The Southampton Review
I am waiting for my period. I am definitely not pregnant, but my period is late. Really late. I used to menstruate every 28 days. About two years ago my cycle dropped to every 26 days. About a year ago it moved to between 24 and 25 days. Now, for the second time in the last six months, it is really late–as in, over 40 days late, and counting. I realize when it hits 60 days it will no longer be late, but skipped. This will be a first.
I am barely 47 years old. It’s been about a month since I slipped quietly out of my mid-forties and into my late forties. Slipping, for me, is a new way to enter an age. I labored through my early days–trying to push that Sisyphus-like boulder of my childhood faster and farther up that hill of years than it had any interest in going. They say childhood is over too soon, but for me it could not have take any longer.
I rushed into and through my 20’s with such abandon and at such speeds that I’m surprised, when I look back, that I didn’t cause more collateral damage to myself and to those around me. I comfortably inhabited my 30’s and felt genuinely at home there. It was an era that moved at a seemingly rational pace. I remember morning and evenings and entire years and the generally happy, reasonable progression between them. I matured, grew, and evolved into someone I understood as whole, worthwhile, and stable.
The minute I arrived in my 40’s, I realized how little I’d really known and understood during the decade before. I had consistently acted with random intent, thinly disguised as careful decision-making and thoughtful planning. I had been a reckless over-grown child, acting the part of a together 30-something. At 40, the past came into focus as a less-than ideal vision, just in time for me to start needing to wear glasses.
My late 40’s seem to continue what started as an era of the authentic, the honest and the true. I am not afraid to admit mistakes and I am less afraid than ever of making them. I don’t yet suppose to know myself entirely and exactly, but I do have a pretty good relationship going on with me. I always accept the invitation to have a moment alone with myself and am never disappointed with the time spent doing so.
One of the main ways I spend time alone is waiting for other people. I wait in my car most afternoons for my son to emerge from high school and be driven home. I wait on the telephone a couple of times a week for the cable company or American Express (or someone else who has sent me a bill for something other than what I owe) to get my call. I wait silently and meditatively on a black rubber mat inside a pilates class before it starts.
I started taking Pilates because it works on my “core” strength. That’s a very kind way of saying it’s supposed to help my stomach look better. In my 20’s no matter how much I ate or drank the night before, in the morning my stomach was slightly concave. I always simply expected this daily physical reality, like my naturally straight teeth, assuming that was just the way I was put together. Which it was, except that I didn’t know there was an expiration date on some of the gifts I had come into this world with. Around 30 I began to notice there was no longer a concave quality to my abdomen in the mornings. A c-section at 33 forever severed a few muscles that I would later learn served as a retaining wall upon which part of my figure had not only had been utterly reliant, but until they were unceremoniously sliced, I had entirely taken for granted. At the time, my flat-ish mid-section seemed a small price to pay for my mightily-desired motherhood. And I was never really the bikini type anyway. But now, what has emerged over the past 6 months, directly where my abdomen used to be, is an unmistakable gut. This gut has driven me, twice a week, toward pilates and has also made me reconsider my lifelong fondness for beer.
My newfound gut is not the only recent change to my body. There’s the wrinkly too. I call it “The Mohonk Wrinkle” because that is the name of the hotel where I was, last Thanksgiving, when the wrinkle emerged just about the mid-way point on the left side of my forehead. I have alwyas been fairly wrinkle-free. I kept meaning to use moisturizers in my 20’s and 30’s but instead coasted on optimism and youthful procrastination. Ever since “The Mohonk Wrinkle” came to be, I have started dabbing the contents of a small eighty-five dollar jar of cream on my face and neck at night. I actually don’t know if this costly salve will have any positive effect on deterring future wrinkles from setting up camp on my face, but I’m willing to give it a try during the newfound slot of time I have each night that used to be allotted to drinking beer.
