I turned 40
last this year (prove it). There was a party. Friends. Champagne and cupcakes. I didn’t fall off my bar stool flashing my underwear to the place; in this way it was different than my 21st birthday party.
The day after my 40th birthday party, I noticed my boobs looked a little weird. Even in my favorite tee shirt. With a bra. And by “weird” I mean “like someone else’s.” This didn’t happen overnight. It may have something to do with my three children.
Mysteriously, around this time, other body parts as well began to appear “weird” or, as I like to say “other worldly.” In spin class one day (because I have gone, like, one day in the past year), I looked in the mirror behind me and thought, “whose old lady legs are those?” It was the mirror behind. me. You get it.
My hair, which I have been coloring since my twenties, is
almost entirely grey. Except for the jet black ends and the copper red middle. The roots are grey. Boxed hair color kits were a good idea at 25. Questionable at 35. Now at 40 (did you say something?), my eyesight is weaker than even my upper body strength. I can’t be certain the color I dyed my hair last. I have a clue from the stains on the bathroom wall that remind me of my favorite tv show. Dexter.
A few years ago I was concerned about a “thing” on my face. That’s the best I can do: it was a thing occupying space between my left ear and mouth. It came. It stayed. I learned it was an “age spot.” Just recently I had it removed by my brilliant and brave dermatologist. This week I invested in concealer to cover the scar after someone asked me, “What’s that thing on your face?”
My mother in law visited this week. ”You’ve done something different,” she said. ”I got a hair cut,” I said. I had major Botox therapy, I didn’t say. But it’s true. My forehead has been set back 20 years. It looks so young it wants to smoke Parliaments and listen to Indigo Girls.
I have never had age anxiety. Weight, face, nose, body, sweat and hair anxiety–yes, yes, yes, yes, good God yes, and I-thought-I-should-get-a-perm, yes. But never did I worry about getting–or looking–older. This fear is new and deserves some thought–as well as a lot of cash–thrown at it.
It is not aging that scares me. To be honest, the alternative to aging is less attractive. I don’t have a comfort level with death. Some people do; I think that’s awesome. If I am stuck on a sinking ship, I hope it is with one of those people. Getting older–being closer to 50 than 30 now–has illuminated a world of new vulnerabilities: of body, of lifestyle, of legacy. All that is easy and comfortable and blessed for me today will be different and perhaps gone in the future. Can you blame me for wanting to suspend this process that steals life’s luxuries, such as walking briskly without pain, or carrying two children and a bag of groceries up several flights of stairs?
There is a poem by my favorite poet, Jane Kenyon, called “Otherwise.” Here it is:
I got out of bed/ on two strong legs./ It might have been/ otherwise. I ate/ cereal, sweet/ milk, ripe, flawless/ peach. It might/ have been otherwise./ I took the dog uphill/ to the birch wood./ All morning I did/ the work I love.// At noon I lay down/ with my mate. It might/ have been otherwise./ We ate dinner together/ at a table with silver/ candlesticks. It might/ have been otherwise./ I slept in a bed/ in a room with paintings/ on the walls, and/ planned another day/ just like this day./ But one day, I know,/ it will be otherwise.
I don’t like to imagine it, but as Ms. Kenyon (who died young at age 47) so devastatingly points out, one day will be otherwise. I don’t know what that will be or mean or feel like, what my children will think or remember of me. For now, I like to think my smooth forehead and ability to run after my children with ease are both indicative of time standing still. If I try and wish and work hard enough, neither will leave me.
Here is a weird picture of me one recent morning.