyal fan who once took photos of a certain kid in a kissing booth for you