1. You wake up in the morning and you aren’t really sure who you are.
You crack the seal on one eye and look around. Something seems to have disturbed your slumber, but it’s not really clear. After perusing a few questionable things around you (Did I really eat yogurt in bed and then throw the container on the nightstand like I don’t have any sense? How did the remote for the TV get wrapped up in my underwear?), your lone functioning eye spots the alarm clock, which seems to be rudely wanting attention, with unwelcome noise and such. This is clearly the sign of the devil at work.
But still. If the alarm has been set, and it has subsequently gone into Def-Con 4 alert, there’s probably a good reason. We should probably figure that out, despite the incredibly alluring possibility of just going back to sleep. Am I supposed to be somewhere important? Do I work today? Have I done something that requires me to appear in court, denying everything while my lawyer does his best to keep from laughing? Am I living illegally in whatever country this might be?
A person really shouldn’t have to figure these things out on such short notice. It’s just not right. Why isn’t there a helpful attendant standing beside the bed and handing me an itinerary and some orange juice? Or adjusting my morphine drip.
Then it all comes back to me, there is something very important that I need to do. I take a deep breath, gather my strength, and reach out with one wobbly arm to slap at the button marked “SNOOZE” on the devil-box making noise. The gestapo siren ceases, albeit temporarily, and I fade into darkness within two seconds.
2. Things hurt that shouldn’t.
After 712 snooze sessions, where you have 30 seconds of air-raid terror and then 9 more minutes of jerky slumber, you finally give up all dreams of happiness and attempt to claw your way out of the burial chamber. This takes way more time than back in the day, when you could leap off the floor of the frat house, splash some water on your face, and be fully-prepared to take a calculus exam in five minutes.
Now? Simply peeling the comforter off your aching body takes all of the strength you can muster. By the time your jelly-flesh has been fully exposed to the world, you’ve broken out in a sweat and your muscles are trembling. It’s at this point that all of the various status reports start coming in from the far locales of your body. This one thing over here is really itchy, this other thing seems to be spasming, and this third thing is super stiff, and not in a good way. Initial diagnosis? You need to have a good stretch and those things will settle down and cooperate.
But the stretching thing is a leftover remedy from the days when you could still find your toes without a GPS. Stretching, post-40, is a dangerous road that one shouldn’t travel unless they have been adequately and mentally prepared. There’s a chance that stretching could feasibly result in all uprisings being quelled so that you can go on about your day in a pleasant manner, humming a tune about daffodils and the juiciness of pomegranates left out in the sun.
But, more likely, stretching is ill-advised. You might work out some of the kinks, but this accomplishment pales in comparison to the new disruptions you trigger by contorting your body in a feline way. Previously complacent parts of your anatomy, bones and muscles that were quite content until you stupidly attempted to disturb them, will now add their grating voices to the chorus of disapproval that is more heinous than the stupid alarm clock which you have broken in two and thrown under the bed. And the usual end result is that you feel something pop that shouldn’t be popping, making you wonder if whatever popped is covered under you increasingly-dwindling insurance plan.
3. Your bladder has been secretively removed and replaced with a defective piece of crap made in China.
Remember, back in the day, when you could feel a tiny little twinge that you might need to pee, but you knew that you could ignore it for hours while you continued to leap about on the jungle gym or play kickball in a vacant lot in the neighborhood? That is no longer the case. Now, when you need to pee, you need to pee. There’s no discussion and this is not something that can be tabled for the next committee meeting. You stand up, the various fluids and organs in your body are repositioned, and you suddenly have to pee like the hounds of hell are nipping at your heels.
You can’t ignore it. You can make a weak attempt to, say, go kick off the coffee maker or fire up your laptop to see who might have said what about you in social media, but these are fool’s choices. Because if you insanely try to overlook the requirements of ancient plumbing, the need to pee will become so intense that you are suddenly dancing a jig that would get very high scores from Olympic judges but does nothing to delay the inevitable result. You’ve got to tinkle NOW or you’ll be pulling a Linda Blair in the hallway.
