there is a light in you

There's always one, but it's not really one who wonders it, just one who speaks it, and the rest nod imperceptibly. They want to know, too.

How old are you?

Except it's never like that. It's more like

How OLD are you?

They're confused, I guess. I wrote about a pirate ship and a secret clubhouse for spies and maggot sandwiches, but I look grown-up. Except I don't. I'm kind of small, and the babyface that got me kicked out of restricted movies until I was 26 now has the effect, a decade later, of people thinking sometimes that I'm 26.

There's always that question. I like it, for the answer.

Here's the thing. You think you're all fitful in your skin now but it gets worse. I mean it gets *more* fitful. You get all prickly and upset and all you want, more than anything, is to be just like everyone else. But you're not.

Some giggle and some stare blankly but two bodies in the crowd get very, very still and I know them, so I keep going.

You see different or you look different or you like different things or maybe you don't want to look like them at all but you don't like how wanting something different makes you different, and sets you apart. Nobody wants to be set apart, not when you're in grade six or grade nine or grade ten. You want to be a part. And sometimes when you don't feel safely a part, you get sad and twitchy and you feel like that's what you are, just a sad and twitchy person. But you're not.

Then the answer.

I'm 38. You want to know the very best thing about being 38?

Their faces are all the same: there can't possibly be a very best thing about being 38.

I like being different. I don't need anybody else to be like me. I walk straight. On the inside I feel all melty and okay, even when I make mistakes or trip in front of people. I'm not afraid anymore. God, it's the greatest. I'm never embarrassed. I don't get that panicky thing you get when you're worried that someone might not like you. I don't walk around all day all cramped up like a cross-threaded screw. I'm peaceful, even when I'm apart. Being apart feels kind of nice all of a sudden. You know how free that makes you, to feel like that?

I wait for one of them to crack a joke about snot or Justin Bieber because when you're in grade six, that's what you do when someone bangs on your drum. You deflect because it feels weird. But they don't. They're still staring, and not blankly.