all of the selves we Have ever been
“How old are you?” the substitute teacher asked.
“Eight and three-quarters,” I said, as I stretched myself to my maximum height and wished that she would have asked me the question in one week when I would be eight and seven-eighths. I was already a whiz at this higher math.
“Be careful what you wish for,” my mother frequently advised.
And now, here I am, long past eight and three-quarters but still feeling like that earnest girl wishing to be more, to measure up.
Recently, I looked at a picture of myself on a friend’s smartphone. It was not a smart thing to do. What I saw was a face sliding off a skull. I had to squint to make out a few details to confirm it was me. Yes, there was that dark spot on my left cheek, just like my mother’s, but the rest looked like a bad disguise. I hadn’t realized that in cognito was my new life stage.
I have not authorized a picture of myself since my senior portrait in high school. There were some wedding photos, but that was staged, and I was in costume and make-up. Typically, I don’t study myself from the outside. I am usually obsessing about what’s going on inside. But with this latest photo-update, I was forced to acknowledge how others see the outside of me. A recent example involved a young man arriving at my door in response to a work order I had submitted. He came to replace a broken light. He tells me, “Another old lady in the building has a similar problem.” My inner eight and three-quarters self said: I’ll race you to the tool shed, repairKID. I’ll be there before you put down your phone.
Later, I stopped at the convenience store where a teenage cashier patted my hand and called me sweetheart. I smiled, but in my mind I was challenging her to a blood pressure and cholesterol check.
At the grocery store, a middle age man bagged my groceries and asked me if I needed him to carry the groceries to my car. “No, thank you,” I said politely. But I will carry you to yours.
A neighbor described a serious family problem. She had been consulting the teenage dog walker and seemed surprised by how much I knew on the subject even though I’ve been a professional in the field for almost 40 years. My head is not full of lava. My head is not full of lava. My head is not full of lava…
Like a stroke victim locked inside herself, I wanted to scream at the world, “I’m still in here.” And like the eight and three-quarters girl I once was, I wanted to shout, “There is more to me than meets the eye. I am capable. Give me a chance.”
I moaned about all of this to my old friend, Kay, who is holding up pretty well. Kay wears sunglasses so that she won’t go blind from looking on the bright side. After droning on, I mentioned a friend who was shaken up at her annual Medicare wellness exam. She had been asked to remember three objects, but when she was asked to name the objects later, my friend had forgotten one of them. She panicked and ruminated about it for weeks. Was she losing her mind?
“So now I am facing my first wellness exam,” I said to Kay. “I’m not sure I can take it.” Kay’s optimistic response was, “Aren’t you glad you’re not taking the SATs?”
Touche’. While I long to be seen as youthful and capable, there are some things I don’t want to do again. I’ve paid my dues; I just haven’t updated my ID card since college.
I guess we are never the right age. When we’re young, we want to be older. When we are old we want to be younger, and in the long middle of life, we just want to survive. But we always want to be seen as capable participants in the game of life. We all want to be chosen for the team and not dismissed as inconsequential observers who can watch from the other side of the fence.
And so I study for the wellness exam.