I don’t know how to become an old lady.
Some 17,721,671 Americans underwent a cosmetic procedure last year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, up 163% since 2000. Of those, 15.9 million opted for the “minimally invasive procedures” we call injections. People are getting smoother. But have we forgotten how to get old?
I’m starting to look like the Night King. This was a sudden revelation while still in my own Game of Thrones afterglow, as I peered into a 15X LED Magnifying Mirror from Hell.
I can see him. He’s about to rear his ugly head, and place it on my shoulders. My good eye followed the faint lines on my cheeks that have no place to go but deeper. I squinted. Not good. I relaxed my muscles. Better. I decide that I can no longer use facial expressions.
I don’t know how to become an old lady. No one offers lessons on this sort of thing. When I was a girl I only had my grandmothers to model that process for me, and truth be told, neither of them had ever seemed to have a problem with it. That’s because they were infinitely old. Born that way, I supposed. Never seemed to have had the opportunity to be young. Ever.
Katie was around 50 when I was born. And for the next 42 years, she told me that she was about to die. “Nothing matters,” she would say. “Everyone dies, especially during the holidays.” I chose to ignore her mystical forecasts, this one in particular. Winter always seemed to be coming for Katie, the perennially grumpy, mother of doom. But it never arrived. Instead, she grew to be a happy, albeit, somewhat confused 92-year-old by the time she reached the end of the line.
And then there was Florence the younger, first of her name and golden of her earrings, whose playful blue eyes and bright smile were legendary. “Beautiful” was always the word that people used to describe her. She met my grandfather as a teenager while walking to “Italian school.” He’d be on “the corner” (which I always presumed was somewhere in the Federal Hill/Broadway section of Providence), and each time she’d pass, he’d sing, “Hey, Good Lookin,’” with a twang like Hank Williams.
“I wake up in the morning feeling fantastic,” Florence once said. “Then I look in the mirror and wonder, who is that old lady?”
Yes, Florence became an older woman. Years of work, pain, joy, five children, financial hardships, and just plain old life had left their marks on her. But when I looked at her, I saw summer. I heard a sweet small voice. The funny quips. I’d watch her peer out from behind her fancy 1970s eyeglasses with her initials etched onto the glass. There were her impeccably manicured nails, just a touch of pink lipstick, and delicate accessories. She was always coiffed and dressed, planning a trip with her friend Anne Fera, or going to confession. And she adored Marlene Dietrich.
In contrast, Katie would wake up in the morning and say, “Why bother?” Then, she’d smoke a pack of cigarettes, tell a few jokes and pull weeds out of the small flower garden she maintained in the side yard. “Italian radio” played loud enough for Katie to hear it two rooms away, in her kitchen pantry, the only room in her house that she seemed to inhabit.
Katie’s left knee was always engorged with water. She wobbled rather than walked. She always kept a tissue in one of her sleeves, and never seemed to care about the hairs poking out of her chin. Katie’s life extended about 15 years beyond Florence’s.
My own mom dealt with aging by never getting old. Though she lived well into her 70s, her age only emerged when she was ill. Funny, spunky, tireless and glammed up was her usual condition. There’s a photo taken of her at a local festival. She looks joyful, ethereal, vigorous, youthful. That was just two days before my brother discovered her on the floor of her home, unconsciousness and unresponsive.
Both of my grandmothers were widowed. Both of my grandfathers passed suddenly at the age of 58. I have already surpassed them in age.
So here I am, shriveling up like the Queen of Thorns with each passing day. And I don’t know what to do about it.
I am a secondary school educator who spends her days surrounded by vibrant, vivacious and dermatologically flawless teens. Sometimes I wonder what they see when they look at me. Is it Katie? Or is it Florence? Or is it by some magical happenstance that I am like Mom, a sort of Melisandre from the light side, who will never have to remove the necklace that stops that old lady thing from happening.
I just don’t know. I look at the road map of expression etching its way into the top three layers of my skin. I wonder how much worse it will get. When will those Night King grooves permanently alter my jawline and map out the journey of my life right there, under my cheekbones — if I still have cheekbones, that is.
It really doesn’t matter to anyone but me, it seems. And as so many people like to tell me, growing old is better than the alternative. They seem pretty sure about that.
So, in keeping with the theme of today’s rumination, I can only hope that one day I can quote the elegant Ser Davos, the smuggler who rose to great prominence by the end of GOT’s final season, and proudly state: “No one mind me. All I’ve ever done is live to a ripe old age.”