I don’t remember when I got old. One day I was young and had full control of my faculties, and the next day I was dribbling a can of Ensure down the front of my shirt on the way home from a colonoscopy.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m still fighting the good fight. I routinely allocate the GDP of a developing nation every few weeks to have chemicals poured on my head in an effort to get some color — any color — other than gray to stick. But it’s an exasperating process, and the results are short lived. The last time I left the salon, there were grays poking through by the time I finished refinancing the house to pay for highlights.
And let’s not even discuss the whole Body versus Gravity thing. Gravity won, back when we were all partying like it was 1999.
The only saving grace is that the military industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about gifted the world with numerous tensile fabrics that help hoist, harness, and hitch our various parts back to a rough approximation of where they used to be, and these things, like hair color, can be had for roughly the same price as a used Toyota.
God Bless America and the entire Lycra industry!
And please, let’s not even mention my hearing, which started circling the drain years ago. 1987, specifically, when I got caught up in a crowd surging the stage and wound up smashed against a speaker at Pink Floyd’s Tampa show.
I remember thinking, Wow, I can actually *feel* the music in my brain… and, a few minutes later… I bet that rattling sound is my temporal lobe self-destructing.
When I began seminary two years ago, I sat on the right side of the main classroom, and was shocked by how quiet our classes were. I initially chalked this up to reverence, or maybe the lack of frat boys in the back row, but I eventually figured out that the reason I thought the classroom was so quiet was because I can’t hear diddly out of my left ear, and there was an AC unit humming on my right.
I moved to the middle of the room and that helped, but I still missed almost all of what was said to my left over the course of the year, which is a shame, because some really smart people sat on that side, and thought I was rude for ignoring them.
Gradually, however, I made peace with all of these changes, resigning myself to fighting the good fight on behalf of my hair, letting go of the hope that any part of my corpus would ever be perky again, and only hearing what’s said on my right.
But just when I thought it was safe to look in the mirror…
I realized I couldn’t see.
Not the date on my watch, the numbers on the clock, the signs on the highway, or the writing on the wall.
I tried in vain to ignore this ugly fact, but eventually I caved, and hauled myself off to the eye doctor, where, out of the goodness of my own heart, I did everything I could to make our appointment as pleasant as possible.
“I’m sure it’s just that I’m tired,” I said to the doctor, who was peering intently into the depths of my brain while flipping lenses at the speed of Tigger on crack.
“One or two?” he said, ignoring my helpfulness. Flip, flip, flip. “Three or four?”
“Umm, four? I think I read too much. That’s what it is,” I said, mentally disparaging a few of my professors for assigning so much material.
“Five, or six?” Flip, flip, flip. “Now again, one or two? Flip, flip. Three or four?”
“Uhh, okay, well, I’ll go with three. Was that a choice? I’m not really a numbers person. But hey, listen, I bet some reading glasses from the drugstore would help,” I said, in a final attempt to help the doctor do his job, nice person that I am.
He stopped flipping the lenses long enough to pull his head from behind the refractor and look at me.
I was expecting him to say “Yes, you are exactly right, now just toddle off to CVS,” but instead he said, with all the bedside manner of the Grim Reaper, “The problem is that your eyes are as old as you are.”
What the actual hell??
I mean, logically, I know that’s true. These are the factory-installed eyes I came into the world with. But my first instinct was to rare back and clock him, then stand over his body, maybe spit on his face for emphasis, and smash my fist against my palm. “Don’t tell me about my eyes,” I’d scream. “You don’t know me! You don’t know what I’ve seen!”
Instead, I just nodded meekly.
He said, “You need bifocals,” and then rolled around on his ridiculous little wheelie stool to put a couple drops of what felt like sulphuric acid on each eyeball.
My retinas on fire, the doctor shone a klieg light into the innermost depths of my brain, then unleashed a few more drops of lemon juice onto each pupil before sending me away.
I stumbled to the waiting area, my eyes kaleidoscoping in my skull like Kaa in the Jungle Book.
Thirty minutes later, during which I sent a couple of completely illegible and nonsensical texts to potential clients, a woman came to get me.
“Let’s go pick out some frames!” she chirped, as if I’d been waiting all my life for that invitation.
Now, I’ve never worked in an optometrist or ophthalmologist’s office, but there seems to be a flaw in the logic of having someone pick out eyeglass frames when their eyes are dilated like a rabid marsupial.
I couldn’t see AT ALL. The light from the waiting room windows was ten thousand suns, and all I could make out were dark lumps, which may have been other patients, but may also have been furniture.
I turned to my daughter, who was guiding me across the room like Teacher taking Helen Keller to the well.
“Help me,” I begged.
“I will,” she scratched on my palm.
Together, we chose frames. Or rather, my daughter chose frames, and I sat, helpless as a newborn kitten, mewling softly in my distress.
I had no idea what was on the receipt I signed at the doctor’s office, or on the check at the restaurant we went to afterwards, killing time in an attempt to let my vision return before I Mister Magoo’d us up the serpentine twists that led to our mountain-top home.
At some point that night, still half-blind but safely ensconced in my recliner (which I’d purchased early on in grad school, when sitting upright like a fully-evolved homosapien seemed way beyond the realm of realistic expectations), I officially gave up.
My youth is gone.
I need to face the facts: I’m a middle-aged, half-deaf, bifocal-wearing, gravity-stricken, gray-haired trainwreck.
And that’s okay.
‘Cause all my friends are, too.
No, ha ha! That was a joke. My friends are all vibrant, gorgeous, witty and whip-smart. I’d hate them all if I didn’t love them so desperately.
But it’s okay that I’m a wreck, and here’s why:
- As the outside falls apart, the inside gets stronger. Weird how that happens.
- At my advanced age, I am confident that the good Lord knows me and loves me, despite all the stuff I do that must make God alternately weep and cringe.
- As the Desiderata poem says so beautifully, I am a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, and I have a right to be here. Even in my dilapidated state.
And what’s even better? Those things are all true about you, too!