Well, today is the day I have to ask my partner the dreaded question above. In three hours I will reach this wonderful and ferocious age. I have a lot to be grateful for. I’m not senile; except when I keep asking anyone “what did you just say?” That’s not my fault. I tell people don’t interrupt me unless you can tell me what I just said. I can remember one particular day in 1964 when I went to a dance in a red dress with sexy draping down the back and how it felt to be the most popular girl at the dance. But I can’t remember what I was just trying to tell you a minute ago. Is this fair?
Like many women in my situation; being almost 64, I decided to remove any grey from my hair which was quite a lot. I’m not trying to be younger per se; I’m just trying to recognize myself when I occasionally look in the mirror. I don’t like to be shocked. I remember when I hit my first quarter century and my girlfriends used to get together in my apartment before we went out dancing I gazed into the mirror to see if any aging had occurred since the previous day. I examined my eyes to see if any lines or bags had appeared and was slightly surprised that I looked exactly the same. I have now gotten used to looking either young or old for my age.
When I was fourteen, I once was chased by a boyfriends father down the subway for being too old for his thirteen year old son. The father said I was at least sixteen and a hussy. I was neither. It must have been that my clothes came second hand from a cousin who was four years older than me or that my figure was way too curvaceous for my age. But thinking back at the look in his eyes, he probably wanted me for himself. But I wasn’t angry then for looking old. It was all too exciting to be wanted or not wanted with such passion.
I also looked or felt old when I was twenty three and looked in another mirror at a Madrid disco. A gaggle of college girls wearing cashmere sweaters tied to their neck and penny loafers on their privileged feet invaded the “servicios” restroom and started talking about their year abroad and how tough Shakespeare was. I was alone and wearing a shiny polyester dress that was the style for New York clubs but obviously not appropriate for rich college kids. With my makeup plastered on my face to hide my acne, I felt ancient, sleazy and poor. I hated that bad surprise so much I ended up going home with a boy of nineteen who was as lonely as I was. I didn’t look in the mirror for a long time after that.
Around the age of 35, people started telling me I looked young and today after my hair appointment, a long time male friend asked me if I kept a picture in an attic I don’t have. Yes, I got the Dorian Gray reference, but what is youth anyway? I am relatively healthy except for arthritis and a smidgen of insanity. But I accept and honor these blips of imperfection. No one is perfect though many reach for that illusion to their detriment.. I have a partner who cares for me and dogs who need me and I imagine love me. I know I love them. I am unique and worthy.
Yet society and media shout that women must look, young, younger, youngest and pretty, pretty, pretty. I was once fooled and misled by the importance of looks and age. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen “beautiful people” get offered many shiny things because of beauty and youth but all those perks don’t always make them happier than the rest of us mere mortals. I once starved or binge ate, and sought out doctors to make me look “normal” just to find out in the end I was good enough being flawed and insane as long as I was aware and content.
I have a friend who is talented, beautiful and sensitive yet heartbreak and sadness haven’t missed her. She receives countless complements, gifts and job offers yet life is just as messy for her as it is for those of us with less goddess like features and immense charm. In fact some of these “fortunate” ones have more problems when the freshness of youth begins to fade. Suicide and addiction to drugs do not discriminate. The young, talented and beautiful seem to succumb to hopelessness and depression when they see that money and fame truly don’t buy peace and joy.
Speaking of discrimination, ageism does exist. Baby boomers like me are shocked to see that even though we invented “don’t trust anyone over thirty five”, the tables have been turned in a karma like way. I never believed that statement because when I was young I gravitated to the elderly. I was an old lost soul looking for a mentor, a surrogate parent.
If you look old, or are old you probably won’t get the job that you and that generation Xer are competing for. This is wrong and sad but doesn’t bother me as much as it should. I never liked competition. If something was too hard, I ran away. I blamed my anxiety for that and maybe that was true but it was a blessing because recently I’ve seen people suffer and stressed at jobs with abusive bosses. I hate stress more than my basic need for cash. I managed to keep the roof over my head without having to work at my last job where I loved teaching children but hated my co- teacher’s taunts and insults after coming back from her maternity leave my second year. I think she wanted to leave her job more than I wanted to stay at mine. She made my life miserable for about a wee into my 4th year. Then I quit.
I was once told by my economic professor in college that one shouldn’t look down on those who don’t or can’t work because economically it’s important that a portion of the population should stay out of the workforce. I like that. He said it frees up jobs for those with tougher hides and less desperation to make it work without working. He said in every society there are people who don’t work in conventional jobs and that should be applauded instead of looked down upon. Believe me it takes both imagination and a lot of work to be free of corporate America. I have always been able to keep a roof over my head with imagination and creativity.
I have worked both as a “housewife and outside the home at various jobs. I once had a high tolerance for stress or thought I had until panic attacks invaded my life. The only ageism I’ve experienced was in Japan where they don’t have laws to protect the over fifty job seeker. They just tell you straight out, “you’re too old” Yet I got a job there because I have a good attitude and am amiable to any weird rule a boss can think up and believe me- Japanese bosses can think up a lot of rules. I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet in my Japanese teaching job but stayed because I didn’t think of this as abuse. Everyone was nice to me. It’s good to be insane sometimes. But what I can’t accept and do recognize is meanness, like once being told when I was young and applying for a cafeteria job that I would scare away the students because of my acne. That hurt. I have since learned not to stay in any abusive situation. When the before mentioned co-teacher in Hawaii yelled at me for something I didn’t do in front of my students who adored me, I went home and wrote a letter of resignation that night. I never mentioned why I was leaving. I just thanked her for the opportunity and wished her well. It never pays to fight with the self-righteous. Even the Japan toilet banner never embarrassed me in front of my class.
The teacher was shocked and blurted out “I wish I could quit.” I had guessed as much. I gave up a good paycheck for serenity. I made the better choice. Maybe that’s why I don’t look what 64 is supposed to look like. Whatever age you are, a good attitude and choosing people and work that are healing and not toxic are vital. Being insane also helps.