Team Taco™! Quite a few new Team Taco™ members signed up last week. Salsa sells, I guess. If you made the salsa from last week, reply with a photo of it! I want to see your beautiful salsa successes and melted faces.
I was on vacation this last week. It was my partner's birthday, then it was mine. Birthday week. My brain hasn't worked through it all. Now that the week has started anew and I'm back to work, it has not gotten better. My brain still doesn't work. Let's play the game of vacation hangover or burnout from working through a global pandemic without a break! Can you guess?
Correct! It's both.
On Turning 27
I turned 32 this last Sunday. For the majority of the last year, I thought I was turning 31. Not a surprise. My relationship with my age has always been a bit off.
For as long as I can remember, there was a running family joke that I wouldn't make it to 30. It wasn't a ha-ha-funny family joke. No, it was the real concern that I would die before 30 because of how I lived dressed up as a joke. But I wasn't worried about death as a kid. I was going to heaven. Gonna live forever, so who cares if I die before 30?
The first time I lied about my age (that I remember), I was 12. I needed access to a poetry message board that was specifically for college students. 18+ age requirement. I, at 12, was not a college student, nor was I 18. But I wanted to write poetry with other nerds on the internet. So I did what any self-respecting kid would do on the internet — I lied. I wrote the admins a note saying that I was going to turn the appropriate age soon, and could please let me in early. Not sure how I expected to make it through with the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, but they paid me no never mind. They let me in.
The next year, when I was 13, I started learning to animate. My youth pastor saw me doodling in the back of church and asked me if I wanted to learn to Flash — RIP — and I jumped at the chance. Shortly after, I was the webmaster for a few local websites in Idaho. I regularly bumped my age up a few years when talking with prospective clients. It was easier for someone to believe that I was a high schooler who had learned internet things versus a 7th grader who had learned internet things.
When I was 16, I flew to Michigan to road trip back to Idaho with a friend returning from college. Because of my dad's status on the airline, I got bumped to the first class. While waiting for take off, the flight attendant came and asked if I wanted "A coke? A coffee? Champagne?" and that was the day I learned you always say yes to free champagne. The first time I pretended to be of drinking age, but not the last.
17 was the year I got my first fake ID — Darren White. Date of birth — January 31st, 1979. Why did I make him 10 years older than me? Did I look 27 at 17? Of course not. Just wanted to make sure I'd remember the birthday even if I was drunk. My birthday, just with an extra decade thrown in. I told people Darren was in mortician school. They'd usually leave me alone after that. Totally normal 17/27 year-old stuff.
At 19, I took a 10,000 mile road trip around America for a summer. I had three major (and many more minor) near-death experiences that summer. Makes for a good story, right? Inches from getting hit by a semi in the hills of Virginia. Hours from dying of dehydration on a mountain top somewhere in New Hampshire. Almost drove into a moose near the Canadian border in Vermont. If I was going to die before 30, I think I was going to die at 19 in the Northeastern United States.
On that same trip, while sipping a gin & tonic on a bar patio on a lake in New Hampshire, I realized I wasn't going to heaven. Rather I admitted to myself that I didn't think I really believed in heaven anymore, which is a prerequisite for getting into heaven. When you're told for the first decade or two of your life that there's a plan for you, that your life is for something bigger and greater than yourself, and that you're never going to really die, it all going away in a snap realization can be a lot. But if anything the realization put a sense of urgency in my step — I only had a decade and some change left before I was gonna die. Better get busy living.
I celebrated my 20th, 21st, and 22nd birthdays as my 21st. 22 was on accident — just sincerely forgot my age. For a year or two there in my early 20s, I dabbled with owning my age. But when you hit 21, people don't magically take you seriously. Most take you less seriously — you just now have access to the places to be taken less seriously in.
I was still working on the internet, building websites and brands. I was still lying about my age so people would take me seriously. I wore a lot of collared shirts. I didn't get any tattoos. I didn't swear on the internet. I used words with high syllable counts. It had started years before, but I still wanted to be 27 — that seemed like the correct age to be taken seriously but still "young and hip". But my beard couldn't pull it off. So for years, I was 21.
Sometime during my 22nd year, I seized my moment. I became 27.
