I just went through the eye of a needle called my 60th birthday, preceded by two weeks of turmoil. I had no such reactions to my 50th birthday. Friends told me I was ageless, and I must have believed them because this caught me unaware, and unprepared.
As I look back, however, the signs were there, but I missed them. For one thing, I bought a book called, Nutrients to Age Without Senility, hoping I wouldn't also have to face Alzheimer's Disease. As I glanced through the book, I shuddered every time I caught the words, "pre-seniles" and "early seniles," as the physician-author called those of us who sometimes forget words.
Although the timing was dreadful, I kept my appointment for a physical check-up. I heard myself saying to the doctor, in a shaking voice, "I'm just a week away from my 60th birthday, you know . . . " From the pinnacle of his confident mid-40s, he gave me a blank stare and said, "If you feel sluggish, take some iron."
I also remember thinking unworthy thoughts. I wondered how I'd look if I stopped dying my hair. I went gray when I was 28 and, for some time, I liked it, but that was eons ago.
I also thought about applying for a Lane Bryant charge account. I started putting on weight four years ago and am now seeking out those dim corners in department stores called "Women's World," with their hideous peach and lime, shapeless nylon blouses. But losing weight at my age?
Then I realized that I have been cutting back on sex. My lover has been annoyed; he sailed through his 60th birthday last year and can't understand what this is all about. He reminded me of the George Washington Birthday Blizzard during the winter of 1979 that immobilized the city. We celebrated the snow-in with a three day love-in. "But I was only 57 then," I retorted.
After he had gone out for his daily 10-mile walk, I decided I had been talking to the wrong gender. We have ample information that men and women don't talk the same language, so I called my sister, a baby of 51.
"We must celebrate your birthday," she chortled.
"Celebrate?" I moaned. "A wake would be more appropriate."
As we talked, I realized that she seldom uses my first name any more.
"How long has it been since you called me Helvie, let alone Hell?" I asked her.
And, I thought, how long, Oh God, how long has it been since I looked over a cocktail glass with a roguish glint in my eye, saying to a man who might just be "possible." "Hi, I'm Helvick Sunderland. My friends call me Hell," and then did the number about, "Hell on wheels? Well, maybe on foot, or, er . . . " then got the hell across the room before he could pick up on that.
We weren't held accountable for teasing in those days. Now no one calls me anything but "you" and sometimes Dr. Sunderland.
"I just got a letter from Bob," my sister was saying. Bob's an old family friend, a real burnt-out case, now in a nursing home. He's--good Lord!--he's the same age as I.
"They're into something he calls 'The Happiness Count Down.' Why don't you try it?" she asked. "Your record isn't too shabby. How many people write a dissertation on one subject and a book on another during the same couple of years, then get a research grant on still another?"
"Yeah," I sighed, "but, right now, maybe I'm foolish to have started another book. How do I know I'm going to live to finish it?"
"You don't have to finish it," she replied. "Just stop working on it."
"That's not socially acceptable," I snapped. "In the 80s, there are only two socially acceptable reasons for copping out. One is baby hunger, and the other is 'coming to realize,' as the old romances used to say, half way up the professional ladder that you didn't want that."
"Why don't you make a statement, then? Burn your bra on the steps of the Supreme Court building. No, no, I take that back. You cheated the first time. You had an extra bra in your coat pocket."
"Ah, yes," I sighed. "I was too uncomfortable without it."
"So, what are you going to do?" she demanded.
"Oh, well, what the hell. Let's get tickets for something and make reservations at a posh restaurant."