Aging is something nobody wants to hear about. Try to tell someone younger than you about the aging experience and you’re suddenly an old fart and no longer as interesting as you were five minutes ago when you were telling them about how you partied with Jimi Hendrix in 1967. Try to talk to someone older and they either patronize you by playing the age card, or they try to convince you that you just need to get a grip and grow old gracefully. Well, I’ve never been one to accept things that passively, and I’m going into this aging thing kicking and screaming. Well, not aging itself, just society’s rules for aging.
Why is it that we can talk about our childhood experience, or our teenage and college experiences, but not our experience of turning middle-aged? Are we that frightened of our mortality in this country? I’m learning things and feeling things, and I’m confused by things, but no one seems to want to hear about what aging is like, although we’ve all been dying since the moment we were conceived. Who knows? I might be able to help someone. Perhaps when that pretty 23 year-old girl is turning 50, she’ll remember something I told her. I have a lot to say.
First of all, I’m damned mad. In fact, I’m pissed as all hell and full of resentment over the Hashimoto's Disease that has sucked a great deal of the vitality and energy out of my peak years. I started feeling the symptoms twenty years ago when I was around 35, but I attributed it to too much partying. Fortunately, I’m blessed with more energy than two people, so I had some to spare and I could run circles around my friends who were in their early 20s. Actually, my 30s weren’t so bad; it was my 40s that sucked. Throughout that entire decade I felt like someone in their 60s. Between the undiagnosed disease creeping over me like a poison vine, chronic illness, taking care of my father in the last years of his life, and the desperate relationship I fell into after his death, those precious years were the worst I’ve known in this lifetime. If I didn’t believe that all things and situations serve a higher purpose, I’d think that my 40s were pretty much wasted years.
Then Nettl came along and everything changed. She helped me to shake off the debris and deadwood I’d collected, and I lifted myself out of the mixed metaphors that are so easily employed in a post like this one. But miraculous as it was, true love did a number on my head. Why couldn’t I have met her when I was young, vital and good-looking? Why did we have to meet when I was feeling older than dirt and no longer liked what I saw in the mirror each morning? (read “How could she ever find me attractive and sexy?”) Why couldn’t we have met when I could make love all night long, serve breakfast in bed and then dive back under the covers for more lovemaking?
And I don’t want to hear any of that “You should just be grateful that you have true love” crap. Yes, I’ve been blessed with true love and I never take that for granted, but it doesn’t solve all of life’s problems you know.
To tell the truth, I really thought age would come much later. It crept up on me. Even in my 30s, 50 seemed a long way off. But it’s true, I guess, that the older you get the faster time seems to pass. Not really fair, is it. Even in my very early 40s I turned heads, but now? Pfui! The older you get the more invisible you become. I mean, how in hell does one go from this
Okay, I admit it. I’m vain. This is really all about the looks. I like getting older; I just wish that we could freeze frame our looks at the point where we feel best about them.
I wasn’t a good-looking kid. Despite Nettl’s protestations, I was in fact a dog-faced burrito. A skinny little red-haired, freckle-faced dog-faced burrito with big teeth. But around the age of 30 something happened. I blossomed. Suddenly, I was fighting off people in the bars. I never sat out a dance and never had to buy my own drinks. I had a date every weekend and relationships were fast and torrid. Then, without warning, it was as if someone flipped a switch and I was… older. I started hearing “Ma’am” at the checkout line. I started realizing that my doctors and dentists were young enough to be my kids. It’s a mind fuck.
All this culminated while I was in Florida last week filming The Ocular Effect for ABC Family. Once upon a time I would have been out there on the beach baring it all in the surf, running in the waves, hair blowing in the wind, feeling beautiful and free. Instead, I found myself wondering if tucking my shirt in would make me look thinner and looking for a place to sit down. A line from one of the Austin Powers movies went through my head:
“There’s nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster.”
Standing there surrounded by the young cast and film crew, my Levis rolled up as the warm surf lapped at my legs, beaded bracelets on my wrists, I suddenly realized that I was indeed an aging hipster. An old hippie. A relic of the 60s. Then, just as quickly as that thought hit me I rebelled. When did I turn from cool to pathetic? Who set this standard? When did I quit simply being the me I’d spent so many years inventing to someone society deems hopelessly outdated? Sod them! I thought. I’m me. It has taken a lot of pain, love, grief, loss, laughter, dreams broken and dreams fulfilled to make me who I am. I am not invalid, I am not passé and I am not fucking pathetic!
And so I decided to bury the old, younger me. That face in the mirror is gone, never to return, kind of like when my sons grew into adults and I found myself wondering, “Who took my little boys away? Where did they go?” (If only I could go back to the WORST day I had as a young mother!)
The face I see now will not linger for long, either. Soon, I’ll look and I’ll see an old person looking back, wrinkles, gray hair and all. And not long after that, I probably won’t be able to stand at the mirror, and then I will leave. My gallows humor steps up to the mirror and tells me, "Cheer up! It's only gonna get worse!" Shut up, me! All I want to do now is prepare myself by accepting who I am at any age.
Life is not about being young. Life is not not about being old. Life is not about accruing things or amassing money. Life is about LIVING! I choose to live, grow, love and learn. What is life for you?
(I love you, Nettl)