Mom fell today.
I had been dreading an incident like that. She’s hearing-impaired, easily distracted, and clumsy. I spent the first twenty years of my life hearing a “thump” and then “Owwww!” and then “Shit, shit, SHIT!” (Mom never said anything worse than “shit.”) She was always walking into doorways or falling up stairs or bumping her toes on the furniture. So I just knew that one of these days, on my watch, she was gonna fall flat on her face in public.
And so she did, at a busy intersection in front of a bus stop. Fifteen seconds earlier she’d decided she wanted to walk the six blocks back to my car rather than sit on a bench and wait in a nearby park. She’s stubborn like that. Then, right in the middle of a conversation about what a great day we’d had shopping… Blam! Her bags fell out of her hands as she tried to catch herself, and I threw mine in a half-assed attempt to catch her. Our stuff rolled all over the sidewalk. A guy in full Navy sailor regalia picked up her canister of silver cupcake topping and stuffed it back into the wrong bag and handed it to me. Two ladies gave us their packet of tissues and stared for a second before shuffling off. Another man ran into a nearby restaurant and grabbed a bunch of napkins for her bleeding nose, which turned out to be her bleeding lip. Someone even offered to call 911, but there was nothing anyone could really do. I knew by her reaction that she looked worse than she felt. Nothing was broken, or she would have been screaming, “Owwww! Shit, shit, SHIT!” She wasn’t broken, just embarrassed.
Later she said she felt bad for me. But I wasn’t embarrassed. I don’t give three shits how I looked on that sidewalk, cradling a seventy-something’s head in my lap . The moment was all hers. And apparently it made a lot of bad memories surface because she had never told me before that her own mother had caused her anxiety by doing the same things–by falling or getting sick or just losing her life-long poise. It must suck to get old.
And that brings me to my purpose: I’m not there yet. I’m 43, and I’m not young, but I’m not old. I’m not old old. I’m in that place where my memories of the first twenty years of my life are a bunch of blurred images of random events; and my memories thereafter are just the highs and lows of adulthood, the boring stuff. I’ve been “lucky” enough to have taken a bit longer to mature than your average adult and consequently burned through a marriage and lived a sort of renaissance for awhile–which added to the color and texture of my adult memories–but ultimately my adult memories consist of a few highs and lows and a whole lot of static. Ask me to recall the most exciting moment at my job of twelve years, and it might take me a moment or two to scrape up an insincere answer.
I’m at some new stage in life that I know I didn’t experience in my thirties. In my thirties, I was busy contemplating why I’d dated most of the men I had. And in my thirties, I was looking for better. In my thirties, I started looking at myself through a different lense. In my forties, I just sit around and wonder random things like what it would be like to sit in my childroom bedroom, or to hang out with my parents when they were young. I get a chill just thinking about what a conversation with my mother would be like if she could actually hear what was being said to her. I think about the frailty of human life, and I think about death. You know. Stuff.
I appear to be a little younger than I actually am–some of that comes from my aforementioned late-blooming maturity, and some of that comes from decades of moisturizer and sun screen, and good genes–but at the end of the day today, I’m still 43. My mother falls on her face. My father carries a cane around with him everywhere he goes that expands into a seat. I’m facing retirement, cancer, kids making bad choices; and a workout and some revitalizing face cream isn’t gonna wipe that away.
I call my forties the “new forties” because they’re new to me, just as they’re new to any woman who just spent her day in roll-reversal, sitting in a plastic chair in a doctor’s examination room while Mom sits on the table looking uncomfortable. This kind of stuff didn’t happen in my thirties, or my twenties, or ever before now. These are the forties, and women’s magazines and the beauty industry might help us to look younger, to act younger; the economy might force us to recreate ourselves again and again, to compete with younger, to think younger; our freedom to make choices for ourselves might allow us live a lifestyle that our mothers’ generation and every one before that couldn’t have imagined. But we’re not younger. We’re women in our forties, pragmatically staring at age and death.
Before this decade came along, I thought I really could live in whatever age I managed to sustain. My thirties were the new twenties, with a few revisions. But this decade, the forties, it’ll never be the new thirties. I’m getting old. My knee hurts, I chipped a tooth, and my mom has started falling. These are the new 40s.