Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cougars, Crows, and Silver Foxes

At the office, one of my doctors recently saw a patient who was somewhere in her 80s. She was diagnosed with a number of visual ailments, the news wasn’t the greatest. I documented the exam, the doctor discussed her treatment options, and the patient began to leave. On her way out of the exam room, she turned to me. In spite of her age, her eyes were vividly blue and alert. She touched my hand.

“Sweetheart, don’t ever get old.”

I sat there for a moment, unsure of what to say. I finally decided to go with one of my departed father’s famous lines.

“It beats the alternative!” I called to her retreating form.

But does it really?

I sure as hell never thought I’d get this old. I was fairly certain I would die before I reached thirty. There’s nothing major medically wrong with me, I just am a morbid person with a vivid imagination. So you can imagine my surprise when thirty snuck up on me like a cat stalking a crippled mouse. I remember the first time I became aware that thirty was a tangible reality when I was getting a new driver’s license. It was summer time, and I was pregnant. The year was 2007, and I was 24, almost 25. Upon examining my new license, I wrinkled my nose at the picture. I was red faced from the heat, and wearing a pink tee-shirt. The two combined made me look like a sunburned flamingo. Lovely, I thought. I’m going to have to use this i.d. for how many years? Then I wrinkled my nose again at the expiration date. 2013! I shook my head in disbelief. By 2013, I thought, the bun in my oven will be five years old, and I will be thirty. THIRTY! I laughed. Perish the thought, I dismissed the notion and continued about my 24 year old day.

You see, as the baby of my immediate family, I was never really that interested in growing up. A huge part of my identity was formed upon the notion that I was the little one, the adorably fallible one, and my efforts at adulthood were cute, not anything to be taken seriously. The second I spawned an Eliza, that all changed. I was still in relative denial, until I hit 29. On my 29th birthday, one of my co-workers came up to me and cheerfully wished me a happy birthday.

On the spot, I morphed into a troll. “Not happy. 29 is the death sentence. 30 is the execution!” I hissed.

She laughed, because she was 23, and things like that are funny when you are 23. I pointed my gnarled claw at her. “You just wait. 30 found me….it will find you, too!” And then I shuffled off to drink my Metamucil, and take a nap.

To quote the late great Aaliyah song, “Age ain’t nuttin’ but a number.”

Yes, that is true, age isn’t anything but a number. But then the next line is, “Throwin’ down ain’t nuttin’ but a thang.” Um, Aaliyah, throwin’ down isn’t just nothing but a thing. Wanna know why? Because throwin’ down leads to the most terrifying sexually transmitted result ever….a case of the babies!

A case of the babies makes you old. Children age your ass faster than a tanning bed set on high.

What I want to know is this….how does one age gracefully?

Years ago, I swore I wouldn’t be one of those older women running from her impending age. Because women like that, I surmised, looked like maniacs attempting to run on a track, flailing their arms about with no control and pathetic to watch. Yet women who aged gracefully seemed to trot like an Olympic sprinter, with grace and ease to the finish line.

Then I saw my first wrinkles.

In the last few months, I kept noticing that my lower eyeliner was always smudged by the end of the day. I thought this odd, since I’ve been using the same eyeliner for the last decade, and it always stayed in place even when everything else in my life didn’t. I got close up in the mirror, and inspected my face.

Much to my horror, my lower eye skin had some tiny lines in it. At first I was furious. Not to sound conceited, but my good skin has always been my saving grace. I feel like I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to be remotely cute in every other aspect and use every product known to man, but my skin always was fairly clear and smooth. And now this. I was becoming a fossil before my time. I’d become the old waitress in the run down cafĂ© named Doris who greets customers with a cigarette in her mouth and a face like leather, rasping “Whut can I gitchya?”

Frantically, I googled “Causes for early eye wrinkles.” Then I discovered the culprit. I suppose now is the time to divulge that I picked up a nasty little habit last spring. My life was hell, I was fed up with everything, I didn’t give a damn about anyone, let alone myself, so I packed on 20 pounds and started smoking. I had stayed so strong for so long, but a break up finally pushed me over the edge. I chose to not just fall, but catapult myself over the edge. Smoking privately was a form of self destruction that soothed me in a strange way. I suppose I had done the “right” things and received nothing but bad things in return for so long, that now I wanted to taste the other side. Fuck it all, I figured. Now I’m going to do things entirely wrong, and maybe I’ll see some right.  

Early eye wrinkles were my reward for polluting myself. Although I was pretty sure I could reverse the lines by smoking cessation, I needed a quick fix. I ended up in a Walmart aisle staring desperately at anti-aging creams. Then I found a bottle that promised smoother eyes within 3 minutes. Hell, I figured, I’ve got 3 minutes! That night before bed, I tested the serum out. The bottle advised me not to smile or frown for 3 minutes. Okay, I thought, I can remain emotionless for 3 minutes. I smeared on a few drops under each eye. It’s hard not to move your face when you feel as though it’s turning into plaster. Ever wondered what it would feel like to put super glue under your eyes? Buy this stuff! After 3 minutes, I checked out the mirror. Not bad, I thought. Then I smiled. Smiling is a giant no-no. My cheeks moved up with the smile, and the skin below my eyes stayed strangely tight.  The effect produced looked like an extraterrestrial Joan Rivers. “Oh, fuck no!” I screeched and began to scrub the super glue eye serum off. I ended up with raw, red, wrinkly eye skin. My mirror image pouted, as it looked like it now had pink eye. I flipped off the mirror, and went to bed.

Thankfully, by morning my eye skin was back to normal. I was lamenting my eye investment failure, when I began to dry shampoo my hair. At Walmart, I had also picked up a stronger dry shampoo. I realized how well it worked when I looked up nonchalantly in the mirror, and was shocked to see a chick version of Anderson Cooper staring back at me. The dry shampoo had coated my roots in a thick white powder. I was now prematurely grey. The dry shampoo had given me a delightful preview of what I would look like in the next 15-20 years. I brushed the dry shampoo out of my hair so furiously, I broke the hair brush.

Tonight I sat around the living room with the family, attempting to relax. Eliza was happily playing with ‘pixie dust’ (glitter). She generously sprinkled the pixie dust all over my face. Eliza stated that the “Pissy dust” had made me beautiful. Being the mental eight year old I am, I began laughing uproariously at the ‘pissy dust’. My mother stared at me, and I knew she was scrutinizing something. “WHAT?” I finally said.

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just that glitter really shows your eye wrinkles. Don’t ever put glitter around your eyes.”

I responded that I had found the cause of my eye wrinkles, and they should be repaired in time.

“No, honey,” she said, “Not those eye wrinkles. Your crow’s feet.”

“CROW’S FEET!” I screamed.

“Uh….uh….”she stammered “They’re not crow’s feet! More like baby birdie steps!”

“My face is not a Disney playground!” I yelled, “There will be no birdies stepping on my face!”

I left the room with arms crossed, and wearing a frown that I was sure was adding wrinkles to my face by the second.

So much for aging gracefully.

Don’t be surprised if you open a celebrity tabloid in the near future, and see a picture of me and Demi Moore partying with men half our age, and looking utterly ridiculous while doing so. (You know it's bad if you're getting down with your bad self, and Lenny Kravitz is trying to pretend he's somewhere else.)

We’re not pathetic, we’re cougars.

And we’ll limp to the finish line like the winners we are.



Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Remains Of the Memphis Rose

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m at home in my pajamas, curled up in bed next to a roaring fire (an electrical fireplace, fantastic Christmas present!) and although to the masses I’m sure this sounds pretty sad, it is exactly where I want to be right now.

Although my 2013 New Year’s is the textbook definition of lame, I wouldn’t want to try and top last year’s New Year’s, also known as the most perfect New Year’s in my life, thus far.

It began with a blind date a few months previous, when I met Chad.* We were set up by mutual friends, and it became evident right away that Chad and I were polar opposites. Where I was complex, overly analytical, up tight, and distrusting, he was simple, accepted each moment at face value, relaxed, and warm. (*You know as well as I that Chad is not his real name. Consider yourself warned that if you end up the subject of a blog, you might be assigned a great or awful name, depending on what transpired. I’m like the Taylor Swift of blogs.)

In other words, we had not much in common, but complemented each other nicely. Chad got me to open up and laugh easily, and taught me the beauty of living in the moment, something I had forgotten. Chad had a child from a long term relationship that had ended five months previously, and his little person ended up blending in nicely with Eliza and I. For the first time in a long time, I had a relationship that was fairly normal. Moreover, I had the start of a little family. We spent the majority of our free time together at each other’s domiciles, and some of my favorite evenings were the ones spent where I made all of us dinner, and then we’d all fall asleep on the living room couch watching Roseanne. I found happiness in simplicity, and I realized it was all I had wanted, anyways.

