Fair warning: This one’s a long one, even for me.
I might have titled this essay: Sweet, Helpful Young Lady Throttled by Bitter Old Woman. Or perhaps: Leave Me Alone, I’m Not Dead Yet. Or maybe: Through the Mirror Birthday Darkly.
I call years when both digits match ‘mirror birthdays’. My first was when I turned eleven, my second at twenty-two, you catch the drift. This week I celebrated my sixth mirror birthday when I turned sixty-six.
In the past, I’ve use these years for introspection, examining my life’s journey, the direction I’m headed, and making sure I still have a dream worth chasing. Every eleven years seemed like a good checking-in point, and sure enough it has been. I’ve used them to recognize, react to, and finally accept realities in my life. They give me a minute to poke my head above water and reorient my place in the world. I’ve anchored myself to my past, willing myself into the future. Sounds good, no?
Yeah, and it worked for the first five mirror birthdays. But this one…this one feels vastly different. For one thing, by noon I wanted to murder someone.
I’ve tried to keep up with technology as I age, unlike my own grandparents who simply ignored all innovation past television, or my mother who refused to figure out how to work a cell phone. I wondered why they didn’t want to stay modern, chase the changes, become the future?
Now I know how much work it is to grasp new concepts, connect them to other half-understood ideas, and translate all of that into real world, right now, hands-on competence while also dealing with biological consequences that drain your health and mental well-being after sixty. I say that because I struggle with apps, well one app in particular.
Being a hip great-grandmother means I order from the McDonald’s app with fair regularity. After the first two years, I’d gotten the hang of it and then Covid…sigh. Another two years and I’m coping with their eat-in/take-out/drive-thru alternatives, no-healthy-options-menu (c’mon, apple slices soaked to tastelessness don’t count), restricted ‘deals’ that never change, and even a clunky points reward system. Okay, I’m still not ordering off the cool kids menu, but nuggets are good enough for me.
On the day of my birthday I gathered up my sweeties and headed to McDonald’s for lunch. While my wife drove I pulled up the app to start our order, but I’d been signed out. When we arrived, their Wi-fry was too weak to service their app, so I switched to 4G (see? I’m trying). I finally logged in and got our somewhat complicated order placed. (Trust me, even that nightmare beats ordering from bored pimply faced kids who hadn’t been born when I started eating where they now work, telling me they can’t do this or that can’t be done when I’ve had it that way for years.)
Except my order wouldn’t process. It hung-up and never completed the payment, just giving me a pop up that said they were sorry and to try again later. Frustrated, I tried three, four, five times before finally going up to the counter and telling the manager my tale of woe. She looked in her system and couldn’t find the order I was pretty sure I’d already paid for, perhaps multiple times. I was loitering near the counter tap, tap, tapping away on the app trying to make it work before giving in and placing the order verbally, when it happened…
A young woman in her mid to late twenties started ‘helping’ me by explaining how the app worked and reassuring me that she had trouble using it too. She threw a knowing glance at the manager over my head, and then
Yep, the day I’ve dreaded since the first time I watched it happen to my aging mother has arrived. A helpful young snot, totally discounting my experience or expertise, was going to ‘show’ me how to do what I wanted done.
Grr… A thousand feelings raced through me as I stepped out of her reach, angling my back and shoulder toward her in a very clear attempt to block her. Undeterred, the pretty blond reached around me and nearly grabbed my phone.
“See?” She showed me her phone open to the app deals. “You do it like this.”
I jerked away from her and turned to tell the sweet young thing off, when the manager announced my order finally came through and was already being prepared. I muttered, “Thank God,” which the blond seemed to assume included her.
“Oh good, you did it,” she said cheerfully as she placed her order for a coffee to go. I stalked back to our table. Lunch arrived a few minutes later and the day proceeded apace.
I look old. My possessions are old. I use antiquated words and turns of phrase (see?). I feel old with creaking joints and aches everywhere. I tell stories about people who are old themselves now, so I write stories about young people like the youngster I still am inside.
I’m old and that’s HORRIBLE. Right? I mean, isn’t that what I’ve been watching in horror happen to those before me? I wanted to ask my neighbor when she was fighting her third bout with breast cancer what it felt like to watch her beautiful face crease, blotch, sag…and then she died and I couldn’t.
I remember watching older co-workers fanning hot flashes, plucking hairs from once softly rounded cheeks, fingers and backs growing crooked and painful. Did they know it was happening as it happened, or did they wake up one morning to find an old person staring back at them from the mirror?
The beautiful celebrities of my childhood disappeared from view, discarded as worthless once their sex appeal waned. I (and everyone else) would gasp to see two photos in their obits always side by side: one of them at the height of their beauty and one of them taken shortly before they died. “Tragic,” we’d mutter.
And now here I am, the quirky old lady I’d always hoped I’d become just without the fame, fortune, and thick silver-gray braids hanging down to my waist. Let’s face it, this might be my very last mirror birthday so I’d best use it wisely. Time to take stock of my life, tally totals to measure wins and losses, defeats and recoveries. And if I’m going to have a last hurrah it’s time to knuckle down.
I’mma get my kicks on my Route 66. Com’on along for the ride or get outta my way.
For All the Youngsters Still Wondering: I’ve known for twenty years that my body is changing and not for the better. It did hurt to watch my face crumbling each morning as I washed it. I agonized over every new wrinkle until I finally got used to it or a new one showed up to focus on. Still, I sometimes get startled by the stranger in the mirror and way too many times I’ve ducked cameras for family photos that now I can’t be remembered in. Not to mention I’d have looked younger in those pics than at any time since.
No snotty blonds were injured or insulted in an actual McDonald’s. Daydreams of an author, however…