So you give in and race to the bathroom, knocking startled relatives and pets out of the way in your mad scurry. You slam the door to the privacy chamber, practically rip off any clothing you might be wearing and slam your ass down on the Porcelain Throne of Release. Then you let go with gusto.
And there’s a tiny trickle. That’s it. End trans.
What? That can’t be right. You squeeze all the appropriate muscles, and all you get is the plink of another drop or two. Well, damn. You tidy things up a bit, then stand up, and there it is again. Fluids want out. Now. You squat back down, more weak dribbling, and then silence. Seriously? You slowly start to rise, and there it is again, the knocking on the pee door. What is going on down there?
Two days later, you finally leave the bathroom.
4. Coffee = A Will to Live.
Some people can blithely flit through life, without ever needing a morning jolt of caffeine. I’m happy for them, I really am. But I think there’s something seriously wrong with those people. Coffee beans are grown on this planet for a reason, and to deny the functionality of the coffee bean is to deny the evolution of mankind. We are supposed to drink it, because it helps us cope. The drinking of coffee is the sole reason why this planet did not go up in flames centuries ago.
Having said that, drinking coffee has different implications for different age groups. When you are young, the java simply helps you deal with a pesky hangover, helps you reply coherently to questions in your starter-job interviews, or helps you participate vigorously in daily exercise or athletic sports that you will not be able to participate in once your bladder is stolen by Chinese officials.
For someone my age? The coffee stops me from taking your life when you ask an otherwise innocent question about how my day is going. You have been warned.
5. The Horror, Part I – Taking A Shower
I like to be clean. I really do. But lately I really don’t care for the process of washing away my sins and preparing for another day where I am supposed to accomplish things of at least minimal importance. I’m still able to get in the shower and turn the water on, so far so good. But I am no longer able to reach parts of my body that were easily within my grasp mere seconds ago. The business with the upper-section is fine, I can usually lather away with the precision of a doctor. And the private bits? Got that covered. I can always find the time to faithfully attend to landmarks on my body that are responsible for pleasure, or at least the memory of pleasure.
But those feet down there? Holy cow. They’re so far away now, and not in a poetic Carole King kind of way. You really have to work to get to those things. If I don’t bang my head on the shower wall, because coordination is whisked away about the same time as your fully-functioning bladder and your ability to eat vegetables without turbulence, then I get light-headed because I’m bending over and this jacks up my time-space continuum. I’m actually sweating (in the shower!) after attending to my feet, and I have to slump against the wall and catch my breath, heart pounding. It’s just not right.
6. The Horror, Part II – The Mirror after the Shower
Remember how, when you were young and vibrant, that you could hop out of the shower, wipe the steam off the mirror, and you could review yourself looking all dewy and fresh? That doesn’t happen anymore. Now all you see is curdled pudding plastered on ancient infrastructure that should have been condemned long ago. Is this what it’s come down to, that I look like a floating corpse that somebody has fished out of the water on CSI: Shady Pines? Jeez.
On the flip side, if you stand really far away from the mirror, and squint your eyes just right at the foggy glass, you can get a flashback to that time when you could eat a slice of pizza without your hips instantly expanding wide enough that you could stop a cruise ship from entering port.
7. The Clothes Closet
There’s not a single thing in there that you can wear anymore. (Well, you could wear them, but it would look like you were in a sausage casing that hasn’t been properly reinforced.) This isn’t fair. We worked hard to be able to buy those clothes. (We’ll ignore the fact that if we had worked just as hard at getting off the couch and actually performing some minimal exercise, we wouldn’t have to shop at Hank’s Circus Tent Emporium.)
8. The inability to enjoy anything on the menu at your favorite drive-thru restaurant.
So you finally get out of the house, wearing an outfit that has more yardage than most football games, and the whimsical side of you opts to zip into one of those fast-food places for a bit of nosh. Sadly, as you stare at the menu board, you realize that nearly everything glowingly displayed has a greasy fat content that could decimate an entire neighborhood with one bite. In your previous life, the one where you pulled into places like this at the tail-end of a drinking binge, you could suck down a burger or two and be good to go within seconds, fresh-eyed and bushy-tailed.
