One morning while brushing my teeth, I glimpsed myself in the mirror and saw an undeniable truth: I’m old.
The approach of my birthday next week had nothing to do with my realization. I’ve looked forward to birthdays since my sister and I decreed them free-eating days: food without guilt. How could such a grand occasion not be happy?
Seeing myself every day, I usually don’t notice gradual changes: wrinkles turning into crevices, gray hairs multiplying like rabbits, dry skin taking on the texture of a turtle’s shell.
My daily sightings of myself also explain why I’m shocked at the rapid aging of others, while seeing myself as eternally young.
At class reunions, I wonder where all the old people came from.
“Surely,” I tell myself, “I’ve wandered into the wrong gathering; that, or the radiation that blew into Utah from the bomb-testing in Nevada lingered and took a terrible toll on classmates who never left the valley.”
I gaze with dismay as the once young and beautiful hobble around with their nametags upside-down, so they can read them if they forget their own names.
“Why,” I wonder, “does no one recognize me? I haven’t changed a bit.”
At family gatherings, I gaze at my bald brothers and think, “Good heavens. Lawrence is 77 and JL, 55. How did that happen?”
I ignore my inner voice: “You have marched through the years with them, Toots, and ain’t what you used to be, either.”
In my heart, I’m still 44, vigorous, with unlimited possibilities. But in my mind, I know I’m kidding myself. And if I should forget, my grandchildren remind me.
When Sophia was 4, I introduced her to a game I used to play with students: “Let’s play the antonym game, Soph. It works like this. If I say up, you say the opposite, down. So, if I say hot you should say…”
“Cold,” she responded, and the game was on.
We did big and little, inside and outside, happy and sad.
Eventually, I stumped her with pretty. She refused to give up, concentrating so hard I could see her brain bouncing around in her skull.
Then: “Oh, I got it,” she chirped, studying my face, “The opposite of pretty is old.”
Cruelty must run in her family. A couple of years ago, her brother, finally the teenager he yearned to be, put his arm around me while we were telling one another corny jokes and gave me helpful advice: “Hey, old lady, you should laugh all the time because it makes the lines in your lips go away.”
With grandchildren around, who needs a mirror?
Still, even with the honesty of my young ones, I do a double-take when I’m given the senior discount at the movies without asking, or when I’m told at the library that I’m in the age bracket where I may check out the newly purchased books for a month, rather than a week.
I guess they think because I’m a few years older, I’ve lost my ability to read fast. Well, maybe I have — I keep dozing off.
But recently, I’ve made strides toward recognizing my new reality. When I weary at the end of a day of yard work, when no one acts surprised at the mention of my age, when my body betrays me with new aches and pains, I acknowledge the truth of my mirror:
I now feel 56, not 44, and I’m sticking with it — no matter what my siblings say when they call next week.