But one thing gnawed at me day in and day out. Although Chad acted entirely like he was my boyfriend, we still had yet to have the ‘big exclusivity talk’, nor had I met any of his family members. Although it might sound trivial, I needed the label. I needed to know after a certain length of dating, that Chad would stick around for a little while. I had learned the hard way not to let people into my life so easily for fear of disruption once they were absent, but I had done just that with Chad and his child. Therefore, I longed for some sort of security blanket from Chad other than just his presence. I needed to hear the words.

I stuck with it as long as I could, and pushed down the doubts that bubbled inside of me every moment we were together. It had gotten to the point where I stopped enjoying him, and I knew that something would have to change either way. Shortly after Christmas, I decided spontaneously to go to Memphis. I had always wanted to go, as I wanted to put a check next to the line item “See Graceland” on my bucket list. Chad offered to go with me, since Memphis can be dangerous. I was thrilled that we were going together.

On New Year’s Eve, we found ourselves on Beale Street. There was excitement in the air, and the night was unusually warm. We roamed Memphis without jackets on, and I watched the crowd bustle around me happily. As he and I meandered, various street vendors roamed the crowd. A man approached us with a bucket of roses. He smiled at Chad, “A rose for your lady?”

Chad looked at him, then me, and grinned. He tossed his thumb in my direction, and faked an embarrassed laugh. “She’s my sister.” The vendor’s face must have been priceless, however, I did not care to look at the vendor, as liquid fire raced through my veins. I glared up at Chad, and tried to disappear into the crowd. I knew what I was doing was dangerous, but I did not care. I was so furious I would rather take my chances amongst strangers than spend another minute with someone who thought so little of me as to make me the butt of a joke.

I heard Chad calling my name, but I pushed on through the crowd, hell bent on running away from him and the pain he had just caused me. He managed to catch me. Chad forced me to sit down on a bench with him. My eyes narrowed, I crossed my arms angrily. My rage was fueled by the alcohol I had consumed, and I suddenly felt the urge to hold nothing back. “I’m your sister? I’m your sister!? Funny, I don’t recall ever fucking my brother.”

Chad sighed deeply. “Look, it was funny. I was just trying to be funny. Obviously I do not think of you as a sister. The fact that I chased after you goes to show that. There would have been a time where I would have just let you go, and continued to have a good evening by myself. I care for you. Really. And I was going to buy you a rose, but on my time. Not because some greasy street vendor was trying to push me into it.”

My fury somewhat diffused, I covered my face with my hands and tried to make sense of it all, which wasn’t easy given my alcohol soaked brain. I dropped my hands into my lap, and turned to Chad. “I suppose the reason that joke hurt me so much, is because of my insecurity in this and I.”

Chad and I stared at each other for a moment, neither speaking. Suddenly, our stare was interrupted by a voice.

A man stood in front of us, smiling cheerfully. “Look at you two,” he said happily. “Look at you two sitting here on this bench as if no one else was in the world but the two of you.”

I stared up at him, confused and wondering what he wanted. He stared back at me, and smiled more broadly. He turned to Chad. “I bet you fell in love with those eyes of hers.”

Chad half nodded, and replied, “They’re deep.” Chad was not one to hand out compliments freely. I had yet to hear him remark on anything positive about me in our months of dating. The only thing he had ever said even remotely close, was that my eyes were deep. I had heard this before from him, and I could never figure out what he meant by it, exactly. I assumed that Chad was just acknowledging that I (unfortunately) wear my emotions on my face.

The gentleman pointed at a girl walking by. The girl was beautiful, all legs in a mini skirt with long hair cascading down her back in waves. “You see that?” he said “That right there is just something to look at for a spell, something trivial. It doesn’t mean much.”

 He turned back, and pointed at me, while staring at Chad.
“But this one here? She’s something special. She’s the type of girl that you take home, and keep close.”

“Let me tell you something,” he continued, “I lost my wife on Thanksgiving. And she was my best friend, we was together a long time. I wouldn’t have traded ten minutes with her for anything…..not for the world…….Until she was gone, I held her close.”

As the sadness of his words set in, he smiled again at Chad and I. “You two continue to love each other like there is nothing else. Have a happy New Year’s, and a beautiful evening.”

