I turned 43 on Friday. Woo hoo! Age doesn’t scare me, in the just-a-number chronological sense: I hope never to lie about my age—ridiculous vanity. Wrinkles don’t scare me: peaches are sweet and delicious, but so are raisins. Gray hairs don’t scare me: gray is a lovely neutral. I’ll look fab wearing chartreuse. The fact that I am, technically, old enough to be my 3-year-old son’s grandmother doesn’t scare me.
Well, OK, that last one scares me a little bit.
But here’s the thing. I did something (I don’t even remember what) to wrench my shoulder a few weeks back. It hurts when I lift my arm this way, but not that way. It hurts when I sleep on my stomach, but not on my back. Just a weird annoying temporary injury, of the sort I’ve experienced more than once in the past. And in the past, it’s gone away in a day or two. Maybe three. Did I mention this happened a few weeks ago?
It still hurts.
I keep telling myself that it’s just because I haven’t eked out more than half a dozen total hours of exercise over the last three years since paid full-time work plus an active and clingy three year old equals constant exhaustion, and thus my otherwise enviable gym-queen fitness level ((cough)) (I heard that!) has taken a nose dive, but that once I return to a daily workout routine, it will come back. I’ll be fine. Just like before. Right?
Well, even without your volumes-speaking silence, dear reader, I am starting to doubt my own assurances. The physical evidence is attacking me from all quarters.
My whole life, I had never used lotion. Never needed to. Then last winter, my arms got so red and dry and itchy I wanted to tear them off. I scratched them raw. I wondered if I might have contracted a bizarre Amazonian rain forest skin infection when I used the restroom at SF MOMA. (Hey, there were people from everywhere seeing Frida!) I went to the doctor expecting a course of amoxicillin and prescription strength cortozone cream. She took one look and gave a satisfied, "Ah. Dermititis. Eczema. Use more lotion. Here." She slathered my arms with plain old Vaseline. Just keep them moist, she counseled. Put a bandage on the area to keep from scratching.
That’s it? Dry skin? But it worked. And when the skin over my right eye and above my upper lip were similarly struck, I slathered. I improved. It was just aging.
I know I should—and do—count my blessings that I have not been hit harder (yet) by the march of time. There are 40-somethings who look, move, feel, and act older than I do. There are 40-somethings who have faced breast cancer and heart attacks. It feels petty to quibble with dry skin and slow-healing aches. So I won’t quibble. But I won’t surrender, either. Without resorting to surgical or biogenetic augmentation (unless I win the lottery—then hey, even cryogenic preservation is on the table), I’ll do whatever I can to stay as healthy, mobile, pain-free, and, er, moist as I can as the decades pick up speed.
I once told my mom that the thing that made me saddest about dying was not that I would miss the people in my life or my own life experiences, but I’d miss seeing how the whole damn thing played out and one day ended—the story of humankind. If I believed in eternal or afterlife that wouldn’t be a problem, of course, but I don’t. So I’ll just buckle in and go as far on the ride as my train car will take me. Until I run out of steam or the wheels fall off.
Or they figure out how to throw the damn thing into reverse.
Sonja Fitz is a Berkeley native now living in Oakland with three different age versions of herself coexisting inside her: 12, 25, and whatever the calendar says.