As the youngest of three I am unaccustomed to feeling old. Put me among any random group of people and I’ll quickly and effortlessly assume I’m the youngest.
There could be new-borns bawling off in a corner and I’d still believe if the question of age came up, I’d have the edge.
About the only forward step I’ve made is that I’m at least aware of the delusion.
If I remember right, I was okay with getting older until my fiftieth birthday.
There’s a good chance that I don’t, in fact, remember it right. We had two cats when I was a kid, who I recall died together and that my father buried at the back of the house. The problem with this is it’s wrong. According to everyone else in my family, they died a year apart and are nowhere near the back of the house. I was spot on with my father burying them, though.
I also remember that my mother had to walk past the Iranian embassy to work during the siege there in London in 1980. Not only was my mother retired in 1980 and living in an entirely different part of the country, the embassy was nowhere near where she worked.
Still, after my fiftieth became a distant and presumably untrustworthy memory, I formed a dislike for any notion that might consider me old.
While thirty and forty went off empty-handed, fifty felt like it had taken something with it.
I began comparing myself to people I’d pass in the street, or, finding myself beside someone leaning into the freezer at Trader Joe’s, I’d do a quick assessment of who looked older, and then try to determine who actually was older.
I’d wonder how I compared with people in wheelchairs, or with husbands who needed to be spoon fed.
Sure, I can still get a spoon to my mouth, but who has the most the lines in his face, me or the guy with the senior discount? Does this have a distinguished gray about it, or is it the stink of senior citizenship?
Confirmation that I was indeed old struck out at me twice recently. Both incidents spurred me into action.
In the first, my niece’s husband, a man of 28 who’d apparently slipped from the womb that morning, referred to me as “old man” and offered me his seat. I took it.
And then a few days later as I drove onto the ferry at Holyhead in North Wales, a comedian of a dockworker called out “This way Pops.”
Dockworkers and relatives, and some misguided AARP employee who keeps sending me membership applications, may be at ease with the truth, but I am not.
A means to slowing my descent into the infirm was needed.
I signed up to help out at the local old people’s home.
I’ve never shown an ounce of community responsibility in my life, and here I am suddenly spending a generous portion of my day in the company of people who take forty five minutes to get out of a chair.
People in their eighties, sometimes nineties, who view my fifty-three year old body as a shrine to youth.
It’s early still, but along with the clank of their Zimmer frames as I zip youthfully past, I’ve come to love them.
I could do without the removable teeth and proximity of death, but I have become dependent on their view of me as athletic, a man just barely out of short trousers.
I’m faster than most eighty year-olds.
Speed, as any cheetah would tell you if she were able, is a survival tool. Capable of bursts of speed up to seventy miles an hour, the cheetah spends much of her time around the Impala.
While I’m not about to eat any of the octo and nonagenarians I now call my friends, they have become my Impala. I feed off the glorious sense of immaturity they give me.
I’m inclined to mention here that the 84 year-old Japanese man I read about, who climbed Mount Everest and who is possibly also missing a leg — both legs probably,hhumo and why not throw in blindness as well — is not the sort of octogenarian I’m talking about.
I’m told age is relative, that we are all getting old and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Shame isn’t the problem. I’m scared.
Aging may be tolerable, but getting old is not. I have a photograph of my mother on her wedding day. Twenty six years old, smiling, bright-eyed, someone who in her day must have turned heads.
Compare this with the swollen woman it took three men to carry from her home on a stretcher, three days before she died of cancer at eighty four.
I may be unable to avoid aging, but I can keep old age at bay by holding on to my place as youngest among my peers.
If I make it into my eighties, I’ll seek out centurions. And if I ever make it past a hundred myself, I will move in with turtles, where I might just be able to stay ahead of the curve.