Forty years ago today I officially graduated from high school. Forty years ago. Today. I graduated high school.
No matter how many times I say those words -- or write them -- it doesn't seem quite real. It's more real to be 40 years old and looking at pictures of myself as a child, but not this.
I've never had a problem telling people how old I am. I am 58 years old. It's a number. My oldest son will be 40 in November on Veterans Day. My boys are on the down side of 30 and sliding head first into 40. None of that gives me pause or makes me feel older, so why does this day that is 40 years from the day I graduated from high school throw me for a loop? I would've thought that children who are middle-aged would have done the trick, but no. It didn't.
One of my school friends told me that he fears the mirror. Seeing pictures of our classmates then and now is also unnerving. I see those pictures with the women in orthopedics sandals and wearing white socks frightneing. When did they get so old? Men going blad doesn't bother me; I like bald men. Well, most bald men. It's like sex. There are men who should sprint over to the toupee maker or Hair for Men and cover that up. They don't have the head for it.
Pot bellies, sagging breasts, breasts that look like the prow of a battle ship (and that's on the men), and all the changes that time and living have wrought over my classmates shocks me to my core. When I look in the mirror I don't see those ravages, but then I don't mind having gray hair or a few wrinkles around my eyes -- crow's feet -- or any of the other changes that have left their marks on me. I also don't have to see me from the outside. It's probably best I don't. I've no idea what traumascars that would leave me with and I'm not as resilient as I once was.
Forty years ago I left high school behind and faced boldly into the winds of change, shouldering the welcome burden of adulthood, and smilig that smile I always smile when I'm unsure of my ground. I kept thinking, "This is what I wanted to give up my childhood for? What was I thinking?"
Childbirth was easy, but easy the way the first time you jump out of an airplane with a silk parachute strapped to you back and lived is easy. The second time around is always harder and I remember how much I wanted to get up off the labor bed and walk away without giving birth a second or a third time. I wanted the parasite struggling to rip through me to go away, much like John Hurt wished the alien ripping through his chest would go away. The fourth time was easy; I was out and the doctor left me with a tiny hairline silver scar and my hip bones didn't ache with the memory of pushing that basketball through a Meyer lemon-sized hole behind. I woke up and a few hours later I had another son. What could be easier? My body healed and the scar was virtually invisible. It was a walk in the park. Two o'clock feedings were a breeze and I went back to work within a week. I was tougher in those days. Now I just think I'm tougher.
The results are much less tough. I have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom at least once and I haven't slept 8 solid hours in far too long. My feet swell, my joints crack, and I ache some mornings when I've slept wrong. But how can I sleep wrong? I sleep on a pillow on the same side of the bed I've always slept on and the bed is comfortable. What was wrong about that? Oh, yes, I'm older now and things don't spring back the way they once did.
Then I listen to Beanie whingeing about how she can't hold a cross stitch needle any more because of her arthritis. She has ulcers and her scotty dogs (the vertebrae at the base of her spine) don't line up, which may be incipient scoliosis (curvature of the spine -- Gram and Aunt Joan had it), and she has another migraine to top it off. She's 10 years younger than I am and she's a whole lot worse off.
Or maybe she's not.
I think I may handle pain better than she does. I've had lots of practice -- basketballs and Meyer lemon sized holes. I had 2 more children than she did and I fell from a very high tree into a jungle, ripped open the back of my left arm, and walked away. Talk about resilient.
But I can't put my legs behind my head any more. I can only get one leg up to my shoulder. I can't lie on my stomach or the hernia the hysterectomy left behind, which was fixed and recurred, will end up twisting my intestines into knots and surgery will be my next stop.
At least I don't get migraines -- or headaches very often. The Achilles tendons at my heels are stiff first thing in the morning, but that soon goes away the more I walk. I waddle until the stiffness and the pain go away, but then my gait is smooth again.
Okay, so I judge the length of the walk before I take it. I don't run around doing errands the way I once did, not before figure out how many of them I can lump together to save myself time -- and energy. I'm more willing to hire someone to clean out the gutters (I haven't been good with heights since I fell out of that tree in Panama) and clip the hedge and rake the leaves (good thing I live surrounding by a parking lot). I think before I look and then reconsider the leap. That's not getting older. That's being smart -- for a change.
The good thing is that I no longer worry about who I piss off. No matter what I do or how carefully I phrase things, I know I am going to make someoen angry. So what? They'll be angry no matter what or how I say it, so I say, "Damn! the torpedoes. Full speed ahead." I have finally achieved my ultimate goal. I am a salty old broad. (Broad being the operative word.)
Okay, so 40 years ago I graduated high school. My hair went silver and then began going back to brown. It's in the middle ground between brown and gray. I've learned a lot, lived a lot, and earned some crow's feet and scars. I'm less inclined to be gullible and have become a touch more cynical. I move carefully first thing in the morning and don't sleep all night. But I have traveled and seen life and experienced much of what is out there.
I have lived.
And that's the trick. I'm still here. In another 40 years, I may be the only person showing up for my 80th high school class reunion. At least I will be even more comfortable with myself by then.
Life has a way of surprising us. The biggest surprise is that when you reach the 40th high school class reunion, inside you feel much the same. You're trapped by time and maybe infirmity, but inside you're still the taut-skinned, full haired, lithe, and flexible you that walked across the stage and accepted the paper that meant you had graduated. You survived the high school years and were ready to embark on the journey of adult life.
Yep, we were taken for a ride.