There is a great line from Sweet Bird of Youth, spoken by the aging actress: “it is not that I am old, it is just I am not young anymore.” The line rolls about in my head – I am not youung anymore, with the word drawn out, deep throated and emphatic in its plaintive fatigue. I know that fatigue. I am in decent shape, although I have, what I read these days, is called a “Dad’s Bod” – no six pack. In the days of an aging Cary Grant such things were both treated with some respect and well hidden by excellent tailoring. I do believe in excellent tailoring. The well-turned custom suit can hide many flaws. My tailor says it is like wearing silk underwear; it feels luxurious and no one knows but you. My deep navy wool hangs so well, whether sitting or standing. Even the sleeve buttons work. I get some sense of comfort when I reach inside for my fountain pen and catch a quick glimpse my name embroidered on the lining. I have doubts that the naked me matches the dressed anymore, I’m a man and we seem to have great capacity for ignoring such disparities. I’ve never understood that ability and why women seem to lack for it.
Most women I know struggle with the aging process. It seems as if they feel it diminishes them, makes them less beautiful. I can tell you even through the end, my wife remained the most beautiful woman I have known, including every new wrinkle and grey hair. I was always certain I was the cause, so I better appreciate them. Besides, with a smile, she would regularly remind me everything actually was my fault; well almost everything. After I lost her, I remember going to the opera one season. Sitting behind me was a striking woman in her late seventies, I would guess. She was simple in her attire (black and grey), to match the salt and pepper of her hair, pulled back in a French twist. She carried herself with quiet, calm and immense poise. She was beautiful and damn the age. At the final season performance as we were exiting, I told her so, she looked shocked and thanked me. Maybe that, in the end, is the secret – beauty comes through when you know longer need to work at it; it just is.
My granddaughter is like that from an entirely different end of life’s process. Young, vibrant, carefree attacking the world and relationships with abandon. She doesn’t care how the world perceives her. She has no care if in the middle of a laugh, she snorts. In fact that brings out more joy. She runs from one moment and mess to create another and then will plunge headlong into my arms for a hug and a nap. Even in the peace of her sleep, warm and sweaty from play, face without care or any mark of worry, she is without peer. When she has long gone home, I can still feel her warmth against my chest. It suffuses me. If I were young I would want a dozen to feel these moments without surcease. But I am not youuuung anymore and that she does not understand.
You see, I have been sitting in this dark bar for hours now, breathing in the smell of liquor sticking in the drink trough, mixed with the scent of maraschino cherries. Ice in my soda back melting slowly, but it is my fourth McCallan so who knows. It is one of the few bastions left where one can enjoy billows of good cigar smoke without being relegated to the cold and rain. A “private club” with hard wood walls stained by years of such wears and tears. Shaded lights put a golden glow over the room, no harsh whites or fluorescent blues here and no flashing beer sign in the window declaring open season.
In addition, those peopling the room are closer to my age than hers. Suits of fine cloth are resplendent. Ties are still tied, though some slightly loosened about necks. Cufflinks flash in the warm light here and there, with a few button downs thrown in. Women, move easily in dresses, coats slung over the shoulder or arm, or carried by their gentleman. Tables hold stemmed glassware with everything from champagne to the crispness of a really dry martini with olives.
She is stunning in the soft light, stunning in most light if I am to be honest. Long, blond and able to strike that unique pose of a young woman – firm erect front with a slight lift of the ass. It always appears as if she is ready to move forward in the world and take on anything, with a backside to make us all willing followers. I never understood how it appears such a natural pose; she never seems to work at it, it just is. I remember the somewhat apt line from Harry Potter, I would read to my grandchild “marvelous creatures – dragons” and thought how it applied to her, marvelous creatures – women.
Arms move with grace, not like a ballerina, but as someone who knows what a gesture can mean or imply. Rarely is there wasted motion. Fingers reach out only as needed and draw your eye back as she withdraws her hand. Lithe with well-tended nails for accent, muted not brash. Holding her hand is a marvel. Light, easy, never crushing or awkward, although she never intertwines fingers side by side, something is always offset.
She could cup my face with such gentleness. Her blond hair slightly rumpled, not disheveled, as if she had just risen from a wild romp to go out to dinner, knowing everyone would know but be too polite to insinuate anything. Such are the circles we travel in.
She is so different from my wife. My wife – I loved that frame - was the ultimate comfort in a life of challenge. Dark and taut curls about her head. When I think about her, long gone now, I am always struck by an image of her hand at my back – helping to move me forward at times of ennui and propping me up when I needed to lean on someone or something. It is a tactile memory. I can still feel the firm pressure and easy warmth. This was our relationship. Growing up I had been tantalized by stories of finding a soulmate. I would scoff at any sense it could ever be real. In thirty years together argument was rare. Not that there weren’t differences, they just never mattered enough to fight.
