Too Late, Too Early
It’s July. We haven’t put the lounge chairs on the patio yet. We never opened the hot tub. The peonies and roses came and went without even one gracing our kitchen table.
2020 is half gone, and I know the second half will disappear as well. It’s as if the whole country – the whole world – is in a coma. We’re not sure when we will awake, but it seems distant.
What happens to a lost year?
I feel bad for all the children who never had a birthday celebration. But then again, losing a year when you have so many ahead of you seems – well, not trivial – but manageable.
But what if you don’t have so much time left? Losing a year when you are old seems tragic.
I’m sixty-nine. Not so old. I’ve always considered middle-age to last until age seventy. I am losing the last year of middle-age. When the world finally comes back to life, I will officially be old.
I’ve spent the whole of my middle years in a determined effort to be not middle-aged. But I didn’t intend to lose a year of it.
I worked at being youthful. And I am – thanks to hair dye, sunscreen, makeup, contact lenses, and the most fashionable outfits I could afford. And Zumba and Yoga and crunches.
But now I am out of time. And I (and everyone else) have been cheated out of a year.
I didn’t waste the last six months entirely. I finished the manuscript of my third novel. I painted portraits. I even housebroke the dog who was figuring to be unhousebreakable. (Or more likely, he just finally figured it out, but I will gladly claim victory over peepee.)
But I still somehow feel like I have missed an important deadline.
I am well-educated. I’ve had reasonable success in my career – which I define as making good money at something you like well enough. I retired when I was ready, and returned to my childhood dream of becoming a novelist.
But I had another childhood aspiration.
Despite being grateful for my brains and my artistic abilities, and as shallow as I know it is to admit it, what I have really wanted since I was five was to be beautiful.
Oh, I know I am not ugly. I’m fine. But how I have wanted to be more than fine!
I’m a late bloomer for sure. Really late. I looked better in my forties than in my twenties. It was a gradual process for me, a slow understanding of how to accentuate what I liked about myself. Even more important, I needed to learn to like myself.
I wrote an essay three years ago listing the things I liked about myself. I wrote that I thought I was quite pretty. Imagine that, at 66! I felt that there were three possible explanations of why I would feel pretty after all these years:
A) I finally understand how to make the most of what I’ve got.
B) I was always pretty but I didn’t know it.
C) I actually and mysteriously got prettier as I aged.
And the answer was: D) All of the above.
But now I am sixty-nine, and the year is a total loss. We are all looking ahead to 2021. When I will be seventy.
Pretty in middle age – but not beautiful. I didn’t quite make it. I came so close but I have run out of time.
I think a lot about what it will mean to be seventy.
In some ways, I think it will be freeing.
I’ve always fallen into the trap of comparison. I’m pretty but that woman is prettier. I’m smart but that person is smarter. I’m successful but that guy is more successful.
Or, in my vanity: I’m not athletic, but I’m more athletic than that guy. And at my worst: I’m not beautiful, but I am more beautiful than her.
I hope at seventy I can give that up.
A friend recently told me, “You will never not care about being stylish.”
That’s probably true. I don’t think I will ever go out of the house without makeup. My mother is 96, and still makes sure she has her eyebrows drawn in case anyone visits. It’s genetic, you see.
And I can’t picture myself in elastic-waist pants in lavender double-knit polyester.
But who knows? Maybe I would rock those slacks.
On the other hand, I worry a lot, too much I’m sure, about looking foolish.
I don’t want to be one of those old ladies still trying to look like a teenager. I don’t want long blonde beachy hair in a pruny face. The kind of person who looks great from a distance, but makes folks wince close up. I fear being pathetic.
Years ago, I made a pact with the women in my office that we would tell each other – kindly – if we wore something too young for us. We decided the code would be, “What a cool blouse. My daughter would love it.”
But now I’m retired. I’m afraid no one will tell me.
Someday – soon – I will need to give up my skinny jeans.
There’s an appeal, however, to comfortable shoes. Within limits, of course. Returning back to my genes, last year, my mother tried on a pair orthopedic shoes and said to the saleslady, “I’m sorry, but I’m just not ready yet for ugly shoes.”
Oh, but there’s a lot of room between stilettos and crocs. Between skinny jeans and polyester slacks.
There are luxurious materials and classic hairstyles. There are non-feathering lipsticks. And gorgeous earrings.
And inner peace.
It’s too late to be a beautiful middle-aged woman.
But it is so early to get a start on being a beautiful old woman.
Since I’m writing off the rest of 2020, I think I will be old now.
I may like it.