Most of us liked old folks well enough when we were kids; they seemed interested in us, and sometimes they had candy (antique candy, but hey), and sometimes they’d refer to some mythical childhood of theirs. But they seemed like a different tribe altogether. Theoretically, we knew we’d get old too. But the transitions were impossible to imagine. Their skin didn’t even fit properly anymore. How can one be so inattentive as to let something like that happen? How do you go from having a neck to wearing a neck (draped, cowl-like)?
But of course it happens day by day. And the transitions aren’t easy. Grown-up people in their mid-thirties who seem otherwise levelheaded occupy themselves plucking out gray hairs one by one, scouting their mirrors as avidly as a sniper.
It gets worse later. If a woman is fortunate enough to plow on through to the far side of menopause, stuff starts happening in a hurry. Everything goes to pot at once, after the first horrifying salvo from the neck region. Short-armed women learn to disdain the selfie. No one who takes the time to crouch over a mirror placed on the floor ever agrees to be “on top” again. It’s not an easy transition. And then, suddenly, the whole apparatus of attractiveness has gone so far off the rails that you realize, with relief, that for the first time since you hit double digits, you just don’t give a flying shit anymore. In fact, even if your ass starts to fall, you ignore it until it starts banging against the back of your thighs. Then you dust it with powdered sugar and roll it up and duct-tape it to your waist just to make the slappy noise go away. Done.
But then there’s another transition.
You’ve heard it before: yep, she’s a hundred years old and still sharp as a tack. I had great-aunts at least that age of whom that was said. I couldn’t vouch for them: they didn’t have that much to say. They just sat all hunched up in their dresses and hats and lace hankies, clutching their little purses. I took it on faith that they were sharp as a tack, and presumed that genetic blessing would be mine.
Then I read somewhere that the incidence of cognitive decline among people in their nineties is 100%. That’s high. I didn’t want to believe it.
But I’m thirty years away from that decade, and things have started to slide already. You think you have control, but you don’t. I notice it especially when I’m around interesting young people. I start to tell a funny story and realize I’ve told it before, except when I don’t. I get a great quip all ready to go in the middle of someone else’s sentence and prepare to launch it when it’s my turn, but five words in I’ve forgotten what we’re talking about. I miss the off-ramp on the freeway because some other part of me decides I’m going to the mountain instead. I lather, rinse, and repeat because I can’t remember if I lathered and rinsed a minute ago.
So what you read is that we seniors are merely developing a different kind of intelligence, one in
which trivial information is cast aside, and we are able to pull our life experiences together into some kind of superior, holistic perspective that is unavailable to the callow young. This is the sort of interpretation of age and deterioration that you get when Baby Boomers are writing the script. Not that a fine holistic perspective isn’t just what you need when you ponder trivia like what your car keys are doing in the vegetable crisper. We may have gained a little by losing our vanity, but let’s face it: we’re not what we were.
And I realize. Those hundred-year-old people aren’t sharp as a tack. They’re just responding appropriately, their shoes are sensible, and they’re not drooling. I’ve adjusted my aspirations. On my hundredth birthday, I’m going to dust myself with powdered sugar and put virtual duct-tape over my mouth and a twinkle in my eye. I don’t care if I know what’s going on as long as I can still fake it.