My mother’s best friend lives in Orange County, and sometimes we all meet up there. The trip I’m thinking of happened when I was maybe 20. I’d driven there from college, my parents had just arrived, and my mother and honorary aunt were puttering around putting things into the fridge, exchanging books they’d borrowed, catching each other up on this and that — the kind of things that old long-distance friends do when reunited.
Then my Aunt asked my mother, “are you afraid of dying?” Her question sounded remarkably offhanded, considering the nature of it. “Oh,” said my mother. “Just something I’ve been thinking about,” said my aunt.
This past Easter, I was around while the two of them talked about a trip my aunt is taking with her husband and two children. “How great,” said my mom, “and if anything happens you’ll all be together. I could die happy like that.”
I watched my grandmother die when I was in middle school. Slowly and at home while her family cared for her.
My parents had a baby before me that died. My mom texts me every year on the day he was born and the day he died.
Weird or not, death and the dead have become the stuff of casual conversation in my family.
Once in college I got incredibly stoned and whispered in my boyfriend’s ear “what do you think it’s like to die.” It was a creepy, then very funny, moment, but the fact is death and dying were often on my mind.
Then, I married a mortuary school drop-out whose own father died about a year before we met. Since my wife is also my writing partner, what happens to the dead and what happens after death are frequent subjects in our writing.
But am I scared of death? Not really. What truly scares me — like it’ll cross my mind and I’ll feel frozen with fear, unsure if I can move through the terror I’m feeling — is physically aging.
I wore a pair of new shoes to work a week and a half ago. They’re very cute, but they cut into my ankles and gave me matching scabs.
Looking at my wee wounds last night I thought, “I feel like my skin doesn’t heal as fast as it used to.” And it all came crashing down. It’s happening. This is just the beginning, but it’s happening. My body is getting old. It will shrivel and ache, shut down piece by piece.
I have more grey hairs than ever before. My feet hurt every day. My knees ache before it rains (truly). My face looks different to me. It’s harder to sleep well.
Sure, my knees have hurt since I was in high school and had to wear braces during dance classes and tennis practice. I walk four or five miles a day in shoes generally chosen for cuteness. Back in those days when I would fall fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow I barely drank alcohol, but was almost always high.
But I don’t know what to do with this terror about my body aging. I remind myself I’m not frail right now. I won’t get old by tomorrow. I have time. I have agency. I probably even have good genes.
Both of my grandfathers are still alive. One in his mid-80s and the other in his early 90s. They’ve slowed down in the last few years, but are still far from decrepit. My own dad is in his early 60s and could pass for 50. In fact, a co-worker recently guessed my age as 5 years younger than I am.
And it’s not so much that I wish I was young, because who I was when I was young is so far from who I am today she’s practically a stranger. People who knew me way back when tell me about her and I can only think, “really?”.
No, I don’t long for youth, I just worry constantly about my body — how it’s treading water in the slipstream of time, where it will tired and slow, and be carried away by an unforgiving current.