There's something about the effects of age - plastic surgery, good genes, healthy lifestyle or not - that inevitably catch up with all of us.
I am guilty of having thought about aging in an abstract, black-and-white sort of way. Once you hit a certain age, it all starts to go downhill, both figuratively and physically. One day you've got the bladder of a camel and the next, every sneeze or laugh is a potential betrayal. The birthday cake candles are still smoldering and you need an arm extension in order to hold a book or menu at a far enough distance to read. No longer are you able to hold a conversation in a moving car without turning the volume way down. Yes, I am guilty of viewing the aging process as a light switch that was poised to flip on someday in the unimaginable future.
I now know my theory of the aging process was a falsehood. In reality, you grow old the same way you mature: gradually and with imperceptible daily change but with obvious yearly refinement. Aging is a gradual metamorphosis not an abrupt mutation. Perhaps, this is classic denial but I didn't think aging would be all bad. In fact, I'd been promised there was at least one silver lining in this declining cloud. Old people lose all of their body hair and at some point, I'd no longer need to shave, thread or wax (there's a lot to manage, firends,). "You go out as you come in," my mom promised while brandishing her bare legs, birdlike and delicate. "Want to see under my arms?" she continued as I backed away in distress.
Scarred from the aforementioned display, I placed this memory and my theories on aging away in an imaginary box and stuffed them in the way, way back of my imaginary walk-in closet. This would all need to be digested another time, I grimly reckoned.
About 9 years ago I had an interaction I vividly remember walking away from thinking, one of these things is not like the others. Like many of life's little disasters, it took one bad outfit to shatter the little Xanadu I'd created for myself. A silk, shapeless, a-line dress with a large floral pattern that belonged on a clearance rack was the impetus for this life-changing event. I knew I should never have bought the glorified muumuu but when you're a person with rust-belt provenance who still dreams of becoming a less wealthy, more bohemian Peggy Guggenheim , this type of clothing is a wardrobe staple. On a summer morning I pulled on that dress and skipped off to work, which is the lovely, Peggy Guggenheim-esque way of saying I sprinted to the subway station in a 100 degree/90 percent humidity heat wave, yelled at a handful of slow walkers on my way and dodged approximately three subway grates that, in the past, had caused some Marilyn Monroe-like upskirt wind moments. Once unsafely inside the subway car I exhaled, relieved that the day ahead would be much easier than the last eight minutes of my life.
I plunked my bag in my desk cabinet, sat down at my desk, logged in and prepared to mind my own business and get some work done. My personal palazzo in Venice filled with Picassos and terrible, emotionally unavailable men wasn't going to build itself. Suddenly an intern and a 22-year old co-worker invited me to join them for coffee and I couldn't resist the chance (to drain them of their blood and use it for my upcoming anti-aging Vampire Facial). We made our way to Starbucks and by the time the barista handed over our drinks, I had pumped them for all of the good bars, sample sales and music I needed to know about.
And, I am in, I thought. I mean, perhaps not chronologically and certainly not from a maturity perspective but I had been accepted into the exclusive club of the young, wrinkle and pain-free, cool kids club (in reality they were semi-cool but they may read here so forgive the embellishment). I was positively glowing but in hindsight the glow could have been sweat from my perimenopausal hot flashes. It's all still a little unclear.
While dumping a few packets of Splenda into my coffee, one of the embryos boldly played to my ego, 'Love your dress!"
"Oh, why thank you," I demurred, "I wasn't sure about it. It doesn't look too 'Mrs. Roper', does it?"
What proceeded was the sound of a pin dropping in a house located somewhere in Sydney, Australia. Next came the crickets. In mid-town Manhattan. Twelve floors above street-level. Hundreds of yards from the nearest park. Yes, there was a loud buzzing of crickets only interrupted by the ear-piercing sound of a solitary pin dropping 10,000 miles away.
"Who's Mrs. Roper, did she used to work here?" the other embryo asked. Shit, I thought, two minutes in and my membership to whatever theoretical club I just joined has been revoked.
I could have laughed it off or made it go away with a hasty nevermind, but the Cliff Clavin in me is stronger than the need to be accepted. I explained Mrs. Roper and Three's Company in abbreviated detail but the dead look in their eyes and expressionless faces told me everything I needed to know. I was different and belonged with my own people. People who were born before 1980, people who could understand my anguish when I cried about never owning an Easy Bake Oven, Snoopy Snow Cone Machine or apartment. People who still possessed the will but no longer the stamina to maintain a social life that extended beyond the hours of 9:30PM on a weekend night.
I had woken up in the morning with a youthful soul and fallen asleep in the evening with a geriatric one. Aging did happen like the flip of a light switch; a quick movement from west to east. One hour up, the next down. Then again, small changes and events occurring over a long period of time made me who I was that day I decided to impress those two zygotes with my knowledge of 70s-era television.
I have now decided there is the perception of aging and the actual act of aging.
The perception of aging, which I experienced that day, is the process of recognizing there is a marked schism between you and another age group of people. It's noticed when the cultural references or jokes you've made for years expire. It's realized when you are stuffed in an elevator of women dressed like Kim Kardashian - all friends yet not uttering a word to one another because they are preoccupied with posting an Instagram story documenting the entire 17 floor voyage. It's receiving dick pics before the third date.
The actual act of aging is far scarier. It's not psychological; it's physical. It's not remembering how old you are. It's the stiff joints that greet you every morning. It's the wrinkles and the grey hair and the sun spots that bother you not because of vanity but because it's a reminder the clock is always ticking and as intelligent or as charming as you may be, you cannot press pause on any of it.
All we can do is just carry on.
* This post was written from my palazzo on the Grand Canal amongst the dancing shadows made by my Calder while being fed grapes by young, handsome, wayward gondolier (I can't lie to you - It was written in my over-priced apartment amongst the piles of dirty laundry while feeding myself a hot cup of tea laced with MiraLAX).
Post Image: Alexander Khokhlov