Real Real Red, or, Goodbye to All That

This essay was published in Skive Magazine, November 2013–

Real Real Red, or, Goodbye to All That

Not much different from twenty years ago, you think. In the mirror you admire your smooth, healthy skin, your youthful appearance. Then you put on the progressive lenses that recently replaced the CVS buy-one-get-one-free over-the-counter reading glasses. Look again.

Your forehead is relatively unlined. You wore bangs down to your eyelids until you were well into your forties, thinking that your prematurely wrinkled brow made you look older. It’s all relative, isn’t it. Now you frame your brow with your vivid auburn waves (thank you, L’Oreal).

Those lines around your mouth. You thought the grooves etched around your mother’s lips were from the lipstick that she spread on every day without fail—Hazel Bishop Real Real Red—and from a lifetime of pack-a-day-plus smoking. But you rarely wear lipstick, haven’t smoked for decades, so why the fine fissures that join the furrows from your nose to your chin and insist on settling into a frown?

Your hands tell all, in spite of oceans of lotions. Rough and dry, wrinkly and spotted, blue veins crisscross like a map of L.A. freeways. But they’ve served you well. They’ve dug in the dirt, molded clay, sketched and painted, skipped nimbly over the piano and other keyboards. They’ve changed diapers and soaked in dishwater—remember the old TV ads for Palmolive liquid: it softens your hands while you do dishes? You lied, Madge!

You’re tall and slender. You still have that. You haven’t put on weight over the years; it’s just shifted. How did your ass get down there?

Phyllis Diller asks, where’s my seat?

The flight attendant says, About four inches lower than last year.

The physical alterations of age—sags and slackness, spots and wrinkles—are inevitable. But still, you appear fit. You are fit. For your age, you add. Appearances aren’t everything, but they help. Alas, you can’t lay claim to good bones. While none have given out on you yet, they threaten to betray you. They’re perforated, riddled with osteoporosis. And the musculature around the spine is weak, plaguing you with chronic aches and spasms of indeterminate origin. But none of that is visible. And it could be worse, a lot worse.

You like your body more now—in spite of its failings—than when it was young and firm and you were so critical, homing in on every flaw. You like the way it moves, the smooth and efficient rotation of your hip joints. How it’s learned to relax—with a book and a cat and a glass of wine—after years of stiff-shouldered, tight-necked, lock-jawed efficiency. The crisp, competent air of duty and dress-for-success tailoring have given way to a loose, casual persona in sporty attire.

This body has conveyed you faithfully through the angst of youth and the frustrations of the middle years. It will stick with you till the end, whatever and whenever that might be. So look straight into the mirror and pucker up. Shrug off the small stuff, kiss it goodbye and greet the new day.

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