45th Reunion: It's Come to This
By Linda Reardon Neal
(written in April, 2005)
My friends are gone and my hair is grey.
I ache in the places where I used to play.
And Iím crazy for love but Iím not coming on.
I said to Hank Williams, ďhow lonely does it get?Ē
Hank Williams hasnít answered yet.
ó Leonard Cohen
Itís come to this. And such a short time down. AARP, Social Security, Medicare, long- term health insurance, long-term AA membership, long-term therapy, long-term denial of a lousy marriage, or years of familiarity with the spouse so wisely selected before you knew who you were.
Itís come to this. Diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failure, heart attacks and people dying, always if you know them, well before their time. Because you knew them when they were baby-faced and innocent or young and flamboyant. You remember them that way so you canít imagine them dead.
Marriage isnít what you thought it would be, but neither is divorce. Or marriage is what you thought it would be ó your children are bright, your grandchildren are brilliant, and the extra inches around your waist and your spouseís just give you both more to love. You have a second home at the lake or in the mountains, or you are still struggling to pay off the mortgage at the beach.
Youíve been to Europe (The French arenít so bad.) and taken a cruise.
Whatever youíve accomplished ó connection to family members who talk to each other and take vacations together, having enough money to shop at Nordstrom and Saks, a Costco membership, a drawer full of select Navajo jewelry, the largest cache of miniature furniture this side of the Mississippi, a stash of unpublished poems, a stable full of rare horses that donít whinny or a family of geckos in a glass aquarium ó you have mastered something. You are sixty-two or sixty-three, plagued by insomnia and sleep apnea. You manage, even love, your drowsy afternoons. In spite of your successes you are haunted by your failures.
Iíve spent thirteen years writing and rewriting the memoir that was going to be a best-seller. I call it, cleverly, The Kidney Papers. Itís about living as a kidney patient on the edge of my life for fifteen years. Itís about learning to forgive my mother. I continue to learn, taking her to doctorsí appointments and going to lunch, with her oxygen tank in tow because she has emphysema. Oh and thatís another thing we can add to the list. That and the dreaded cancers which jump out more blatantly the older you get.
Itís come to this. Iíve forgotten just what life I imagined, but it did involve having four children. I have only two. Boys. Men. Iíve had one husband and now for ten years, one serious partner since the divorce. The big dreams were ó well ó big dreams. Itís a good life, without television, without a cell phone, barely competent at e-mail; Iím living a kind of truth I never imagined possible, getting grey, and not dying my hair. My face has not been lasered, lifted, abraded or peeled, and my fat cells have not been sucked or tucked. I wouldnít dare wear a bikini, even in my own backyard. I look my age.
But I go to the Merle Norman Studio where lithe young Persian girls practice the art of ďthreadingĒ the hairs off my chin and cheeks. I am learning some new make-up techniques too. Three different brushes for three different kinds of goo I put around my eyes. I hope I donít look like a painted doll, and I trust my friends to tell me if I do before my enemies talk behind my back.
Some days I can see the humor in the horror ó like the time that one special man, Mike, and I were gardening, and he rolled a boulder into me. It chopped my leg up. I had 17 stitches down my shin. Just glad it wasnít my chin. Thatís the funny part, being thankful for small, odd karmic compromises.
Weíve all run into boulders, waded through garbage, sometimes through fields of flowers as weíve clambered through our lives. College. The Military. Grad School or no. Marriages. Divorces. Children or no. Singlehood. A forty-year career or job-hopping to make ends meet. Who is anybody, after all, when we sift the ashes of our teen-age dreams? Who is anybody after all, when we shed our roles and our disguises, our politics and our religion, our virginal youth and our carnal dreams?
How have you blossomed and where have you turned to rot?
Can we meet each other in our victories and our longing for what we havenít achieved? Can we gather together, confess to migraines and sore feet (but dance until we drop anyway and limp together to the picnic the day after the night before)? Can we meet with our wounds and our years exposed, smile through our tears? Because, letís face it, we arenít ďgetting old.Ē We are old.
Iíll put my pride and my shame in the closet, come with all my failing, broken parts ó my skin cancer scars, my add-on kidney, my expanded waist and my wrinkled face. Iíll come with my memories, but without my memory, come with all my claptrap exposed and youíll come with your thinning hair, your sagging flesh, your hearing aid and your cataracts. Bring the photos of your grandkids or your boat. Weíll talk and eat, dance and reminisce because weíll be with people who share our history, people who remember who we were when. Weíll have a chance to meet anew, even if we never got acquainted forty-five short years ago.