One Morning I Woke Up Invisible
One Morning I Woke Up Invisible
“Old age ain’t for sissies”
When I first read Bette Davis’ immortal quote, I burst out laughing. “What a great line!” I thought. “I wish I had written it.”
That was over 20 years ago. And, as the decades have passed, I have shared those words any number of times with any number of people – from the chairman of the board of a major musical nonprofit to the lady in the grocery line behind me to the guy manning the valet station outside my favorite restaurant.
Without question, bar none, Bette’s rejoinder has met with a laugh. My own loudest of all.
But I am not laughing now.
It is 3 am, I am on my third glass of wine, my second bag of chips and my 10,000th chocolate chip cookie –not exactly a genius menu move when you are diabetic – and, frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn. I am not at all sure I feel much like living anyway. There are worse ways to go out than in a sugar sprinkled carbohydrate coma.
Yes, I am throwing myself one monster sucker of a pity party.
Why? Well, for starters, as I stare into the blank screen of this computer, I see myself reflected back and it isn’t pretty. There are wrinkles and creases where teenage I once fretted over bumper crops of pimples…my jaw line quivers like not-quite-set jello…and I have discovered, to my horror, that marionette lines are not necessarily the exclusive province of puppets. And let’s not even begin to discuss the havoc time has wreaked upon my neck, belly or ass. It’s no accident that Norah Ephron titled her book on aging I Hate My Neck.
Yet, while that outward stuff is neither welcome nor pleasant, I can deal with it, as generations of my sisters have, whether I opt to accept the sags and crevasses ‘gracefully’ or become best friends with Botox. It’s the inward ruination of my youthful self that is killing me.
When I was young, I had confidence. Of course I would write a novel by 30…Okay, by 40. And it would be a great one, too – no garbage would spew from the gifted mind of this embryonic Austen or Elizabeth Bishop (a Pulitzer prize winning poet and writer)! Certainly, by 50, I would have a shelf full of award winning bestsellers to my credit. Hadn’t everyone always assured me that I Had Talent?
When I was young, I had hope. No one devoured fairy tales or gothic novels more ravenously. No one believed in Hollywood happy endings more devoutly. Sure, sad stuff happened – to others as well as to me. But, in my own case, those episodes – the death of my father, the dissolution of my first marriage, the loss of a dear friend and the desertion and betrayal of another – were mere bumps in the road, and the road extended way, way, way, way off into the horizon where a pot of gold and a rainbow, the time honored symbol of hope, awaited me with bated breath.
Because, when I was young, I had TIME. I had bins of hours, bushels of minutes. I was like my children when they were babies; if I closed my eyes and didn’t see something it didn’t exist. That those bins and bushels of time could – and would – disappear, I refused to acknowledge.
But, then, one morning, my eyes were pried open. I went to bed, 25, and woke up nearly 60.
What’s that old expression? “This is no dress rehearsal.” Call it a cliché, if you like, but it’s a cliché for good reason. It’s TRUE.
As I wrote earlier, I have friends who are dead now. I have friends who have diagnoses that will soon leave them dead. And HERE IS THE SCARY PART…
When you’re young and a friend dies, it’s a freak saddening tragic quirk of nature. When you’re in your 6th decade and a friend dies, it’s saddening and tragic, but it’s no longer a freaky quirk. It’s the finger of fate beckoning, whispering, “Don’t get too comfortable or complacent. Guess who’s next?”
Oh, how infant I yearns to close my eyes to this and wish it all away! But, as that face staring back at me in my computer screen and morning mirror reminds me, I am right in lock step with my Boomer compatriots. I may even be clipping their heels or, for that matter, surpass them on this race to the finish line. Whether it happens next week or next month or next year, it’s coming for sure within the next two or three decades.
I AM RUNNING OUT OF TIME.
Depressing stuff, yes. (I don’t throw monster pity parties for nothing) But don’t stop reading, please. I am heading somewhere out of my dark hole with this. I am. I can sense it…
I had lunch recently with a high school classmate, Jane. “Jane,” I asked, “how the heck did we get so old?”
Jane gave a little rueful laugh and sat back in her chair. “I don’t know,” she replied. “But I have to admit. I like being invisible.”
In high school, Jane had long blond hair that rippled like sunlit sea grass in the wind to nearly her waist and blue eyes (I think) and a rose bud mouth and a petite enviable figure and she was gorgeous. I always thought that she looked like Alice in the original illustrations of Wonderland. There wasn’t a man within miles from age 14 to 400 who wasn’t thrown a bit off axis when caught in Jane’s wondrous orbit.
