There is no heat or hot water in my apartment complex right now. I should be miserable, but the blessed sun is blazing into the great room windows right now so, while I can hear the wind thundering outside, and there’s a faint chill around my ankles (mostly because I’m rebelling against the compression knee highs today), I am warm and cozy.
And sleepy. Very very sleepy. I was up till three last night/this morning. I wrote and edited till around 10 and then watched the last episode of the new series of Black Mirror (beyond unsettling) and a couple of episodes of The Crown. I was awake enough at three to keep going but I figured three a.m. was rock star-ish enough for the waning days of year 47. I vaguely remember that I used to be able to survive on very little sleep but…
I don’t mind aging, I should say, even if my powers of recuperation are somewhat on the wane. I think the glory days are still ahead of me, not behind me. In the opening chapters of Proverbs, the Bible talks over and over again about how precious and valuable wisdom is, which seems like a lot of hyperbole until you hit your 40s and you realize how much trouble you could have saved yourself if you’d only been able to make an early withdrawal on the wisdom that lay ahead.
And while I am vain as anyone (no, you absolutely cannot own too many face masks or brightly colored shades of lipstick) and while seeing my own neck in the mirror has helped me understand finally why Colette always made the older women of the demimonde in her stories and novels put away their pearls once they’d reached a certain age, I am also enamored of women who just let their faces collapse around them. Who bear their wrinkles and stretch marks and age spots proudly. Those are the women who are most beautiful to me, the ones I would jump the fence for (which I’m sure nobody says anymore but I also like 80s music so…)
Over Christmas my Uncle Mel, who is approaching 74 if he’s not there already, told a story about going to the senior center near his house and finding the people there his age terribly old (though the $2.00 lunch was quite delicious). He’s the uncle who travels in a pack with my much younger cousins, visiting parties and cricket matches and wherever they find a welcome, which is everywhere, awash in good liquor and good stories and as my cousins would say, vibes. He said his doctor praised him for keeping younger company as a way to maintain a youthful spirit.
For much of my life, by the nature of when I was born comparative to the school year (I was a January baby, but was in the same grade when I started school with the kids who’d turned 6 in September), I’ve always been the youngest in my cohort. I was definitely the baby in The Divas, the poetry collective I wrote with for several years in Chicago, women who made me so much of who I am. They spoke and wrote about miscarriages and menopause and divorce and empty nests while I was still writing odes to Lenny Kravitz and asking cab drivers to take my drunken self to the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home from carousing.
It is odd now to sometimes be the oldest one among my group of friends, to be the wise woman (relatively speaking) just because I’ve experienced or watched other people experience things for a good long while now. Is that how I’ll stay youngish—by telling other people what to do?
Still, it’s nice to visit my aunts and cousins at Christmas, to still be everyone’s “first babies,” even as I’m telling their kids, “Well, when I first knew your mother….” And I love that I’ve once again found a circle of older women who shelter me under their all-knowing wings as the Divas once did.
When we meet, I call it a gathering of crones. Some dictionaries say crone means “ugly, old woman,” and I like the idea of that. I don’t hear “ugly” as a lack of physical beauty, but rather the embrace of the fact that we are so much more than our physical beauty, that as we age, if we’re very very lucky, our physical looks are the last thing people notice about us, as they’re drawn instead to our wisdom, our strength, our persistence. It’s the letting go of vanity, the giving of fewer and fewer fucks, so that even a day with no heat and hot water is joyous because your pink bathrobe is soft and your blankets are warm and later one of your younger friends is coming over for apple crisp and coffee and poetry.
I have to let go of what I once saw and open my eyes wide to what’s right in front of me now. Or something like that.
I wrote earlier in this project about letting go, that it wasn’t about giving up, but rather it’s about allowing for other possibilities. Many days I feel okay about the possibility that I will never get married or have a partner or even be a woman who goes on dates more than once every other year or so. Still, every time I know I’m going to be in a situation where I know I’ll meet new people, some of whom may be unattached, hetero men, I hear my 16-year-old self enthuse, “Maybe this will the time I meet the one.” Or if I get introduced to a man—a new work colleague, a friend of a friend or just someone I randomly talk to at an event or on the Metro, I find myself wondering if this is the moment that everything changes.
It, of course, never is. And I find myself wondering if that moment of unbridled hope and optimism that I think is quietly happening inside my head is actually being projected out of my eyes like a neon sign while I forcefully emit a football field-sized pheromonal cloud that, if it were to be bottled and sold, would be called Eau du Desperation. Is there something in my voice when I say hello that sounds too eager or too lonely or too something that is the thing that men interpret as Cupid waving his arms around and screaming, “Danger Will Robinson, danger Will Robinson.”*
Or am I instead broadcasting loud and clear—Look buddy, I’ve got my life handled so just take your possible admiration and move it along. I’ve been told that men are reluctant to approach strong women, but at this point in my life, I don’t know how to be any other way. I’m fairly up front about what I don’t know how to take care of myself, but if reaching the top shelf in my kitchen, telling car models apart, or vacuuming don’t come up, I’m kind of sunk in the showing I’m helpless department. But seriously folks, I’m perfectly happy to let someone else take care of me, but you’ve got to show me first that you can before I hand over the reins. And somehow I haven’t learned the trick for figuring that out in the time it takes to have a meet cute (that will turn into a great toast during the wedding.”
Whether you think I come off as too strong or too desperate, I think the real sinker comes when I explain that I’m 45 and I’ve never been married or even close. I mean I’m starting to think I should make up a divorce or being left at the altar or a string of broken hearts I’ve caused strung from sea to sea just so I can seem normal. Of course I know all the reasons I’ve been single this long, and they are all valid, not-that-crazy reasons. But again, there’s no sexy way to say, “I had narcissistic parents who fucked me up and I’ve just figured it all out so now I can have a healthy relationship” while also trying not to spill your martini (with a twist, preferably of orange instead of lemon, but definitely not an olive). This is the part of the letter, Marc, when I really wish you were actually writing me back. Sigh…
*For my younger readers, look it up.
To be continued…