It’s a beautiful Fall day. The Sun is shining and there’s a cool breeze. I’ve just stepped off a frigid subway, and I’m sitting in an air-conditioned Starbucks drinking a giant iced tea. And I’m hot. No, not hot. Sweating. No, not sweating. Dripping. I’m looking around, catching the eye of coffee-drinkers around me and fanning myself. “Heh heh. Boy, it’s hot in here, innit? Heh heh” I get various responses from complete dismissal to looks of horror at my red, sweaty face and state of undress. Several just pull their sweaters closer and shake their heads. Truly, I have turned into one of those menopausal cartoons of sleep-deprived, psychopathic women undressing in public and drowning in their own sweat. I suppose there is a kind of justice here. I spent my peri-menopausal years smugly watching contemporaries with bags of frozen peas on their heads, delighting in the fact I was sailing through this. No hot flashes. No dryness. Nothing. I was kicking. Menopause. Ass. And then somewhere between my last period and gleefully tossing out the condoms, I took a wrong turn. I must have shunned the road that leads to serenity, wisdom and “whee, we can have sex whenever we want!”, and taken the road leading to insomnia, hot flashes, and “if you never touch me again, I’m good with that”. Clearly, the roles have been reversed, and I am the one getting my ass kicked. Now, I have a very patient and understanding husband, but this was causing some friction. And not the good kind. Everyone knows that relationships take work and compromise. And above and beyond the simple acquiescences, where to go for dinner, what color to paint the living room, who knew that there would come a time when sex would be one of them. WTF? So, lemme get this straight. I can’t sleep. I’m hot all of the time, (and not the good kind), my lady bits are like sandpaper, I am not remotely interested in sex, and I live in a body that once belonged to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I ask you, in any of the hundreds of commercials for joint pain, erectile dysfunction, or AFib not caused by heart valve, have you seen the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? No. No you have not. So, imagine my shock and dismay when I discover that I don’t see Christie Brinkley or Susan Lucci when I look in the mirror. Just me. Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with Karl Malden’s nose. I will have to accept that there is no one way to navigate the road as we get older. We can’t all be Christie Brinkley. But if we’re lucky, we have a very patient and understanding partner who thinks we’re still hot. The good kind.
Remember that old Joni Mitchell song “Circle Game”? It’s a poignant song about growing up, growing old, how as a child we are in such a hurry to be older, but as we age all we want is to slow time. Too young? Hate Joni Mitchell? Never heard it? Go listen to it. Yes, now. I’ll wait. Beautiful, no? Even as a young person, that song gave me a stomachache. I remember wanting to be 13, 18, 21. Wanting to grow up so my real life could start. But even then, my fear of being old, of dying? That was something that got swept under the rug. Locked away in a little box in my head. Not gonna think about it. Nope. Never gonna happen. And now, I’ll be 60 on my next birthday. My husband will be 70. We’re dealing with social security and Medicare and menopause. Friends are welcoming grandchildren. Celebrating silver wedding anniversaries. Dying. I feel in my heart the same as I did when I was 30. But my body’s got other plans. Night sweats, sleeplessness, dizziness. Arthritis, bifocals, gas, poor balance. I’m so afraid of being old and sick, I am making myself old and sick. I’m so busy pretending that I’ll never die, (Spoiler alert: will), I’m ignoring the things that might keep me stronger, that will help me live longer, be happier. Simple stuff that anyone with two brain cells to rub together has been doing all along. Exercise. Eat well. Manage stress. How hard is that? Hard. It’s hard. Very. Very. Hard. I have always lived my life in the peaceful village of Someday. Someday I’ll stop eating so much sugar. Someday I’ll go back to the gym. Meditate. Clean my closet. Big Spoiler Alert. There are never as many Somedays as we would hope. I want my days to be joyous. I want to dance and act and sing. To dream and laugh. Travel and learn and create. Until I’m old. Very old. So I guess I’ll have to accept the fact that the face in the mirror isn’t as smooth as it once was, but I do not have to accept the things I can control. I may be wrinkled. I may be completely grey under the Nice and Easy, but I can still be strong and healthy and gorgeous. I just have to want it enough to work a little harder. And to surrender the fear. Worrying doesn’t prevent bad things from happening. It just makes you less prepared when they do.
I have taken in the past few years to talking to myself. Now everyone talks to themselves once in a while. I’ve always spent a lot of time in a sort of day-dreamy fantasy state which involved men telling me I was beautiful and my dreams coming true…oh, wait…we already talked about that. Recently the conversations with myself have become almost constant and not always in my head. The monkey chatter has escaped from the zoo. I rehash conversations that didn’t go as I’d hoped. The interesting thing about that is sometimes they haven’t even happened yet. I’m defending myself against slings and arrows that may never even occur. It’s only recently when I was looking at an old program from a college theater production that a friend had posted and I saw my name and thought, “Was I there?”, that I realized I’ve been living with the chatter so long, I have huge gaps in my past. People that I know I know, but I can’t remember how or in what context. Shows I did, kids I was friends with. What a shame that so much of what makes me who I am is a blur. I spent so much time wanting people to like me, that I can’t remember some of the wonderful people who really did. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be popular and the kind of person that everyone wanted to be with, I got scareder and shyer and crankier. Now, I’m faced with the life I’ve created and the “Golden Opportunity” (Thanks, again, Gila) to live in the present with the truths of my life. To make amends to people I’ve treated unkindly or neglectfully. Most of all, to make amends to myself. I am the one who has lived my life with my head in the clouds. It’s time to hit the ground running. Ok, maybe just walking. With a limp.