I’m sitting in my car waiting for the light to change watching an old woman cross the street. She’s hunched over and it looks like her slow pace pains her. Her short, poofed platinum hair reflects the sunlight and does not move with her motion. She scares me.
Old scares me.
The light changes and I move on but the image of old woman sticks. That’s my future, though I’m not so sure I want it, but the alternative sucks.
I’m scared of getting older. I’m scared of not.
I’ve counted on my looks, my female prowess, my youth to manipulate my world for the last 35 years. I feel all three slipping away. I’m becoming invisible. At the store, or the gym no one looks anymore. I watch, hoping for a quick glance, searching for someone, anyone to be checking me out. I’m in the best shape of my life and still I don’t get noticed. It’s demoralizing not being able to turn heads.
The power of young and female was never lost on me. And I didn’t waste it. I was aware I possessed it by 13 and used it. I talked my way out of speeding tickets, and talked my way into everything from high security military bases, to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Free passes and taxi rides were common with a quick flirt. And it was win/win for both of us. The men were always flattered.
Men are no longer empowered by my attention. The guys at the gym don’t even notice me looking. They stare at themselves in the mirror as they lift weights and their eyes wander to the young and hot hoping for an exchange. Not with me anymore. It’ll never be me again.
Age creeps in like thick fog and shrouds me. I feel the weight of it on my body, in my muscles and bones. I’m losing my vision, my memory, that edge. Running five miles a day at 25 is athletic. At 50, it’s an achievement.
I’m cresting the wave of old age and it’s fundamentally ungrounding. I spent much of my youth mocking it. Now I’ll be on the other side- patronized, or worse- ignored. We can all pretend that we take the old seriously, but other than the health care industry, or at election time, most of us don’t see age as wisdom.
There is no turning back. To counter the fear of the inevitable I tell myself all kinds of crap. Retirement gives you more time to do what you want (except that really only applies to people with money able to retire while still in good health). With age comes experience and knowledge (except I am now more certain than every that I don’t know virtually anything).
I pull up next to the mailbox drop slot at the post office. There’s a rusted dumpster on the side of the building and there’s an old lady digging through it. Her clothes are loose and dirty. Her gray hair is tied back but looks brittle, and sticks out all over the place. She’s holding a big brown plastic trash bag and is putting things from the dumpster into the half-full bag. I drive away but I can’t shake the image. ‘There by the grace of god…’
As I pull into the first stall of our three car garage I feel privileged, and safe. Time slows when I get in the house. Pictures on the walls and countertops never age. Echo’s of laughter and tears of family having moved on still resonate in the halls. Money may keep me from rifling in garbage for food, but it can’t alter the laws of physics or save my self-image. Statistically, I’ve lived well over half my life and am heading headlong towards the exit door. Whatever I accomplish from here on will be that much harder to garner recognition and support for with each passing year. The older I am the shorter my shelf life. Society distances itself from age, immerses itself in youth and beauty to detach itself from death.