On Sunday when we were loading up the boat to come home, I was walking on the dock with a huge Rubbermaid bin in my arms and there were two men, leaning on a rail, talking, and there wasn't room for me to pass because one of the men's butts was sticking out and it was as if he didn't see me. As if I was invisible, standing there with my heavy burden, needing to get by him to the boat.
Just as I was saying, "Excuse me," a woman who was on another part of the dock said something like, "Honey..." and the man straightened and let me pass but he never said anything like, "Oh, sorry," or "I didn't see you," or, well, anything.
And it's completely impossible that he didn't see me. My footsteps alone on the wooden boards had certainly alerted him to my presence.
I am still wondering what that was about.
I realized a few years ago that I was no longer really on the radar screen. This happens to most women, I think. No longer do we walk into a room or down a street and garner any sort of attention. It is only when this happens that we realize that we had been getting attention all along, all of our lives since we became teenagers, perhaps, and to cut even more deeply, we realize that no longer do we seem to register with check-out people except as another cog in the wheel of their day. There is no longer any need for anyone in the service industry to register us at all except with the merest of polite attention.
Unless we are asked if we qualify for the senior discount.
Which does not help.
It's odd because like I said, we may have not even realized we were getting any sort of special attention, attracting any sort of gleam of real connection before it disappeared. I see it again when I am out with my daughters- there it is- I am not making this up. It happens all the time.
Until it does not.
I was thinking about that this morning as I walked. Today's walk was a sort of agony, as so many of them are. My iPhone's pedometer app said that I took 7,957 steps on that walk and each of them was filled with a sort of hate on my part for the action. And as I almost always do, I wondered why in HELL I was doing this, this hateful thing, this painful walking which never fails to remind me of the Little Mermaid and how each step she took after legs replaced her tail was an agony.
And why do I do it? Why do I force myself out the door every weekday morning to experience that again? Oh sure. Because I want to lose weight, I want to lower my cholesterol, I want to feel stronger, better...so many good reasons.
But mainly, I think, because I feel that at the age of fifty-eight I have given up so much, and so much has been taken from me by time and living, that I need to hold on to whatever it is that I can, no matter how effort it takes, no matter how much it fucking hurts.
Does this make sense?
I don't know.
When you're young, the whole world and its possibilities seems to stretch before you. You are told, as a child, that you can do ANYTHING. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, be a dancer, open a restaurant, a bakery, travel the world...anything.
And then you take this path and then that one and before you know it, you've eliminated the possibility of one thing and then another. Or at least, in your own mind. It seems impossible to go back, start down paths which would take so much time and so much effort that reaping the benefits of them would be, to say the least, hardly cost effective. And some things, well, unless you start to train for them young are never going to happen.
Beauty pageants and dance careers, for example.
And so life seems to narrow. Maybe not for some. Some people seem to have a gift for reinvention. I think of Jimmy Carter and how his life expanded after he left office and how vital his life and mission are, perhaps more so now than when he was president.
I am not Jimmy Carter.
Perhaps I am only feeling sorry for myself today. This is quite possible. Pain can do that to you. It can sap whatever confidence and ambition and enthusiasm you have right out of you. So can being ignored on a dock by a man your own age on a beautiful Sunday morning, your arms straining to hold a Rubbermaid bin, thinking that surely he will move his damn butt, surely, and let you pass by. You are two inches behind him, he is obviously neither deaf nor blind.
Have you disappeared entirely?
I wonder if this is why some older women adopt a gypsy-sort of demeanor with wildly colored clothing and heavy make-up and tons of jangley jewelry. Why some women chop their gray hair off into crew cuts and wear earrings the size of stop signs? Paint their nails and lips brilliant scarlet and wear silk scarves and shawls with fringes that tremble and wave as they walk?
"Look at me!" these women seem to demand. "I am not only still here, I am most definitely alive and you will notice my presence, you will see me, you will hear me, you will stand aside when I want to pass!"Is that what those fucking stupid red hats are all about? Red hats and purple scarves? Merely an attempt to recapture some of the attention that youth had provided so easily?
Older age and old age do not even garner respect any more. Not in our culture. Not usually. Maybe for someone like Bill Clinton or yes, Jimmy Carter, or even Hillary Clinton but certainly not for most of us.
We are simply dismissed. We are no longer worthy even of true eye contact.
I should have told that man, "Move your ass, you rude motherfucker."
Why didn't I?
Do even I myself feel as if I have disappeared? Do even I doubt the fact that I deserve to take up space on a dock, on the planet?
Does my pain remind me that I no, I have not? Is each one of those 7,957 steps a tatto that I am stomping into the earth telling it in no uncertain terms that I am still here? Still very much alive, still capable of...something? Even as I withdraw more and more into myself, this small place where I live?
I think T.S. Eliot said it all in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock, a poem which I loved and which captured me when I was so very young that the very idea of the mermaids not singing to me was nothing more than a wisp of smoke on a far distant horizon.
Well. That's what I'm thinking of today. And I guess I am writing these words as my own way to ask and answer the question of whether or not I am truly fading into complete unimportance as I age, as I become so obviously and painfully invisible.
Here. Here's the poem. You probably already know it. I am going to go hang my clothes on the line on this beautiful day and then, I think, I will dare to eat a peach.
And take some Ibuprofen. And go to town.
Maybe I should wear a purple dress. I have a few. I never wear them. It may be time. Although honestly, it doesn't seem to matter much any more. It doesn't seem to matter much at all.
|T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). Prufrock and Other Observations. 1920.|
|1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock|