My next birthday is closing in on me. I barely remember the skinny, dark-haired kid I was. Back then I’d stay up all night playing and get to work at 5:00 a.m. Now, when I’m up late, it’s called insomnia and I take a pill for it. I used to catch boxes of groceries off a truck. Now I use a home shopping cart to wheel a half dozen of my sweetheart’s Diet Cokes from our garage to our kitchen. I’ve had one knee replaced and the other one’s going. Something’s narrowed in my back, but if I do my exercises it doesn’t hurt too badly. What I’m learning is that while my time is running out, aging itself gobbles time like a Ms. Pac-Man.
Suddenly my body needs all these little attentions it never needed before. What once was an annoying twinge in some joint has become my body’s demand to slow down.
Going to the beach to get a tan was an American way of life. I see a dermatologist these days and am sent home with a pocketful of prescriptions for creams and ointments. My morning routine is becoming interminable as I armor myself to go out the door. Drops for dry eyes, gel for the mouth, cruel implements for the teeth. Medicine for the feet, for the tummy, for the mind. Liver supplements to counteract the medicines, more supplements for the bones, the muscles, the joints. Nasal sprays, pills, and inhalers.
I loved ice cream and French fries until they became the enemy, adding lethal bulk to my middle. The doctor wants me to count calories, which involves—heaven forbid—cooking. After all that comes the exercise. The replaced knee needs exer-cycling. The back takes twenty minutes. The medical insurer is trying to pack me off to tai-chi.
I finally understand why people need to retire. Who can work at a job with all these aging issues? There simply isn’t time enough in the day to get old.
The Republican Convention was in town this week. I badly wanted to tie on my Occupy bandana and march like I used to. With the knees, the feet, the sun covering, the white hair, and sweating rivers from the heat—I’d look like a defeated soldier gimping along at the tail end. The final humiliation: my walking stick would be confiscated as a potential weapon.
Or maybe I’ve just been lucky all these years. I never spent time applying makeup or perfumes. I didn’t sit for hours at hairdressers. Shopping for jeans and flannel shirts on sale didn’t take much time at all. Nor did I need to dress kids or bathe them or amuse them or attend teachers’ conferences. All those activities must prepare most adults to spend long periods of time taking care of themselves. I think I’ve led a Peter Pan existence, cramming writing into bits of time others devoted to trying on dresses and changing diapers.
Slowly, and everything seems slower except for dwindling time, I am devoting myself more and more to this self-care that threatens to swallow whole days. I’m at retirement age, but the Social Security payments and Medicare benefits I stashed away over the last 50 years, which the republicans are so greedily eying, are not sufficient to support a squirrel’s family, much less mine. Somehow, it’s necessary to find time in the day for all the responsibilities of a wage earner, a career writer and aging. There’s no pill for that.
On the other hand, surviving youth and making it to this point in late middle age are achievements not to be sneezed at. Age earns some privileges. The process of finding myself is done. I know much more about what I like and don’t like, who I want to be with and who to avoid. I had to chuckle when I found myself drawn to a painter I’d never paid attention to before, Eduard Vuillard. In my college years it seemed everyone was wild about van Gogh, O’Keefe, and Gauguin. Elizabeth Bishop and the photorealists are more to my liking today. While I’ve never lost my taste for Bob Dylan’s work, happy or calming classical music is what I listen to. I’ve learned that tastes change.
My voice has deepened—not an altogether bad thing for a dyke—but I’m not as afraid to speak up. My hearing is slightly fuzzy when it comes to certain sounds, but I believe I listen better. Lesbians are told we’ll end up lonely in old age, but I’m about to celebrate five years with the love of my life. I’m creaking gaily along.
Is there anything I don’t take a pill for? Why yes, loving a woman, which also keeps me young.