In all that time we told one another “I love you” every day. We made the promise at the beginning and kept it without reluctance. She would often go to bed before me, as I am more of a late nighter and when I would join her, even soundly asleep she would make room and respond as I closed the day. I would try to explain, when I travelled, that sleep would come hard and I would often wind up across the hotel bed as any other position lacked her presence. As she grew more fragile I would sleep in the chair next to the bed resting my hand on her outstretched arm. After, I would sleep across our bed head to her side comforted only a little by her infused scent.
My fingers would catch in her hair at night. After, threads of it still clung to bedsides and the headboard, reminders of her presence. I railed at the cleaning person when she washed the sheets and dusted her away. I left her clothes in our closet for years, because I could still catch her smell and imagine her wearing a coral sweater or a dress. I can’t say how often we would wind up in peals of laughter getting ready to go out and I would emerge from our closet realizing we were wearing the same color combo of jeans and t-shirt. It became more frequent the longer we were together. I would always change, as we could never go out like twins. It was painful letting her clothing go – the closet half vacant territory. I had it redone to make the space smaller and even though I am a clothes collector – 160 dress shirts and way too many shoes – I could still not fill the void.
In our time together we fit better by the day. Silences never felt intrusive or odd, but great moments of respite from the world. If dinner was not filled with chat, it was full of being in the moment. I have an acquaintance that cannot survive without constant talk. If there is a blank moment they must fill it with some semblance of noise or it seems a waste. I find it way too much chatter and tend to avoid them now. My wife was a wonder at moving chatter out of my earshot. I can be annoying about such things – short and crispy. She could easily prevent me from social explosions and charm them away – a chatterbox Pied Piper.
“Honey, if you don’t like it either why do you engage with her”
“My husband, I keep you from being an asshole.”
You are an asshole, she said with such force, before turning her cute backside and walking out – maybe storming would be more descriptive.
I am unsure what prompted that call to arms, I’d only said it felt like she was overly invested in being a mother without any idea of the level of responsibility demanded of the event. She doesn’t know. It is filled with terror and drooling. It flashes by so quickly you have no idea if you witnessed it or even if you contributed to its success or failure – yes, it can have both outcomes.
I have seen them – those family failures, hanging out at shelters, pushing shopping carts or carrying every piece of ownership in a large black plastic bag, which serves cross purposes as suitcase, blanket or raincoat.
I have seen their shredded shoes and multiple layers of too many pants and sweat shirts. They must wonder how they arrived at such a juncture of life; certainly not by choice. No one dreams of being an addict or homeless or a wreck. No one wakes on a morning declaring themselves on track to be voluntarily destitute. I have never met a single person desirous of living a vagabond existence not knowing where the next meal or a place to sleep might come. But they get there just the same – genetics, parenting failure, desertion, abuse, it is all out there like lions waiting to devour our young.
For others, they’ll perpetuate the problem, adding children to the mayhem. Before becoming a grandparent and to assuage my desire for a grandkid, I volunteered to rock sick, newborns babies in a local hospital. I have tried to comfort babies recovering from addictions they did not bring on themselves – shaking, twitching, hyper-vigilant, needing meds to calm down and sleep. Health challenges from being born way to soon, not much bigger than the size of my hand at first, trapped in incubators with grow lights, heat and way too many tubes providing air, food, drugs so they can survive. When they are big enough to be handled and rocked, they look up at you seeming to ask – can’t you make this better. Singing and rocking is nice, but not much help.
Or maybe your lucky and the speed of time gives you the success kid – off to some pricey college that puts you in debt for the rest of your life – a great investment but the end of leisure for you, asshole. They go off merry as hell to pursue their life dance in tandem with someone other than you. While they’re cruising along, I wonder if they ever ask themselves, how they got to happy?
“I just want you to be open to the possibility”, she asks demurely, looking luscious across the bar stools, knees rubbing against mine, like some game I played at 22.
I want to say – sure, let’s have at it right now, right here, or wherever you would like, I know a great hotel a block from here. I haven’t been there in years, but their beds were luxurious – big pillows and bathtubs long and wide enough for two to enjoy. They have wine on the sideboard and champagne is just a room service call away. If I recall accurately, there are fresh flowers in the room spilling the scent of freesias throughout the room. I would relish a no holds bar thrashing about with no thoughts, no worries, no protection – but I know the end of this process; I know where it goes. So instead I say, “you don’t want to go down that path with me. I’m too far along for it to be fun.”
You are such an asshole, she says…yeah, I forgot SUCH was in there.
I have an old Hamilton on my wrist. It was my father’s; sleek and thin in contour, not as shapely as she but the gold curve, deco numbers remind me I already know the answer. It is held in the grey of my hair and the slow stroll of my gate. It is contained in the fact that I drink good whiskey and not bar scotch. I am reminded it rests behind the wheel of my sports car with the top down knowing I should wear a hat.
Where does time go…away and all too fast. You see, I am just not young anymore!