If I were asked to name a new rock band, I’d call it Ava’s Gardner.
I thought about that while waiting in line at the Walgreen’s in my hamlet. I know it would only be funny to ‘people of a certain age’, still, I found it funny.
Then, I pulled up to the clerk behind the bullet proof glass and the metal drawer that when fed various forms of negotiable currency, magically dispenses all kinds of drugs that are supposed to help combat issues associated with ‘people of a certain age’. If only the drug dealers of my wanton youth were as attentive and accommodating and NOT under DEA surveillance. My bedside table looks like a crime scene photo from Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom. Like hers, my bedside table is littered with amber hued plastic pharmaceutical bottles. Unlike Marilyn’s collection of Big Pharma, my collection includes none of the fun stuff. Aging it seems, is a condition that must be treated medically.
In 1973, when I transitioned from an 8th grader to a high school Freshman, I discovered FM rock stations. What a concept. No AM static or hiss or loss of signal when you drove under an overpass. Even standard songs that ran amuck on AM station playlists sounded better on FM. I remember one of the first songs I heard on this amazing new format–’twas aural splendor. It was an Elton John tune that was a few years old and rarely played then, much less now. It was entitled Friends, from the French movie of the same name, about two young teen lovers (a term I loathe). The beginning of the second verse is as follows:
“It seems to be crime that we should age….”
Turn 14 and all that that implies, and listen to those lyrics and try NOT to experience new-found teenage angst and existential doubt.
Funny how amplified a pimple, a break up, an unrequited crush, a mid-term exam, the prom, being popular or not, can be everything at one point in life. How small the world is in the life a young teen in a free society circa 1973
In those years, all I wanted to do was experience what my new masters, the surges of estrogen, were commanding me to do. But mother didn’t like it. To her, I’d become a problem child. I proclaimed her “pubic” enemy #1. I matured faster than my two older sisters who were more demure and feared her. I didn’t. The fact that I would argue and debate points WHY I’m should be allowed to attend a senior party, were lost on her. She didn’t see it as burgeoning negotiation skills. It was me being a sassy. A smarty pants. It’s as if she viewed my larger boobs as dousing rods that would lead to bad behavior. She was very strict based on reasons she couldn’t explain. I was actually very normal for my age, but she was intent on coloring me abnormormal, compared to the two daughters she’d previously raised. I was constantly threatened with being sent to a convent school and forced to see priests and shrinks because she couldn’t understand me.
It wasn’t long before I realized our mother/ daughter dynamic was textbook skewed. She knew it too. The truth is, she was hardly the mother that a girl like me should have had and I wasn’t the daughter that a woman like her should have had. We’re were misplaced in each other’s lives. We were a living conundrum–very much alike while also being polar opposites.
She was/ is short in stature and even shorter now, and even though I surpassed her in height decades ago, she has always been nine feet tall, completely imposing in her very counteneance. I saw that as a challenge. I’d get grounded, but felt it worth it if I got a good line in as my two week sentence was being handed down.
It took a number of years before I understood her as a woman with issues of her own.
She turned 86 in June. She is slow and doddering, her memory will lapse, she searches for words and can stand with vacant eyes, her mouth agape until what ever synapse starts firing normally again. She’s now at that point where if she can’t remember it, it didn’t happen. “Damn liar!”, I’ve decided, is a term of endearment.
It’s taken years to understand how unkind onset of senility can be.
She has good days. She has bad days. She has aches and pains. She’s deaf and refuses to wear her hearing aid. She’s often grumpy. Her front and back bumpers of her car are mosaics of colors from things she’s bumped into. The familial discussions about additional care and imposing new restrictions such as allowing her to continue to get behind the wheel, are becoming more frequent. It’ll enrage her to learn she can longer drive. But we would do it for her own good though she’ll compare to a stint in Abu Graib?
It was her choice to move into a lovely semi independent home earlier this year, though she doesn’t socialize with her fellow residents. She talks more openly about her death, a topic I hate, but I know it’s my duty as her daughter to remain quiet and absorb everything she says as opposed to denying her the priveledge. After growing up in The Depression, after watching friends and brothers leave to fight in World War II or Korea and never return home; after all she’s witnessed, such as the advent of TV, astronaut Neil Armstrong take one giant leap for mankind…and after giving birth to two compliant daughters and one ABC After School Special (aka me), she’s earned that right to talk about her life and the end of it.
It’s taken a few years to appreciate aging along side my mother.
It’s odd that we’ve finally reached something akin to a canvass of common ground that’s painted as gray as our hair and on a landscape of mirroring wrinkles.
My two sisters see her once a month. Her decline is more obvious to them. But I notice it too. Often, from day to day.
But despite that, life goes on thankfully and I’m renewed in some way that we still argue, we still have distinctly different views on almost everything but we have a better understanding of each other which remains unacknowledged. And that’s okay. We’ve never been demonstrative in word or deed. She told me she loved me by giving me coupons for products I liked or highlighting newspaper articles about weight loss, a knee with encroaching arthritis or how to find THEE man of my dreams. I’m emotionally awkward too, though I can say I love you easier than she can. She’ll say it in return if told first, but she never initiates it.
And that’s okay, too.
I understand so much more than I did at eight or 18 or 38 or 58, which if you must know, staring me down in a matter of months.
The reality is my time with her grows short. Someday, sooner rather than later, the phone will ring and life as I’ve known it, will cease. One day, I know I’ll miss being told no with a hand slap, or that what I’m wearing, watching, reading, driving, drinking and thinking is all wrong for me. I’ll miss hearing my hairstyle is 20 years too young for me and there no more be questions about the eye liner I’ve applied being or something from the Slut Line of cosmetics. She’s old, but still biting.
I’ll even miss being called a Communist spinster with a bad attitude; hearing the constant criticism that comes with wearing bra that’s completely ill-fitting for a woman with what she calls, some “heft”.
Someday, she’ll be gone.
And it will take years for me to get over it.