Women Passing 50: The Long and the Short of It
Sit quietly with this question for a moment: What does it feel like to be a woman in her 50’s?
Me, I feel heartburn, tingling fingers, heat from the inside out, perspiration always.
I hear a clock ticking in the quiet house, notice gray dust building on the baseboards, crave a second cup of coffee.
I can still sit cross-legged on the couch. I am not in pain.
A smile wants to come out. Huge laughter is there; the shared-experience kind. We’ve really been through it, haven’t we? We know. We are a small club. Our humor is dark, and also light. It’s all downhill from here, we say. And probably that’s a little bit true, but I always preferred the downhills to the uphills, anyway.
At this age, we still have a shot at what we want most. We can walk three miles without too much distress, or if we get in shape we can walk the Camino Trail. Our driving records are still spotless, and we have plenty of time for a second career. Maybe we aren’t grandmas yet, tied by the heart to a geographically undesirable location, so theoretically we could hop a train, become a hobo.
We can quit old friends we never much liked and find others who tickle us, and we can finally give in to the urge to call random people honey or sweetheart.
Our fingers still work if we want to take up guitar, or beadwork. Our bodies still flex; we can rise from beach chairs and yoga mats mostly unassisted.
If we decide it’s time to start taking care of our skin, our skin will look taken care of; there’s time.
We know we’ll probably never close down a club again, and we’re okay with that. Nor will we snort or pop anything that doesn’t come with a prescription. But we’re open to visiting a dispensary.
We are shocked at how young our old boyfriends look when we track them down on Facebook, until we remember their profile picture is just as old as ours. If we were to reach out to them, we’d suggest drinks over coffee, because the light would be more flattering.
We compress huge chunks of our lives – decades – into three-, four-, or five-word snatches: I worked there twenty years; I got married; I had three kids; my parents are dead.
We cannot believe how much theaters charge for wine so we’ve started sneaking it in. Empty pill bottles – the dark glass ones – work best because no ticket-taker kid would ever ask a fifty-year-old woman about a pill bottle in her purse.
The callouses on our heels and the outside edge of our big toes are so rough and ridged that our feet snag the sheets when we turn over at night. We pay $20 for some sort of acid in little footie baggies to make them smooth and silky, and we delight in peeling off the great sheets of dead skin a week later, which makes us nostalgic for peeling off the blistering sunburns we got as kids before sunblock was a thing.
We are sick of fifty years of tending to long hair, and cut it to our shoulders. When we realize how much time and hair product that saves, we cut it up to our ears. We are irritated that our salon doesn’t carry Paul Mitchell anymore. And what is hair tonic, anyway?
We try Kybella, because what the hell.
We fear we're getting old because we're confused about Hulu vs. Showtime vs. Comcast vs. Amazon Fire, but really, everybody is. Except for men.
We finally realize that men are neither mysterious nor particularly deep. They are, as we’d always heard, simple. They like food, sex, and puttering. We wish we’d just accepted that a lot earlier; it would have saved so much bother.
It is critically important to have people in our lives who knew us when.
We spend a lot of time thinking “for the last time.” As in, this may be the last time I go to Paris, or this is probably the last time I’ll move.
Choices that involve lots of time are overwhelming, because time no longer stretches beyond the horizon, and that makes decisions difficult. Should we take up guitar? Is that a worthwhile use of our time? What if we commit and practice an hour every day and never get any good? Would that time be better used learning the five French mother sauces, or writing a memoir? And how much time should we spend with relatives? What if we really prefer being alone? If we only have 20 or 30 Christmases' left, can we skip the whole family thing just once and take a cruise, instead? (And would we be lonely if we did?)
We reflexively count the number of years we have left when we hear about some celebrity dying in their seventies, eighties or nineties. I’m 58, that guy died at 86, so that would give me 28 more years. It never sounds like enough. But then when we hear about someone living until they’re 106, we think oh God, I’d never want to live that long.
My mother always said she liked her 50’s the best: being the observer instead of the observed. I get that now. (I didn’t then.) I’ve moved out of the center, making space for the women who come next – my nieces, their daughters. It's okay, really; I’m so goddamn full of wisdom that I have to sit on the sidelines now and then under the weight of it.
I can still hear that clock ticking in this quiet house, but its rhythm holds no menace. I am alive, now. I have a full plate today. I have time.