That is no longer the case. Now it’s a matter of deciding between something that will have you running for the restroom every three minutes, or something that will have you running every five. Your body has declared a war on greasy input, refusing to quietly process the systemic clogging of your body flow, and you are the hostage. Everything you eat has repercussions. There is no middle ground.
And even if you have a moment of epiphany and select the one healthy choice on the menu (because that’s all there usually is, one), you will have to face the wrath of the drive-thru attendant, who doesn’t get any bonus points on her evaluation card if she lets somebody slip by who doesn’t order something from the oinker line of products. Might as well ask for the Big Boy Country Breakfast and save yourself from any heated discussion at the pay window.
9. The amazing gazelle-like qualities of some of your co-workers.
You finally get to work, strenuously lugging the grease-dripping bag from “What-a-Porker”, and you lurch into your cubicle, plopping into that stupid chair of yours that hasn’t been comfortable since your ass went from “hey, girl, hey!” to “crime scene”. As you squirt 17 packets of mayo onto your deep-fried omelet burrito, you notice that most of your younger work-mates are doing attention-getting cartwheels and talking very loudly about nothing important. This means that your boss, otherwise known as He Who Didn’t Deserve the Promotion, has arrived. He soon moseys his way down your aisle, pretending to care about the brown-nosing but really just wanting to get to his office, with the impenetrable double-lock on the door, behind which he can swig from the industrial-sized bottle of bourbon he keeps for emergencies. Like days ending in “Y”.
You realize that you should probably participate in the self-promotion extravaganza that the youngsters insist on performing, but you’ve been seriously tired since before they were born. (Besides, once you get situated in your chair, it’s a really risky move to get back out of it.) So you ignore the blatant sucking-up of the children (I have spreadsheets older than you!) who still have a lot to learn about how it really plays out, and you quietly gnaw at your breakfast burrito with teeth that stopped doing a decent job in 1993.
10. In the end, we’re all in this together, come hell or high diapers.
Everyone generally experiences the same relative journey down the Avenue of Aging, encountering the same structural and processing issues to one degree or another. (Except for that small handful of people who magically seem to get better with age, defying the laws of nature by somehow becoming more attractive as they mature and/or running marathons without breaking a sweat. But we don’t really care for those obnoxious examples of healthy living, and we seek petty revenge by starting rumors about them “having work done” or organs transplanted.)
So it helps that we have a network of similar-age people to support us in the darker hours, offering bits of wisdom to one another (“never get down on the floor unless it’s the weekend, because you might be down there a really long time”) or swapping war stories (“It took me three whole hours to realize that my panties were on backwards”). These people make us feel loved and cherished, despite the increasing cobwebs in the brain (“Why did I walk into this room? What did I need in here?”) and the growing pharmacy in your bathroom (“I have to take pills to counteract all of the other pills that I have to take”).
And the ultimate sign that someone has your aching back in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Elastic Pants? The person who knows when to say the right words, and when not to say any words at all.
This person remains calm when you have a sudden burst of that horrifying medical condition wherein you sneeze and toot at the same time, aka “the snoot”. This person does not make rude commentary or draw attention to the fact that you have just inadvertently crop-dusted. Instead, they calmly reach down (slowly, so that nothing snaps that shouldn’t) and retrieves the knitting needles that you dropped when you temporarily lost control of your entire body. You gratefully accept the proffered needles, and then both of you get back to work on your afghans, rocking in your chairs on the sun-dappled porch of the Happy Valley Home for the Tired and Tooty….
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” and “Bonnywood Manor”, minimally revised and updated with extra flair for this post.
Story behind the photo: This one is a bit of a cop-out. It’s just a random shot of the steps leading down to the pool at the condo we rented in Cuevas del Becerro, Spain. In a moment of desperation, I hoped it would somehow symbolize the Journey of Life. But really, it’s just a mundane shot of mundane steps. I’ll try harder next time.