Short Older Lady with Gray Hair

Red found me in the coffee shop midweek, after looking for me for a couple of days, days during which I was out of town. He had needed an introduction that I could easily make for him. The problem was, I was nowhere to be found, so he fretted, and he wandered around on a search. He is perhaps in his twenties, I suppose, or possibly 18, or 35, and had quickly become a regular at my favorite coffee shop after moving nearby two months ago. I had gone out of town, and had turned off the phone, enjoying the freedom that comes from cellular escape. It was Wednesday before we chanced to meet and he told me about his search.

His ruddy face gleamed when he and I met. Enjoying being the go-to person for a while, I listened to him with half an ear until I was shocked to hear him say, boldly and without the slightest hesitation:
“ I asked around for you, and people weren't sure which person I was referring to, so I told them, you know, she is that older short lady with gray hair. They told me that you were gone for the weekend.”
I stood still – THAT is what I am? That Short, Older Lady With The Gray Hair.? That Short, Older Lady With The Gray Hair.? Really? I could barely complete the conversation, running the expression through my mind which was suddenly stuck on a looped re-play. It was as though he had said to me,
“Oh, you know her, she is the one with the thin green stalks above her head , the ones with the two purple eyes set in them.” And everyone nods except you who didn't know that you had two purple eyes much less some cranial stalks.

Since I have been in my community for a few decades, I have lots of names and phone numbers that can be recalled, with the help of my cell phone. I no longer remember them at will, a phenomena that began shortly after I bought my first cellular device. I am now not sure but that it owns me, since I cannot find my husband or anyone else, anyplace, without it being waved about as an extension of my right arm. I wonder if that a sign of getting older too, or just a side effect of technological memory cleansing.

I wondered also what I had been up to, not noticing that I was becoming someone's version of That Short, Older Lady With The Gray Hair. I am not short, I wailed to myself, and I am certainly not that older lady, thank you very much. And, it's not gray hair, well perhaps it is, but not the wispy frumpy gray hair that I so disliked on my mother. It's smart, carefully and artfully done brown hair, with gray strands specifically colored like tasteful Christmas tinsel, deliberately for effect, and not overwhelming to the senses. I am assuredly not that short lady with gray hair. I like to think of it as artful presentation, not just with the gray hair. Indeed.

I found myself avoiding him, feeling the gap between us as a gulf of decades, a grand canyon of time. I didn't even care to know why he was looking for me in the first place. It was probably inane, I thought crossly. Oggi a me, domani a te. – your day will come, I threatened, muttering, to no one in particular.

Suddenly, I realized that I do not really know how I come across to others. I thought of my classes at the Y, with so many of the gray haired and blue haired older people in them, whose age I was approaching, but with whom I had not yet caught up. I wondered how they thought of themselves, or if they too, saw in their mirrors a version different from the harsh lens of reality. They were retired, enjoying quite a few classes due to the freedom from a regular schedule, or from dealing with elder parents. Staying or getting in shape .Oh wait- that is me, too. Still, they seemed like people I would soon be following into the golden years, but, I thought defensively, not yet.

Another bit of evidence was placed in my lap today. My eye doctor checked my retinas by dilation, the nifty drops that keep you from driving home because you cannot see or even open your eyes beyond a tiny sliver compressed between your lids. I dislike not being able to drive myself anyplace that I want to go, and I resent having to have a minder come with me; although my minder, doubling as my husband, is really a gem, he is still my minder, and I bristle at dependence. I was nervous, too, as I hope fervently for better vision forever; somewhat different than nature delivered originally.

My eye doc is a youngish man who has fine academic training, and little bedside manner. Staring into his papers, he looked to the desk as though there were some special answer to be revealed there, and said,
“ you know, that small flaw in your vision is caused no doubt by retinal changes associated with the aging process. You have to know that even though we can take care of the eyes themselves, and correct your vision on the outer part of your sight, the retina is a different story. It is aging, and it will continue to do so, you have to expect that.”
He stuttered a little as he said this, seeming a bit uncomfortable with his own diagnosis, his words crisp in the delivery style of unwelcome news. By then, I knew that he was speaking to a Short, Older Lady With The Gray Hair.

How could he know what I felt; how could he have experienced that sinking feeling that one's body is ever so slowly betraying it's self. One little molecule at a time perhaps, but inexorably, the roller coaster in going in one direction. Much like that ever-thrilling ride, I am affected by some gravity. For most of the trip, the train has been moved along the track by a series of grippers, moved by gravity and momentum. It is my personally fascinating journey, carried on by momentum, gripping on where I could. But, I complain, it seems like I barely arrived at the top of the hill before that same gravity is now working against me, and the forces of nature are no longer working in my favor. I do not want to know this.

Today, I saw that hill for what it is, and I didn't like my position on the downward side from the peak, not one bit. That That Short, Older Lady With The Gray Hair. - she's not happy. Maybe she needs a face-lift, maybe Botox, maybe a teeny tuck or two and she could surely receive a more artful presentation, but I do not know how to get her increased height. That will just have to remain unchallenged, since I really cannot strut my stuff in 4 inch heels, although I would adore red patent leather Jimmy Choos, perhaps with crossed instep straps. Perhaps some other lifetime.

There is so much that I still want to do. In my mostly lucid moments I think that maybe I am called to encourage what is good,change my attitude, enjoy the view, and the ride along the way.

How do I see myself, if not as presented by Red? Even though his soft edged speech reminded me of the hills of Southern Illinois, even with his tanned and youthful freckled face beaming a smile, I could not yet accept myself as he portrayed me. Perhaps foolishly, vainly, I see before me so much that is yet to be done; adventures, dreams and contributions to be completed. I have not yet moved from on-line Italian to actual in-class professional university lessons, but I am ready to make the leap.

I want to go to the Midwest to capture some fantastic museums and big city energy with some of my grandchildren; I want to inspire them to learn scuba and visit the blue waters of the oceans; explore what is different in the world. I want to live on the coast of Italy for several months each of the next several years, and drink cappuccino in small cafes until midnight. I still want to save some bits of the world, and to complete writing a novel set in the 19th century. I have an ordinary hero whose biography I need to write.

I suspect that below the surface of so many of us, there beats a pulsing heart that feels like they finally “get it” enough to have something to give back, regardless of sprouting nose hairs and chin hairs. My heart is full of desires for the future, a future potential of short older ladies with gray hair still open to adventure, misbehaving a bit and finding their own niche for participation in life, their unique pieces of experienced contribution. I can't wait to get on with it.