后来的一些事儿，书里没写过，世上却发生了。史无前例的“文革”一经开始就不见结束。我们学语录，学社论，学工，学农，念“Down with the USA Imperiolism！ Down with Soviet Revisionism（打倒美帝！打倒苏修！）”的英文课本。年复一年，我始终没有留成长辫子，始终没有挂得上白底红字的校徽。等到“革命”结束那年，我郑重其事地庆祝了二十二岁生日，长辫子挂校徽的姑娘，在老远老远的前边冲我微笑过，然后不声不响从我身边走了过去。倘若她遗忘了我，那也是一种幸运。不幸的是我一直等待她，当她终于来了的时候，我又与她失之交臂。不知是由于这次等待的滋味太苦，还是由于后来的日子太匆忙，总之我再也没有像注视十八岁那样去注视任何一个年龄，直到有一天发现离四十岁只有两三个年头。
Women at Forty
I had waited for the dawn eighteen. When I was a little girl, skipping rope, seeing the shadow of my pony tails dancing in the sunlight, my mind was full of illusions about eighteen. Like I would grow long braids, so long that it would reach my heels; I would pin the badge of Beijing University on the left front of my white shirt, just as the school regulations required. And I would fall in love with a young man. The girlish imagination largely came from books, where there is always an eighteen-year-old sporting long braids who is in love, and it would fire the imagination of little girls. At the time eighteen was a fairy tale, a legend, a light shimmering and dancing, a shadow charming and graceful. It is crackling ice hanging under the eaves in a winter morning, or stars shimmering in the sky in the gathering dusk of June.
What happened aren’t written in books, but it happened in real life. The unprecedented “Cultural Revolution,” once started, seemed to have no ending. We learned quotations of Chairman Man, we studied editorials, we learned manual work from workers and peasants. Our English textbooks were full of slogans like “Down with US Imperialism! Down with Soviet Revisionism!” Year after year, I was not able to grow long braids. Nor was I able to pin a college badge with red characters against a white background. When the “Cultural Revolution” finally ended, I seriously celebrated my twenty-second birthday. The girl with long braids and a college badge had smiled at me from afar, and then soundlessly passed me by. If she had forgotten me, it could have been a kind of luck. Unfortunately, I was always waiting for her, and missing her when she finally arrived. It may be because the waiting had been too painful, or because the time after that had been so busy, I haven’t noticed my age as I had waited for eighteen, until one day I found myself two or three years away from forty.
The ancient saying that “at thirty one is established,” “at forty one is free from doubts,” “at fifty one knows one’s destiny” were all meant for men. Forty means maturity for men and decline for women. A woman of forty who won’t accept her age has to rely on clothes, jewelry, cosmetics and act young, putting on airs to reclaim the lost years, only to be rewarded by sincere contempt and ridicule from her own sex and insincere interest and praise from the opposite sex. It’s not worth it, to cheapen oneself thus.
With the signpost of forty within sight, my thoughts are filled with expectations of forty, as if reliving my childhood experience. I remind myself that a woman of forty should dress down and wear light make-up; that she should not let an unrestrained guffaw ruffle the wrinkles in her face, and force the sight on others. Towards the young, she should display tolerance to blunt the edge of their challenge; to the old. She must exercise restraint to save their sensitive ego from being hurt. It is inappropriate for her to bustle about, spread rumors, or act as go-between or get very enthusiastic or very busy over anything. On the other hand, she should not droop in self-pity, and sigh at the sight her mind by thinking, reading and writing, or to work in a down-to-earth manner with persistence and an eye for detail.
Women at forty have a world of their own. They will take it as a fair deal to swap a delicate appearance for an inner depth.
The most dangerous mental state for woman at forty is to be constantly in love. I very much agree with what a character in my novel once said—that women tend to think of the past as poetry, while it is only practical prose, or even comic cross-talk. To romanticize love is the bounden duty of a young girl. As for the middle-aged, the mediocre can just treat it as practical prose, while the wise might take it as cross-talk.
I know forty won’t be as enticing an age to wait for as eighteen, but if it is bound to arrive, I might as well be ready to embrace it.