27 was more of a mood than an age. A vibe, not a number. People took me seriously, but I think that's only because I started charging a lot more. Or because people like a fuller beard. I think this is the age that has stuck. I have made me in my own image, and my own image is 27. In my head, I've been 27 for over a decade.
I hit 30. I realized, halfway through that birthday, that I actually didn't expect to make it to 30. I really, really did think I was going to die before 30. I was in Amsterdam with my partner and my best friend, drinking beer and looking at neighborhoods for where we'd want to live in a few months when we moved. That night, riding the Metro to Amsterdam-Noord for dinner, there was a moment of quiet.
I just sat thinking over and over again, "Holy shit. I didn't die."
A handful of months later, after we made the move to the Netherlands, I crashed my bike. It was a gorgeous August morning in 2019. Lightly raining and slightly sunny in the ways that only Amsterdam can be. A tourist swerved on to the road right next to me, and to avoid taking them out, I pushed left and my front wheel went into a tram track. Over the handlebars I went.
Right before bouncing off the pavement I thought, "Well, at least I made it to 30."
I didn't die. Just a cracked rib or two. But the injury wrecked my body. It took me over a year to fully heal and stop experiencing pain from the accident.
A few months later and my goddaughter was diagnosed with leukemia. The anxiety bloomed in my stomach and rose into my head and sunk into my toes at the moment and it hasn't left.
Two months after my 31st birthday, I wake up because someone is sitting on my chest. Open my eyes — no one is there. But I still feel them. Squarely on my chest. They're slightly leaning to the left, the side of my broken ribs. It'll be months before I catch my breath fully again. I still lose it doing the most menial tasks.
Dealing with #longcovid symptoms, plus a bike accident and child leukemia, means my body hasn't felt right in ~18 months. It's been long enough now that I can't tell you what it felt like to feel healthy. To feel normal.
Accepting and dealing with mortality is hard enough after spending the entirety of my formative years being taught to ignore it. I made it to 30. Great. That was the last mental milestone in my head. I didn't die when I was 19 in New Hampshire. I didn't die when I crashed my bike. I didn't die when I got COVID. But the long-term complications from COVID aren't known yet. I'm going to be dealing with the health issues that come from it for the rest of my life. I'm almost certainly dying sooner because of them.
The uncertainty of life and death is exceptional. It's truly a miracle that we get to be alive at all. We have consciousness and get to decide what's important to us, whether that's religion or trying to eat 2021 tacos in a year.
But certainty is dreadful, awful shit. Not in a death & taxes way. This is not a dread that can be defined by a cliche. I don't know how many years COVID took off the end of my life, but I know it took some. A careless Dutchie refusing to wear a mask in the grocery store altered and shortened the course of my life. What a stupid fucking story.
What percentage of my lost life am I grieving? I don't know. I suppose I'm grieving not knowing what I lost the most.
Two days ago, I turned 32. The day before my birthday, my partner and I hopped in a car and drove for 90 minutes into the jungle. I figured if we drove to a cenote far enough outside of Tulum, we'd be the only people there. Most tourists here won't walk an extra block for a better restaurant. The idea was that would extend to swimming holes and we'd be able to swim safely in the limestone sinkhole.
That hunch paid off. We spent an hour by ourselves, diving, floating, swimming, swinging. When someone else showed up, we left for the bar down the road and had a round or two tequila and guacamole.
Floating on my back in a jungle swimming hole, I had a moment of peace. I caught my breath. I appreciated the fact that I was alive and well enough to be swimming. I felt 32 and timeless. I felt normal for the first time in years. The acceptance of my situation isn't a yes or no thing — it's like breath. Even though I lose it easily, I just have to keep catching it.
Even though it was just for a few hours, feeling normal for a spell in the jungle was not a bad way to turn 27.
TACO TOTAL — 207/2021
This Week's Taco Total — 47
February Taco Total — 10
January Taco Total — 197
Yesterday during lunch, I had my 202nd taco. 10% of the way there in the first month feels like a victory, right? I'm honestly still looking forward to eating tacos every day when I wake up.
Given my current pace, we'll be having our first Team Taco™ Zoom taco party to celebrate Taco 500 sometime in March. I'll have more for you in a few weeks once we're closer to the actual milestone, but mark it down in your head. It's coming. It'll be between four to four dozen of us.