With hindsight I can see that my last few posts have been leading up to this; how I met my husband, my father’s death, my children growing up. It should come as no surprise that the photo albums came out, the high school yearbook made an appearance. Those misty water-colored memories of the way we were. The problem is, I am not the way I was. I am getting OLD.
Two years ago I hit ye old 40 mile marker. I had a wonderful party and drank champagne and wore a glittery dress and new shoes. I took comfort in the magazine headlines.
40 is the new black! 40 is the new 30! Life begins at 40!
Pah. It doesn’t matter how well you spin it, how bold the font it’s spelled out in, it’s still middle-aged. I was 15 when my mother turned 40. I thought she was an artifact. Over the hill, beyond redemption, totally out of touch. When my little one is 15, I will be 52. He may well think I am Methuselah by that point, as old as the hills, checking out nursing homes on his way to homeroom. And he may be right.
My lovely friends tell me, oh, you don’t look old! You look great! But they are saying this from the comfortable perch of their 30s. It’s easy to be generous when you’re still on the underside of 35. But… I have to hold the laptop above my face when I’m chatting on Skype so that I get the natural face lift effects of gravity. Music from my adolescence is used in car commercials. (Whoever thought The Smiths would be used to promote retail therapy?) Weight gained from too much wine and too many cheese doodles is harder to shift and I’m beginning to see the benefits of soft focus pictures. Even more telling is that I’ve stopped thinking badly of those that opt for a little surgical help. Really, what if all those English Lit teachers were wrong? What if Dylan Thomas was not talking about death when he exhorted “Do not go gentle into that good night”? What if he meant when you hit 40 you should rush out for Botox injections?
Oh, there are so many good things about being older, too. I know myself so much better now than I did in my youth. I know what I like and what I don’t like, what’s worth trying (fish) and what’s a waste of my time (camping). I have the benefit of experience and judgment on my side. I can dole out advice and sound like it actually makes sense. I am old enough to know that most marital spats can be fixed with a bottle of wine, a good night’s sleep and sex. I have seen enough things pass to know that this too shall. I don’t have to worry about being a young grandmother and my hair most certainly looks better than it did in high school. I am comfortable in who I am, though increasingly not comfortable in my less than youthful skin.
Soon I will start getting reminders that my high school reunion is coming up. 25 years. Holy mother of god, how did that happen? It can’t possibly have been a quarter of a century since spirit weeks and pep rallies. Since waiting for someone to ask me to the prom (didn’t happen), or lining up to march to Pomp and Circumstance and counting down the days to get the hell out of small town dodge (did). I used to dye my hair purple and buy aqua net by the case. Now I have just started having to dye it to cover the gray. There are folks I went to high school with that are grandparents, others sending kids off to college. I am sending one to kindergarten. And while kids are supposed to keep you young, I can’t help but think that sometimes they are sucking the life, let alone the collagen out of me.
Sure, wisdom comes with age. But so do wrinkles and age spots and strange sprouting hairs where hairs should not be.
Warning, Jenny Joseph wrote, When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
But I already wear purple and big, furry hats, says I
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I think we already spend the GNP of a small country on wine anyway, but
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
Well, my youth was anything but sober, but still…
I used to think I would grow old gracefully, with my red hat and tactful husband by my side. But that was when I was in my twenties and my skin bounced back and I could drink all night and get up and work a full day and go a month without eating anything green. Oh, I suppose I will still try.
But lips sealed if you see me, a little bruised but suddenly more youthful, a few tell-tale needle pricks in the space where those laugh lines used to be. I’ll tell you I was raging against the dying of the light.