‘Only yesterday I was thirty one’

You can always tell the age of a woman by the state of her elbows and of her neck. Or so my mother told me.

Old necks turn to turkey flesh and pucker. Elbows take on the look of sphincters, those muscle bound orifices that are best left concealed.

I do not make a habit of studying women’s necks and elbows but the thought remains embedded in my brain as if it is yet another aspect of being alive that we must overcome: cover your neck and elbows so that no one else will notice, the fact of my ageing.

More and more we read about it, not just the stuff on the surface, the stuff underneath, the creaks in muscles especially those that form part of your back and hips, the ones that help you to stand upright, to walk and to run.

The cracking of your bowels and the occasional reflux from your gut that tells you even down there, where the food is received and expelled, things no longer work so well.

My mother told me, you can always tell the women who’ve spent too long in the sun. Their skin turns to gravel, pocked and pitted like the stones on a riverbed but not so smooth.

My mother told me about her sister who wrote from Holland about a prolapse. As a child I imagined my aunt’s insides running out through the hole below. I could see my aunt on the dance floor, her insides trailing from under her ball gown, like so many red jewels.

It happens when you get older, my mother told me. And when you have children, too many children like her, your stomach muscles lose their elasticity and you need to wear girdles or supports to keep them in place, otherwise you flop all over the place like so much custard.

My mother told me, the worst part of growing old was the invisibility. People do not look up when you shuffle into a room. People do not offer a smile of admiration when you wear a new dress or perfume, when you spread lipstick across your lips the way she did when she was still a young woman able to command attention.

You slip back into the place of childhood, into that place where you might stand longest in the queue because the person serving has not noticed you standing there huddled over in your thick coat to keep warm.

The greyness of your hair merges with the colour of the sky on a winter’s day, which becomes a type of Ground hog day when it slows itself into a predictable routine.

And nothing new happens from one minute to the next save the tedium of getting dressed each morning, of showering with assistance and of getting yourself to meals in the retirement village where you can no longer have conversations because you and all the people around you repeat things again and again as if you had not already said them because those in the dining room together with you are too hard of hearing, and too lacking in short term memory to be able to chat.

My mother told me you slip out of the spotlight and even your children begin to forget you, other than as an obligation that they must honour once a year on Mother’s Day and if you’re lucky on your birthday, but hardly ever at Christmas anymore because they are too busy tending to their own lot.

Look at you in the mirror there. No longer smooth skinned and full of life.

And when you meet someone for the first time in ages, the thought goes through their mind as fast as it goes through yours: You’ve aged.

As if it were a crime. A crime of indecency, an insult to others, but most of all to yourself.

As Joan Didion writes:

‘I have watched tears flood the eyes of grown women, loved women, women of talent and accomplishment, for no reason other than that a small child in the room, more often than not an adored niece or nephew, has just described them as ‘wrinkly’, or asked how old they are.

‘When we are asked this question we are always undone by its innocence, somehow shamed by the clear bell-like tones in which it is asked. What shames us is this: the answer we give is never innocent. The answer we give is unclear, evasive, even guilty … there must be a mistake: only yesterday I was in my fifties, my forties, only yesterday I was thirty-one.’

 

 

Late night trumpet calls

My husband has been away these past few days and I have been sleeping like a top, sleeping so soundly the hours pass in an instant. And it’s not because I do not miss him.

How can I write this without seemingly taking the mickey out of the man I love? I have been thinking on this issue for some time now. Ever since I read Lynn Freed’s wonderful book on Reading Writing and Leaving Home.

My husband has left home, albeit briefly, and I am left lonelier, but free from his incessant snoring. Lynn Freed writes about snoring stories as the great stories of revenge, the way in which at dinner partes, women, and it is usually women, tell stories about the nature of their husband’s snoring. They can keep their fellow dinner guests in stitches as they regale them of the horrors of those late night trumpet calls, while the husband, the poor perpetrator of said snores is left humiliated and in shame.

Two generations – asleep and snoring?

It’s true. I do not write about such things as a rule because I do not want to humiliate or belittle the ones I love, or do I?

My thesis topics pops back into my mind. It has been absent for several months now. I’m still waiting to hear whether or not I have passed. Life writing and the desire for revenge. The way in which a desire for revenge can inspire writing, not that I want to take revenge on my husband or do I?

I cannot talk easily about his snoring. He finds it insulting. He tries to stop. He rolls over when I nudge him, but even then within minutes his throat constricts and he is back at it again.

Is it his helplessness against snoring that causes him to want to throw it back at me? ‘You snore, too.’ The gut impulse. The talion principle, an eye for an eye. You insult me and I’ll insult you back. Or is it something else?

Please, don’t talk about sleep apnoea or other common ailments. I do not believe it to be the case here. I put it down to age and occasionally too much red wine, but even when he drinks lightly or not at all the snoring persists. I play musical beds until it subsides.

The past few days I have not needed to move about. I can stay put, hence my sleep is more sound.

I have a friend whose wife snores. She is the culprit, and the same principles apply. They came to our house one day overjoyed to have found a new treatment, a sliver of something or other than you put on the back of your tongue, a wafer like substance that dissolves in your mouth and apparently stops the snoring.

My friend is a beautiful and dignified women in her sixties. How can it be that her snoring is enough to wake the dead? She smokes, her husband says by way of explanation. She smokes. Maybe that is the cause.

Smoking’s to blame. It seems we need to find some point from which we can blame the perpetrator of snores, hence the additional shame.

Snoring is treated as a crime, and yet it is one from which we all suffer. It cannot be a crime. It is only a problem when the person who shares your bed finds it too much. Or when it suggests some malady in need of attention.

As I said earlier, I put it down to aging. I am like my mother here. She ascribes every bodily ailment that slows her down to her aging. I, too, imagine that my husband’s snoring comes of his aging and he like me is ashamed of both.

Why be ashamed of our aging?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Didion puts it well in her recent book, Blue Nights:
‘Aging and its evidence remain life’s most predictable events, yet they also remain matters we prefer to leave unmentioned, unexplored: I have watched tears flood the eyes of grown women, loved women, women of talent and accomplishment, for no reason other than that a small child in the room, more often than not an adored niece or nephew, has just described them as ‘wrinkly’, or asked how old they are.

‘When we are asked this question we are always undone by its innocence, somehow shamed by the clear bell-like tones in which it is asked. What shames us is this: the answer we give is never innocent. The answer we give is unclear, evasive, even guilty … there must be a mistake: only yesterday I was in my fifties, my forties, only yesterday I was thirty-one…’

Didion’s thoughts about her daughter’s adoption, life, and early death lead Didion into thoughts on her own aging and frailty.

It’s a thing that dogs us all, this aging business. I talked about it recently among a small group of friends and most resonated, though the youngest of our group, a woman in her early forties with a small child at home, brushed it off. It’s too far away from her.

I used to be like that, too. I used to think that I would not worry about getting old until it hit me and then I’d die. But these days it hits me daily with a ferocity I had never imagined possible.

It is like wading through mud. The fact that I used to have a school aged child and that my mother is still alive convinced me that I was still a long way away from needing to reflect on this, but my daughter has just now finished school and my mother who lives on and now plans to reach one hundred, reminds me of my age.

‘You have to recognise you are old,’ my mother says, ‘when you have a seventy year old son, a forty year old granddaughter and a six year old great grand son.’

Where did the time go?