I am finally starting to realize that I have already peaked. I guess peaking is something you don’t know you are doing while it is going on. But like one of those rollercoasters that start on the top of a hill, you don’t know you are going down until the down is already going. These things are hard to notice, at first: An extra line here, a new set of cellulite there. Sometimes it is easy to talk away. “I’m still cool, I just know I am! I’m only 32! Nobody peaks at 32! This means I’ll be dead at 64, which can’t be true!”  But true it is.

I am in Las Vegas for the very first time this week, and no place in this world brings out the extreme basic essence of a person like this place does. The heat and smoke and noise and alcohol reduce all the strip’s inhabitants to literal ash, all of the dross of daily life burnt away into more dross. You learn things about yourself here, mostly about who you are when your real thinking brain is switched off and you are left to be a reactionary bundle of nerves. That’s just how they want you- a bundle of nerves ready to hand over your money to who or whatever tickles those nerves first and best.

Right now, outside my hotel window, it is 114º Fahrenheit. I consider myself, as any good southern lady does, to extremely heat-tolerant. It is a false sense of pride. Alabama summers are hot and humid, which we think makes the humid 98º we endure something to be proud of. We say things like “Y’all have a different kind of heat”, which in our ignorant Southern minds, makes us think that it is somehow less bad than the sweating and mosquito-swatting at which we are so adept. But being in Las Vegas in the summertime is like standing inside a convection oven. Yes, the heat is a different kind of heat. It’s the kind of heat that makes you reject your birth and every life decision that brought you to this Godforsaken place. It’s the kind of heat that stings your eyes and makes you pray for sweat to moisten your brow. This is a heat that makes one become introspective about one’s life. All pretenses fall short in this heat. It’s like God himself is destroying the earth once more, but this time instead of a flood, he’s using the sun. You (and the idiot next to you in a Chewbacca costume passing out stripper flyers) are left alone to stand judgment. Las Vegas reminds me of an embalmed corpse: there is no soul here, but plenty of makeup.

And here I am, from my hotel window watching those who I assume to be younger and more unencumbered than I, drink buckets of neon colored alcohol and rub bathing suits together on the hibachi grill known as the hotel pool deck. Every afternoon, a DJ plays Outkast and Ludacris and EDM at the “Pleasure Pool” and I grumble from 20 stories above at the pumping bassline that prevents me from napping.

And this, my friends,  is exactly how I know I’ve peaked. I’m judging the city from my high tower of elderly righteousness. Here are some thoughts I’ve had about these free souls enjoying the pool below me:

  • You’ll get sunburned.
  • You’ll get dehydrated.
  • Do you even know that guy you are twerking on?
  • What are your intentions with this behavior?
  • Does your mother know you are wearing a thong?
  • Do your parents even know you are here?
  • How were you able to pay for that $17 drink in your hand? Are you being financially responsible?
  • If I’d wanted to see your crotch, I’d have become an OBGYN.
  • Nobody cares how drunk you are. EVERYONE here is drunk. This is the only thing that makes it bearable. Quit talking about it.
  • And, more introspectively: Why do I sound like an 80-year-old in my head??
  • Who the heck have I become??? 

I’ll tell you who I am.

I’m a mother of three who lives in Alabama and drives a minivan. (In case you don’t know me in real life, I had another baby, but I haven’t had time to blog about it #thirdkid). I’m a person who made good grades in high school, finished college early, true-love-waited, saved my money for down payments on things, accidentally had three beautiful and amazing children before 31, and made all of the “right” decisions. I go to church on Sundays, mostly choose the high road, have always worked to make my parents proud and tried to do things the way Jesus* and Ronald Reagan and Dave Ramsey would.

And what did any of this amount to? What did any of these ‘good decisions’ and ‘right living’ and ‘making people proud’ mean?

It means I peaked when I wasn’t looking.

It means I am now watching the gentle downward slope of my existence. Like the elastic on a well-worn bathing suit, my body and soul have been stretched past the point of no return: past the point of being comfortably worn into the realm of never-to-be-tight-again. When I look in the mirror, I see an abdomen that has been filled with new life three times and then emptied to create a permanent home for the ghosts of my pre-born babies to swim forever, like a shrine to pregnancy. I see breasts that look like they could use a cup of coffee. I see laugh lines, and neck lines, and some sort of weird, moustachey darkness above my lip that will not go away, no matter how many times I wax. I walk down the hall behind a cocktail waitress with her perfect butt cheeks hanging out of whatever excuse she has for pants, it just a painful reminder that my rear-end has decided it would like to re-enact a Salvador Dali clock painting and melt right off of my skeleton. When I turn my head a certain way, I see the beginnings of the square jowls of my grandmother, and am reminded how she always complained that she looked like a distant cousin that nobody liked. A cousin, whose jowls I have apparently inherited as well. Maybe that means that nobody will like me either.

I carry fun and freedom around with me in the diaper bag of responsibility. I will never carry them in the same way as I did before I had kids and a husband. I will never relive the fun and freedom of the life I had before I peaked, whenever it was that happened- (maybe 2005?). I will never ignore the 114º temperatures to bump and grind with a stranger and a strawberry daquri (in no particular order). That door is closed to me, although I am not sure it was ever really open, certainly not with Dave Ramsey watching.

But, despite what Las Vegas and its nerve-tickling embalmed corpse of a soul wants me to believe, this is is not a bad thing. I can choose to mourn the loss of my peak, or I can take my life for what it is and celebrate the moment I have right now, not knowing where on the downward trajectory I am.

So-and-so, maybe I never bumped-and-ground (?) to Ludacris on a pool deck in Las Vegas. Maybe I never got dehydrated from partying too hard in 114º weather or lost a month of savings at a Britney Spears slot machine or drank myself into nauseated oblivion, $17 at a time. If I look down on a pool-full of folks in their peak, with their booties in the right place and their abdomens free of baby-ghosts and I feel jealousy or longing, it is because I am forgetting what an absolute gift my life has been.

Just like riding a bicycle up a hill, the good news about peaking is that you don’t have to pedal as hard on the way down. It’s especially good if the bike ride has been so easy that you don’t even know it happened. I do know how incredibly blessed I have been. I have a husband who is my best friend. I have three babies who aren’t even babies anymore, who push me to be a better person every day. I have a home and dogs and friends and a job and the security of knowing that I am loved and enough, even if I have the body of someone twice my age and the inner monologue of someone three times my age. Maybe my peak is gone, but I spent it pouring my life out for people and things that matter, and that beats a crazy time in Vegas any day. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the DJ just turned on “Back Dat Thang Up” and I have some people watching to do.

*For the record, Jesus is the only one of these three really worth giving your life to, IMHO.