I woke up gasping for air and immediately ran to the bathroom mirror to inspect my reflection.
In the nightmare the image peering back at me from the glass wore short round curls of brunette and roots of sloshy grey (what I call the “given up at middle-age, I drive a mini-van and buy bulk food at Walmart, please don’t look at me as a sexual person, I wear sweatpants in public even though I don’t workout” hairstyle). Worse, the image was so… so… old.
Satisfied that my blonde no-greys-YET was intact, I backed away from the mirror in relief. I didn’t dare look too closely at the signs of aging that are rapidly etching their way across my facade. This is the same face I scrutinized as an adolescent. The same body that carried me through college and parenthood, bicycle trips and barroom dancing, relationships and marriage. When the reflection doesn’t quite match the interior my mind helpfully makes changes to what I see. Lines are softened, teeth whiter and straighter, tummy flatter.
For now, my mirror whispers occasional lies of “youth” (Although photographs do not. It isn’t until I see myself in a photo that I realize how deceptively kind my mirror is.). But we are all on the fast track to aging. There isn’t enough botox and Restylane in the world to keep a single one of us from eventually sinking into aged decline.
One good thing about being a member of Gen-X is that we get to watch our older siblings, those rascally Boomers, age before we do. As the youngest of give sisters and the only non-Boomer I’ve observed their rites of passages with curiosity. My attempts to imitate them were mostly unsuccessful due in part to different times and different rules. Even when their hand-me-downs fit me, they were ten years out of style. So I’ve never felt particularly grown up. I’ve always felt like a kid playing The Game of Life rather than an adult making real-life decisions.
This aging thing didn’t hit home until recently as strangers stopped feigning shock when I tell them I have an adult daughter, “You cannot possibly have a child that old! You must have been so young when you had her!” Now I am the one more likely to be shocked when conversations move into new and terrifying territory, “How wonderful to have such a lovely grown daughter! Any grandchildren?”
I remember long talks with my Great Aunty Hazel about how even in her 90s she still saw herself exactly as she did when she was a young woman. She’d complain that her body was slowing down, but she felt young inside. “I still look the same in the mirror,” she’d tell me. She read the paper, voted DFL, wore lipstick, enjoyed an evening cocktail, and loved completely. She breathed deep and full every day and didn’t succumb to sleep until she was exhausted from a life well lived.
Reconciling the vision in the mirror and the reality of self is a lesson of aging gracefully. I wonder if we are supposed to learn that lesson while we are still getting used to the fact that it is happening to us.