On Aging (at 24)
I came home from dinner last night to find a flimsy man trying to stuff an old lady and her wheelchair into the cramped confines of our small elevator. His comb-over was haphazardly half-plastered, half-swaying with physical exertion. I held the elevator door, and managed to avert my eyes from the old lady’s unblinking, dead little gaze.
Is that a cruel way to describe it? But it was as such; she didn’t blink. Her eyelid tattoos were faded, bluish and gleaming because she didn’t have any eyelashes. Her eyebrows, sparse– but I could tell they were furrowed; at me or in thought it didn’t matter much, because she clearly didn’t give a fuck. While this poor whip-thin stick of a man pushed and pulled and yanked at a loose board (our elevator is under maintenance) that had gotten caught on the wheel, she sat perfectly still, her physiology limp and flaccid, except for hard, shiny eyes which never left my face.
Even as he bowed a thanks as the door closed, even as the door was parted an inch and somehow this strange inch of sight gave us a weirdly private moment where if she were to suddenly smile, I would be the only witness– her beetle black stare continued. I imagined it burning holes through our building as I watched the elevator beep up to the 8th floor, and come back down again.
I surmised that her glare had less to do with me than it had to do with thoughts about herself. After all, when one walks down the street and sees children of a certain age, you come to relate only through your own experience as a toddler, or a pre-teen, or especially as a teenager. There is nothing to truly and deeply critique about a stranger; why, what could you possibly assume? Very less could inspire such judgement, at that age where you are confined to a wheelchair and a man half your size has to stuff you through your doorway– she must have been thinking about herself, her life, her past.
There had to be a time when she cared enough about smiling. Or at least, not raking other’s faces with that deadly expression. Perhaps when she got those eyelid tattoos done, when there exists that fleeting, brilliant light of confident, youthful vanity. Perhaps it is my own vanity reflected in the cruelness of my description; but that is allowed. Anyone who has any conviction in conveying experiences in aging has to have a minimum quota of vanity.
What I also realized about this mindset– because we tend to relate to others as we compare them to ourselves, and vice versa (see Lacan’s Mirror theory)– is how I must guard myself against mental atrophy. There is a sure and subtle horror of only relating to the youth through our own stories and realities. Parents fighting against raising their children in a digital age, for example. The world will only change exponentially, and this has always been the case at any point in time. Progress carries momentum. Aging must feel like that; and those who turn into themselves and refuse to relate the world they grew up in with the world they have aged in will find a desperate disparity that will drive them into a stagnant bitterness; a terrific terror of disappointment and melancholy that will bring them closer to a most unsatisfying end. Instead of allowing ourselves jealousy or close mindedness take the best of us when we meet the youth that are better at the internet, or quicker and cooler– we must be patient with ourselves and the ever evolving world, and learn from it.
Many prominent pieces of literature having to do with aging seems bound to those over thirty– or women in menopause, ‘aging gracefully’ despite the comical and horrifying experience of hot flashes or the literal atrophy of one’s reproductive organs– but appreciating one’s own vanity and youth, I feel, is the key to extenuating the illusion of immortality and invulnerable innocence. Beauty and youth as a crutch for the burdens of responsibility (if you keep thinking about the future, you’ll never have the present), albeit a temporary one, is dangerous only when one mistakes their crutch for a real leg. I suppose my first mistake is anchoring beauty with youth at all; or rather, all of our mistakes; we’ve already set ourselves up for severe disappointment, our own gruesome set of dead little eyes perched atop a body in a wheelchair.