So I got new glasses. And it’s just amazing what it’s like to read again and see the words, to drive again and see the road, to look at a label on coconut milk and see the actual ingredients. But peering into the mirror is a whole other thing. The new prescription has given my wrinkles identities. This deep groove in the middle of my forehead is my father‘s heart attack. He is 50 and I am 15 and he keels over and is gone in less than a minute leaving my mother, a 44 year old widow with no money and no career.
These tiny permanent creases . . . well, now that I can see, not so tiny creases, are from when we learned our nine-month old baby was diagnosed with diabetes.
I have seen and acknowledged these lines in my face before but now I am looking in the old tarnished mirror that hasn’t been cleaned (because I couldn’t see that it was dirty) in the dimly-lit bathroom with the new glasses and I hear myself yelling Oh My God! I got old! The decibel level is rising and my husband runs into the bathroom to see if I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. I look at him and scream maybe even louder, Oh My God! You got old too!
And then we crack up in one of those bend over, holding our sides laughing fits. The thing about aging together is that when it first starts and you ask your partner of several years, is this a new brown spot, and he looks and says I don’t know, maybe, you can’t really see it because your hair covers it. And then he asks are my sideburns blonde or gray and you say whatever they are they make you look even more gorgeous. You just keep on seeing the person at the age you first met them. Or even younger. I married my husband when we were both 26 and I swear I can see his 13 year old Bar Mitzvah face. For you folks who are thinking of trading in your old ride for a younger one I might be able to offer some unsolicited advice. You may look great today to attract that new young thing but when your parts start to flab up and drop down, these changes that your old loyal best friend wouldn’t have even noticed will jump out in stark relief. You might say oops after a really short time in the shiny new romance.
In a culture where we want easy, working hard on a relationship is hard work. The thing about staying with the original partner is that looks are the first to go. But then that gets replaced by the wise person whom you married.
My husband taught me one of the most important lessons of my life; what other people think of me is none of my business. And I taught him how to answer the phone.
But who am I to give you advice?
I’ll tell you who I am. I am a person who has been married for 45 years and at year 11, I was hoping a car would hit him. I give myself no credit for sticking it out, however. A lot of it was fear of being alone and worrying if I would ever marry again. Of course he doesn’t remember that there was a problem so I let him have his perspective.
Recently a photographer called me about a project he’s doing called “365.” He’s taking a photograph of a different person every day for a year and asked me if he could do me in two weeks. I emailed him saying, it’s winter. I’m pale. I have circles under my eyes. I have wrinkles on my wrinkles. But yes, because I know enough now to know that in 10 years I will look at the photo and say wow, I really looked good, huh?
Glasses or no glasses.
Nancy Slonim Aronie teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. She won the Derek Bok Teacher of the Year award at Harvard for the three years she taught for Robert Coles. She is a commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Her book Writing From The Heart has gone into its seventh printing and will be released as an Ebook this May.