Great Aunt Rose is in hospice now. She’s 99. And she’s dying. Ninety-nine years. Imagine the change she’s seen. She lived through two world wars, the formation of Israel, the assassination of Kennedy, the rise of Frank Sinatra, the discovery of Elvis and the Beatles. Middle Sister told me that lately, Rose has been talking about how excited she is about Obama. About how she never thought she’d live to see the day. It’s very like Rose, to be excited about Obama. Rose never watched anything but public television and never voted any ticket other than Democrat her whole life. They considered themselves socialists, that side of the family.
99 years. For 99 years, Rose has watched as the world transformed around her. She has thrived as her hair turn from red to grey and as her stride went from brisk to the careful walk of a woman cautious of too many broken bones. She outlived her parents, her sisters, most of her friends, and of course her beloved nephew – my father. I wondered today, as I was thinking about Rose, when the world started to look different to her. In the span of 99 years, what are the watermarks? When do you start to clock the change in social mores? When do you take notice of the transition from analog to digital? When do really see your first wrinkle? Is there a day? A year? Or do these things just start to sneak up on you?
For me, it seems that 43 is definitively the year that things look different. There’s a certain sag to the skin on the front of my upper thighs. My cheekbones are both more and less prominent depending on the lighting and angle (jowls more emphasized in harsh light and diminished in lower light and from high above). The list of things that anger me has grown shorter but more profound. I care more deeply but for fewer people.
And today, one of my girlfriends made a lunch date with me pending bruising from her most recent botox appointment. Truly. It seems she bruises easily and her social schedule now revolves around the public unveiling of her face. If today didn’t go well at Dr. Needle, our lunch would be put off to next week. I laughed as she told me this and asked what lasts longer, the bruising or the botox. I knew the answer, of course. But it seemed right to ask, if only to remind her of the ridiculousness of the situation. She laughed and said she’d report back. In a few short hours an email arrived. Thankfully, the good doctor performed well and we’re meeting for a meal in just a few days time.
There was a time when we girlfriends got together no matter what – when the urgency of our meetings was dictated by boyfriend trouble or job drama and not by the vicissitudes of a paralyzing bacterium. And there was a time when our skin was tight, our troubles were fewer and we didn’t worry much about the effect of a second glass of wine on our ability to rise early in the morning. There were no husbands then. And no children. No complicated scheduling and no one to worry about but ourselves. And there were no sweet requests for a tuck in or a snuggle late at night.
The tautness of our skin yields to time. Life gets more complicated. And more difficult. Richer in some moments. Less so in others. I lay in bed next to Sig Other. Alpha and Beta dogs snuggled in for the night. Child Two tucked tightly away. And Great Aunt Rose, three thousand miles away, lies in a bed breathing what may be the last of her breaths. I wonder if she’s thinking about change. I wonder if she’s thinking about sagging skin or graying hair or wishing for a time when things were simpler. Or maybe, just maybe, she’s thinking about Obama and what programs she might miss tonite on PBS.