I can’t imagine myself getting any older. I look in the mirror and see the same man I saw 30 years ago. My hair is gray, my beard is white, and my face is wrinkled and lined. My body is growing soft, and losing strength every day. There’s hair growing in places I wouldn’t have ever imagined possible. Yet I am just me. I have the same fears, the same insecurities, and the doubts that I’ve always had.
When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I couldn’t imagine living past 40. I had no idea at the time that I was bipolar, but I was already going through the extreme mood swings, and especially during the depressions it just didn’t seem possible to live that long. I was miserable so much of the time; I couldn’t see myself enduring that kind of pain indefinitely. There was a really bad depression when I was 29, and I wasn’t able to work for 7 years. It had to end, didn’t it? There were a couple of suicide attempts, and I figured it was only a matter of time before I succeeded. And 40 seemed so old!
And yet, my 40th birthday came and went.
The early 40’s were actually a great time. After the depression came a long period of hypo mania, and I was riding high. There were better and better jobs, more and more money, and I was accomplishing things I’d never thought possible. I actually started planning for a retirement. But at the same time, in my head I was still a young man. Yes, I was planning ahead, but I was thinking early retirement. With all the money rolling in, my expectation was I’d be able to stop working by 55. That seemed so far away though, and I it didn’t feel like growing old. But at least I felt like I had a future.
And then I turned 50.
It was incredible! 50 was SO old when I was growing up. Of course, back then 50 was not what it is today. Divorces were rare, and couples had settled into growing old together. These days, most of us are on our second (or third…or forth) marriages, and starting over each time kind of resets the clock. Where it was once unthinkable to be going out and partying after marriage, we now find ourselves single again in our 40’s and 50’s, and we go back to the fun things we did when we were kids. You aren’t going to meet anyone new by sitting at home and working in the yard; you have to get out and socialize. And that’s exactly what I did. It’s difficult to think of yourself as mature when you’re going out every night drinking and dancing, and the thrill and excitement of new relationships is just like it was the first time. As a young man I can remember looking at older women and thinking there is NO way I could ever have sex with someone like that. And now? I think nothing of it, and in fact, I seek it out. Bodies that would have been so repulsive 30 years ago are beautiful and sexy. But it’s all a matter of perspective. The lady I’ve been seeing lately doesn’t look a day over 40, yet she’s the same age as I am. I have no idea how she looks to others; she may appear to be exactly as old as she really is. But in my eyes, she’s young and attractive.
And I certainly don’t feel like I look my age.
I look at my peers and think that they have really aged. The men are going bald, and the ones who still have hair are going gray. They have pot bellies and bird legs. They talk about sports that they are incapable of playing except possibly golf. And isn’t golf an old man’s game? They belong to organizations like the Lions Club, or the Elks or Masons. They are just freakin’ old. There’s no way I look like that!
Or is there?
The women are no better. Even the ones I see when I’m out dancing or socializing have become doting grandmothers; posting their photos on Facebook and shopping for toys to spoil them with. My perspective may have changed in regards to what is attractive, but the truth is they show the ravages of time just like the men. Decorum prevents me from describing the changes they go through, but we all know what happens.
But none of that applies to me.
I feel like I’m frozen in time. I have decades of memories, but I don’t relate that to the number of years it’s taken to accumulate them. If you add it all together, I have 30 years of married life. Each one is just a blip of time; there’s no point of reference. I have experienced so much. The death of President Kennedy, Woodstock, Kent State, the Viet Nam war, the oil crises and gas lines, disco and grunge, the advent of cable vision, micro waves and cell phones. The first computer I ever worked on was a teletype machine that was connected to a mainframe at State University. There were no monitors. We’d play Star Trek without any visual reference. (You’re in a room. To your right is a door and to your left is a window. There’s a table in the corner that has a box on it. What would you like to do? Does anybody understand that?) Now I have more power in my cell phone than the room full of computers that we used for the most basic tasks.
But it’s all relative.
I don’t think about the fact that today’s children don’t have a clue about life before the digital age. I just take for granted that everybody, regardless of their age, everyone has the same knowledge and experiences as I do. It’s difficult to understand today’s youth; why don’t they see that they should be out building forts and making their own skateboards instead of sitting in front of their 50” plasma TV’s playing video games? Where did they get this sense of entitlement that so many of them have? We grew up in a world that rewarded hard work and perseverance. We started at the bottom and worked our way up over the years. Now they want to start with a title and make more money per year than I made in 10 years.
But that’s their reality, just like I have my own.
I’ve told the story before about a conversation I had with my Father the night he died. He looked at me and said “Where did it all go? I still feel like a 17 year old. I have things left undone and more that I still want to do. But I’m going to die; probably tonight. How is that possible? It’s over so quickly”. The older I get, the more I understand this. There is a real sense of running out of time. I feel my health failing and I’m not able to do many of the things I’ve always been able to do. My children are growing older; they are at the age that I feel like I still am. I’m dating old women; and they’re dating an old man.
But no; I’m not old!
And I can’t see myself growing old. I don’t know if I just don’t think I’m going to survive or I’m just not going to mature. But just like I couldn’t imagine myself reaching 40, I can’t see myself at 60, much less 70. I’m never going to stop working, why plan for retirement? I’m going to continue dancing and romancing like I always have. There’s not an illness I can’t get over an injury that won’t heal. None of this is ever going to change. At least, it’s not going to change in my head. And isn’t the inside of your head where reality is? Today I am as young and vibrant as I’ve always been. I don’t ever expect to be lying in a hospital bed asking myself what happened. I am not going to grow old.
I don’t want to grow old.