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  • Fern

I Never Expected This

Note: The title was a recent assignment in a writing class I'm taking with author Martha Frankel, "Hats and Eyeglasses: a Family Love Affair with Gambling."

Incredulously, the years pile onto the birthday cake of my life. I drive fast cars, comfort plump, wriggling babies, run effortlessly, dark hair streaming, across a green landscape, climb flights of stairs in a single bound. In my dreams.

Mornings speak the reality. No longer bounding, or even desultorily dragging myself out of bed after mutilating an alarm clock, I now wake when I wake, proceed to arm stretches, ankle pumps, leg lifts, clam shells, pelvic thrusts, and rolling from side to side to hang each leg, in turn, over the side of the bed. Then I swing my legs carefully to the floor and stand slowly, letting the backbones settle into their disjointed spaces. I never expected this.

Aging seems to be a topic I unconsciously disregarded, like a new mother conversationally gliding over the painful intricacies of childbirth, so as not to scare off the pregnant women in the group. Until I arrived at its epicenter. It’s not like I never observed seniors, formerly called old people, before I became one myself, but never did I project myself there.

At ten I used to wince when I saw my aunt Marion, stylishly sixtyish, in her belted print dress and pearls, hobbling from arthritis yet determined to pick up the crumb or piece of paper that she’d spied from across the room. I would rush to her rescue only to be told “I’ve got it, I’ve got it, as she slow-motioned to a standing position with a smiling grimace of triumph, her green eyes bright. I recall how she limped into our house on holidays, her narrow shoulders sagging valiantly under the weight of her Persian lamb coat, the antique crystal bowl of cranberries in her hand “honey, take this please, it’s so heavy…” I didn’t see myself there.

Yet I’ve arrived, as though jet propelled without my knowledge from late middle age into geezerhood and chatting with a friend in a coffee shop usually includes some mention of a curious malady we have just noticed about ourselves. Is it one swollen ankle? Why just one? A newly sprouted unwieldy black facial hair emerging from a cheek? Dark spot? Bump, lump, or curiosity? An ache, a pain, a sleepless night? My crooked index finger that I’ve named the fickle finger of fate? Can I blame it on years of computer mouse maneuvering or a genetic foible? We consciously limit our griping time, then we adjust, we laugh and go on to real talk.

But I caught myself talking like my mother on the phone the other day, telling my daughter about three men I’d known who had died in the past month. They were not close friends, but I’d shaken hands with them, spent a little time with them in some capacity and they were younger than I. I laughed then, flashing back to my mother sitting in the corner of the dining room next to the credenza, talking on the green princess phone to aunt Marion about the wake she would attend the following night. She waves me away and shushes me when I say, “is that all you ever talk about, dead people?”

Through the years, I’ve managed to adjust to technology, and not always with grace. From typewriters to computers, landlines to cell phones, record albums to cassettes to CD’s, and now I can’t even listen to them in my new car. I am told I must create a playlist on my phone and ‘plug in’. I don’t want to. I yearn for the freedom of rifling around for my Bob Seger CD when I find myself driving down a country road on a brilliant day. I want spontaneity, not planning.

Yet I find myself frequently using the word ‘grateful’. Did I take so much for granted in all the years before now? Did I complain? Sure, I did. And I still do, but not nearly as much as I did when I had far less reason to do so. Somehow, I never expected this.

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