Jane is still beautiful and extraordinarily wondrous – particularly with a camera and as a human being – but, when she said people don’t see her anymore, I didn’t argue. I knew just what she meant. Just what she was talking about. For I, too, am invisible.
Unlike Jane, however, I don’t like it.
Granted, invisibility is a perk when you are sick unto death of male notice and a godsend when to it comes to practicing the craft of photography. Jane captures moments with her camera, moments best caught when the subjects are unaware of her.
I am a writer and a poet. And I, too, capture moments – albeit with words rather than with a lens. But, as much as I admire her – I even named my daughter after her – I am no Emily Dickinson. I am not content to practice my craft in my small room and leave it at that.
I want my stuff READ. Preferably (again, unlike ED) now. Before I am dead.
And it staggers me how so very many people assume that I, as a card-carrying member of the ranks of the invisible, must no longer have aspirations and yearnings…that I have hung my unrequited dreams in the back of the closet with my minis.
You’ve had your moment, they say. Quite grousing, you old geezer, and step aside and offer the stage to the ingénue waiting in the wings.
“Perhaps you have to accept that some dreams just aren’t going to come true,” my mother gently suggested earlier this evening, as I was struggling to cope with a triple-header of whammies:
· yet one more rejection of yet one more poem
· the humiliating, thoroughly demoralizing, languishing status of my blog
· the news that my daughter’s post on a blog (obviously, not mine) had attracted over 30,000 hits in one day alone
“You should be happy for your daughter,” my mother scolded me.
“Let’s just not even go there,” I snapped back as I made a beeline for a wine bottle.
I mean, talk about CLUELESS. OF COURSE I was happy for my daughter. OF COURSE I want the world and then some for her. OF COURSE I applauded her success.
My daughter did an outstandingly splendid job. Indeed the column was perhaps her most powerful piece of writing yet, as I instantly wrote her when she sent me the finished draft. I was so very proud of her. So very very proud.
I was also the teensiest – no, let’s be honest, I was more than a little jealous. I’d sell my soul for 300 readers and my daughter had 30,000?
Are you appalled? Don’t worry, I am as well. I hang my head in shame. The role of Mommy Dearest is not one I at all enjoy playing.
But my daughter is not the only ingénue waiting her turn in the wings! You see, I am a member of a dying breed. I opted to be a fulltime mother. I put my own career on hold and devoted 120% of the hours in my day to channeling June Cleaver (minus the apron). And, yes, it was my decision and, no, I have never regretted it. But the consequence of that decision is that, now, I am scrambling like a madwoman to catch up, to fast forward. Except the button isn’t working, no matter how hard I punch the damned thing.
And, so, sometimes, like tonight, I go a little mad.
But now I am recalling a conversation with a friend, who confided how hard it was to watch her teenage daughter embark upon her first love affair…And it wasn’t because the boy was a scumball either. My friend wanted to be in love, too.
Unlike me, however, my friend didn’t bury her head in a wine glass. She hauled her slightly dumpy middle aged ass off to the gym, sculpted herself a rock hard muscle ripped body, and took a marriage that had been unresponsive for years off life support. As far as I am aware, no Prince Charming has yet made his way to my friend, but she has at least gotten herself invited to the ball.
And then I remembered another friend, a fellow stay at home mom who was so very hurt when she overheard her honor roll daughter say, “Oh, my mom? She’s just a mom. I doubt she can recite the alphabet without help.”
That friend went back to college, earned a PhD, taught for a number of years, and now is retired and living on some island off South Carolina. Or perhaps it’s Georgia, I forget which. The point is she didn’t let her ‘jealousy’ of her daughter’s chi chi private education eat her alive. She went out and got herself some fancy book learnin’ too.
No, old age ain’t for sissies. And it ain’t for crybabies either. So my daughter is published and I am not. So my daughter’s essay reached more readers in a day than any of mine have in a lifetime. So my daughter has proven that she has talent spilling like juice from a ripe peach from every pore, and I am terrified I’m a dried up self- deluded raisin of a hack. So what? My daughter’s life is her life and HIP HIP HOORAY, BRAVAs for her that she is doing so very well at so very young an age. The palms of my hands hurt, I am applauding her so long and loudly.
But now it is time for these arthritic fingers of mine to quit applauding and get back to typing…I have a poem to craft, this essay to finish, battles to wage, a life to lead.
And, here, as I wrote recently, is my manifesto:
To tally the veins in a leaf
then, with your fingers, hear
its little leaf heart beat
as your own quickens
in restless readiness
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