Koji is the utterly sympathetic and entirely trustworthy Asian man who has been applying a Japaneses straightening treatment to my hair, twice a year, since I was 24. The hair I was born with was incredibly wild-somewhere between a fake afro on steroids and, to quote my other’s constant refrain during my childhood “a giant Brillo pad”. I blow dried my hair nearly to death in an every-losing battle to control it until I discovered the–then nascent–straightening process from Japan. I never looked back. I never blow dried again. And when I immersed myself in water (which I have a history of doing whenever possible) chemical straightening allowed me the audacity of never even rinsing out pool chlorine or ocean salt. Thanks to chemical straightening, my hair always just hangs down, as neat and presentable as I would ever require it to be, with zero concern or maintenance. Japanese hair straightening is the only thing in my life which solves a chronic problem consistently, effectively, and with no real effort on my part. The thing is, if I dye my hair to get rid of the grey, I will be using two chemical treatments, not one. And that could make my hair fall out. Koji said it’s not definite, that is also possible I won’t suffer extreme hair loss if I color my hair, but there’s simply no way to be completely sure. After seeing me twice a year, for 5 hours at a stretch, for more than a quarter century, Koji intuitively understands that when it comet o avoiding my own baldness that I need to be completely sure.
My father went bald when he was 19, and died just as bald in his mid-70’s. Not completely shaven bald like the Mister Clean man, but definitely bald. Nothing on top, and certainly no high-growing overhang one can use to try and disguise baldness. My parents were always worried that my older brother would inherit this perceived genetic flaw, and he did. But except for hair which won’t grow how and where he’d like it, my brother bears no resemblance to my father. I, on the other hand, have always been told that i look like my father, although I never saw any real evidence of this. Since my father was a bald, cigar-chomping fat man and my mother was a blonde lithe 26-inch-waisted former model, I always thought, when distant relatives and family friend would tell me how much I looked like my father rather than my mother, that they were just being cruel.
Of course I knew I didn’t look anything like my brother, because in our teens and twenties whenever we went out together people assumed we were linked romantically instead of genetically. And I look so little like my mother that once, when I was directing an actor named Tony Randal in a commercial, I let my mother be a background face in the crowd in order for her to watch me work. I was around 24, probably passing for a bit older to explain my early job success, and I knew it would be somewhere between pathetic and career suicide to have my mommy show up on set. But I did it because I also knew there was zero risk to my being discovered. At that point my mother looked like an older Lauren Bacall and I looked like a thinner Rosie O’Donnel. And, supposedly, like my father, (although as I said, I never saw it.)
But then there was the one picture a couple years ago, taken just before the onset of “The Mohonk Wrinkle.” In it I am smiling a broad un-self-conscious toothy smile. And in it, my face is my father’s. Like evidence of a heinous crime, I deliberately destroyed that picture, forever deleting it from the technology on whi it lived, but not from the organic roots of its germination. Unfortunately, it has since become a recurring scenario. My father’s face, like a weird riff on The Picture of Dorian Gray is slowly seeping into my face, pressing itself forward from the inside out. At least that’s what the photographs show, and lately, the mirror as well, when I start too long and smile that same toothy smile. Am I doomed, in some warped alternate universe I mentally dread yet am physically gravitationally drawn towards, to end up a cigar chomping, bald, fat man?
At least I feel I can safely say cigars are out of the question when it comes to my future. I can’t stand even the second-hand smoke from them when i smogs pas me as I walk along Main Street. Frankly, I can’t even stand listening to old Sinatra recordings because it reminds me of the men who create the second-hand smoke which smogs past me as I walk along Main Street. (Don’t get me started on navy pin-stripe suits, silk suspenders, and voting Republican…sometimes a cigar is simply emblematic of so very much more…)
And of course I don’t imaging I’ll end up a man, as I was neither born one, nor aspire surgically to become one (the only two ways one can get there, to my knowledge.) But, like many men, I did start dating women in my 30’s. And a little while after turning 40, I married one of them. I married the loveliest most amazing one of them ever, (and I’ve know and continue to know some profoundly lovely and thoroughly amazing women.) I fell in love with her long before I realized it, and just slightly before I started becoming aware of the physical manifestations of my own aging. Shortly after she and I had fallen for each other, we were at the ocean watching some enormous epic-strength waves curl and roll about, but not crash into and destroy one another. I asked her if she wanted to grow old together. She told me she was hoping we could grow young together.
It’s funny that really I don’t know that much about aging, considering I’ve been doing it all along. Most days I try not to focus too much on it. I figure the reality that my period is late, or the possibility that it is skipped, or eventually missing altogether, cannot possibly be as interesting as the rest of a constantly changing, generally surprising, eternally evolving life.