And as quickly as he appeared, he was gone. I stared at his retreating figure, dumbfounded. Chad sharply took a breath in. “Man,” he said, “That was intense. I was waiting for that guy to try and sell us something, but he didn’t.”

I put my hand over my heart, and looked at Chad. “I wish I could have asked him more about his wife,” I said.

Chad shook his head, “Nah. He didn’t want to talk about that. He just wanted to have fun and probably forget. That was probably the first time he’s ventured out since his wife died.”

“No, I think he did, that’s why he brought her up,” I replied. “After my Dad died, it bothered me when people did not acknowledge it. I needed to talk about it, about him to deal with the pain.”

At that moment, a vendor approached us in a three piece suit with a bucket.

“A rose for your girl?” he asked.

My body stiffened, and I waited to hear another joke.

“Yes,” said Chad. “I want a rose for her.”

Chad paid for the rose, and then handed it to me as the vendor left. He put his arm around me. “Where is your Dad buried again?”

I told him the location, and Chad nodded. “That’s what I thought. Tell you what, my family has a cabin up around there, and why don’t you come with me? We can stop and see your Dad, too.”

I felt overwhelmed with joy, as if I might burst. I could have died at that moment, and been entirely happy to do with that as my last moment alive. “I would love that,” I said, and then turned away as tears of happiness filled up in my eyes that I did not want him to see.

He did care about me, and I took this as a sign that we were together. It wasn’t the words, but I knew something between us had shifted for the better.  I threw my arms about him and kissed him, and then cradled the rose in my arm so I could keep it safe.

The night went on, we met up with some friends, and we danced until the ball dropped and it was 2012. Chad and I rode back to the hotel in a taxi, and Chad held me in his arms and played with my hair as I was too drunk to sit up properly. Even in my inebriated state, I felt so alive, as if everything I had been through lead me to this moment, and the moment made it all worth it. I knew I was falling for Chad pretty quickly. I also knew I had fallen in love with Memphis, and the love stemmed from the man who had approached us on the park bench, and had somehow seen my worth lying under my layers of self- doubt and imperfections. To me, Memphis was love, and I couldn’t get enough of it and that feeling.

All good things must come to an end, Memphis did, and Chad and I did. I suppose the details aren’t important now. The next day on the way home from Memphis, we discussed our relationship, and discovered we were in different places as to what we wanted. It’s funny how when a heart breaks, the sound isn’t audible. As the words were spoken, I was driving and trying to keep my focus and my eyes on the horizon. How high I had been the night before, only to plummet back down and invisibly break into pieces, although on the outside all appeared normal. Chad took my hand, something he never did. “What do we do now? I don’t want to lose my Jane.”

Then fight for me, for us, for this! I felt like screaming. But I did not. Ever proud, I told him that I did not know the answer, but I knew that if we kept going the way we were, I would end up hurt. Hell, I was already crumbling slowly, but he could not see it. “We don’t have to do anything rash tonight,” he said, “Stay with me for tonight.”

And I did. But as he slept, I watched him and felt nothing but pain in what I knew could not be, for some internals battles he was having that I did not comprehend. Somehow I muddled through the pain, as I always do, but this time it was far worse. I had let him in, more than the others, and there was a giant gaping hole in not only my life, but Eliza’s, too. Chad slowly faded away, to where I have not spoken with him in almost a year.

It took me a long time to get over him, but I knew ending it was the right thing to do. If I had continued to stay with him, ignoring the wound, it would continue to bleed until I had nothing left. I had to feel the pain in order to heal and go on, as we all do.

(Chad took this pic of my friend and I, mid syringe Jello shot on Beale Street.)

Here I am now, a year ago from my perfect New Year’s Eve, and the hurt is mostly gone. The bitterness has passed, and I am thankful that I was given that night and the chance to feel so alive. I think of him every now and then, and wonder if he found what he was looking for and sorted out his demons. Then I wonder if he ever thinks of me, maybe he is tonight, remembering where he was last year. I will never forget those moments, and the thoughts keep me company on this New Year’s Eve I spend alone. Chad’s rose hangs in my room, now different in appearance, with only the dried up form of its beauty a year ago remains. 

But deep in the entangled memories of my mind, the rose will always be as perfect as that night in Memphis, forever in bloom and waiting for the right person to see its worth, and never let it go.