Feeling Old Beyond Your Years
By temperament, I’ve always been elderly. As a child, I loved to visit the old ladies in our apartment building, who were unfailingly kind, always had time to play Crazy Eights with me and kept large contingents of candy in cut-glass bowls on little tables in their parlors. Sometimes my mother would let me sleep over at “Auntie Sophie’s” or “Auntie Mildred’s” apartment. The aunties would set my hair in rags before bed, and in the morning I’d go trundling off to P.S. 86 with my Beatles lunchbox and Marie Antoinette hair.
As a young woman, life thoroughly exhausted me. All that coming, and going, and doing, was just not my style. I mainly slept and read, and dragged myself through the day like a clock in a Salvador Dali painting. When people asked what I’d been doing, I’d answer, “Boycotting grapes.”
I looked on with envy at the old people around me, contentedly feeding pigeons in the park or walking their fat little dogs that looked like pigs from a distance. Meanwhile, I had to go to work and hang out in bars, and do things that, by rights, should be the responsibility of any civilized government, like laundry. In any group, I was invariably the first to say, “I’ll stay with the car.”
My major role model here was my father, who took full advantage of all the benefits and entitlements accorded the old. White-haired and blue-eyed, with a delightful Santa smile, he’d shortchange any cashier foolish enough to be charmed by his routine. Once in the store, he’d swing by the lost and found, asking if anyone had turned in a cane. Of course they had, because old people lose canes the way the rest of us shed skin cells. By the time the old man died, the family home was booby-trapped with canes hanging from every available perch. We counted more than 50 of them.
He once took me to the airport and by smiling, chuckling and paying my airfare with a combination of credit cards, cash and traveler’s checks, he managed to get me on a flight from the east coast to California for seven bucks. Never mind that the cops awaiting me upon arrival weren’t laughing. At least Dad had a great time, and I got my luggage back once my check cleared.
After decades as a wannabe crone trapped in the body of a nymph (entomologically speaking), I finally began to come into my own. I felt the initial flutters of excitement back in ’08 when I fell asleep after Thanksgiving dinner with my head tilted back and my mouth open. Nothing much came of it besides a few drool stains, but I was on my way.
Last spring, I hit pay dirt when I catapulted myself down the basement stairs, thereby doing every nasty thing one can do to a human leg without actually breaking it. This medical mishap was all I’d hoped for. First, I got to be brave because after six seconds of eye-crossing, breath-blocking pain, I went into shock and didn’t feel a thing. Then I got to be funny on the stretcher going into the ambulance, the fulfillment of yet another childhood dream. I also got a bunch of excellent drugs and my own cane.
Best of all, my sister had to sit there the whole time and be nice to me NO MATTER WHAT. This awesome responsibility entailed, among other chores, emptying all my urine-filled mason jars for several weeks. Watching my sister do this was so deliciously pleasurable that even after I started going to the bathroom on my own, I couldn’t resist filling a few jars for her to empty. And when her urinary tasks were done, she still had to stick around and do my laundry and bring me whatever I desired from the store. Oh, and I got 12 weeks off from work at full pay and, later, a handicap parking tag for the car. As I hung it from my rearview mirror, I swear I heard the singing of angels.
Now it’s a year later. The drugs got depressing after a few weeks, as drugs are wont to do. And my sister, having come to her senses, instructed me to piss up a rope. Moreover, I found not showering for three months to be nowhere near as cool as it sounds.
With the fantasies of my misspent youth having lost at least some of their charm, I folded up my shawl and my LL Bean prairie flannel nightgown and stuffed them in a hope chest, along with my cane, a tube of Ben-Gay and the back-scratchy thing that old people use to apply lotion over all the unreachable sections of their bodies. And there they shall remain until another day when, who knows, I may even have a Tweety-Bird.