Lately, since around the time I turned 50, I’ve been especially aware of the elderly. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE ….but they are not the adorable, talcum powder-dusted, petite roller-curled shiny white hair types that I’ve only ever noticed before I reached half a century old!!! These have walkers and canes, and WRINKLES! They look weary, they’re slow-moving, they’re unfriendly and grumpy, they glare at me and I’m sure, deep down in my bones kind–of–sure, that they are here to take me with them… OVER TO THE DARK SIDE!!!
But this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about death and dying.
I was the tender age of 12 when I came face to face with my mortality and realized that someday I was going to die. Actually, I’m surprised it had taken this long as I had experienced death both in my family and in the families of friends. Regardless, I continued to feel invulnerable; and death, particularly mine, was not a subject that concerned me. Mostly, I thought about my flat chest that refused to bud and the imaginary novels that I would someday write, usually about me being rescued by a handsome prince who loved me despite my apparent lack of boobs.
I was excited today because I was hanging with Aunt Mary!
She was probably my favourite human ever. She treated me like a person, made me feel important, and it wasn’t because she was indulgent and immature herself. In fact, she was quite the opposite. We had spent the day cleaning the house until it was spotless, and there were no concessions made for me … I dusted, scrubbed, waxed, and laboured alongside Aunt Mary until the house was spic and span! And every now and then I took a bathroom break and, heart pounding, budless breasts feeling funny-ish, read a couple pages of her paperback Harlequin! DID ADULTS REALLY CARRY ON LIKE THIS??? The words gave me goose bumps in my face and, to this day, I ONLY get face goose bumps when something really
touches moves me.
But I digress.
My Aunt Mary made even cleaning fun, talking to me, asking questions, joking, and always laughing! She let me hold baby Sonia and feed her too! Every now and then she asked for my opinion!!!
“Do you think we need to add more salt to the soup?” I was gloating as I assured her we did not; the soup was perfect!
And life felt even more perfect than the potato soup simmering on my aunt’s stovetop. Soon, Baby Sonia would be in bed for the night, and Aunt Mary and I would start our Crazy Eight card tournament, lasting until midnight when Sonia would wake for her nightly feeding. Four hours of playing cards with Aunt Mary was almost as exciting to me as having a brand new novel to read! And I SWEAR I don’t mean a Harlequin novel!!!
The only thing left to do was walk to Mac’s and get some food to sustain us during said tournament. I checked my pocket, for about the fifth time, feeling for the 20 dollar bill my aunt had entrusted to me. This green note would supply the pop, chocolate, cheesies, and flakes necessary for the perfect night! Twenty minutes later, I pulled open the squeaky door of Mac’s and adjusted my eyes to the dingy light as I tip-toed around the narrow rows, collecting the dust-covered treats that would later help me concentrate as I decided whether to collect hearts or diamonds. For me, it was always hearts or diamonds….probably the result of reading too many novels…. And probably why I worried too much about my boobs.
I shoved my loot onto the counter and got ready to answer the clerk’s usual quip, “Crazy Eights tonight?!” But she was silent, and if my eyes weren’t deceiving me, she looked like she was crying. I wasn’t sure what to say; 12-year olds weren’t really supposed to be nosy about adult business. I stood there fumbling for words until she broke the awkward silence.
“Have you heard?”
“Heard what?” I was confused.
“Elvis is dead.”
I was stunned and couldn’t believe my ears. Elvis? The King of Rock N’ Roll? Pretty much the King of the world, or at least the King of my little Newfie world.
BIGGER THAN LIFE ELVIS…. was dead?
I don’t remember paying or what I said; just a floating feeling as I stumbled out of the store with my bag of goodies. Everything around me fell away… the fog-covered bay, the dories bobbing on the shores of the banks, the seagulls scrambling for the last of the herring littering the rocky beach….I was all alone, a pin-point dangling in the universe. Elvis was dead. And I was on the brink of adulthood, shedding my childhood innocence. I silently wept as I made my way home to Aunt Mary. The funny thing is I really wasn’t crying for Elvis. The thought that kept assaulting my senses, overwhelming any reasoning, reverberating over and over in my head was,
“IF SOMEONE LIKE ELVIS CAN DIE, THEN SOMEDAY I’M GONNA’ DIE TOO!”
For the rest of the evening, I mourned Elvis, but mostly my impending death. Aunt Mary hugged me, and she cried too. We listened to the King sing in the background as our cheesy-stained fingers shuffled and reshuffled the deck of cards. We cried. We laughed. We sang along. I used the bathroom a LOT. Aunt Mary thought maybe I had a kidney infection. Ahem…..
And tonight I collected spades. Because life isn’t just made up of fairy tale stuff like diamonds and hearts. Boobs or no boobs, I was growing up.
Fast-forward 38 years, and I was wrestling again with the idea that, like it or not, I was gonna’ die someday. I had spent the decades since collecting mostly hearts and diamonds, not spades …. and I finally had my boobs, thanks to cancer. Life was pretty good, except for this pesky senior problem I seemed to be facing. I remember when I was pregnant with twins, decades ago, and suddenly there were twins everywhere! Strangely, they had not existed until they were taking over my womb!
Similarly, when I started running, I realized half the world was already running. I saw them on every street corner, coming out of the woodwork… running, running, running.
And now, much less willingly, I was entering a new community, one less enviable than that of mother of twins or runner. I was just at the cusp of it, my first trimester you could say; nonetheless, it was not a passage I could avoid.
Unless I died.
NOPE. I want to live. And NOT like I’m dying! I’ve watched a few people die, and it’s not that much fun. But that’s another post!
I will live in the moment, just today, not fretting about the future nor regretting the past.
I will continue to learn and explore and create and DARE!!!
I will take life by the throat and be the mothereffin’ beast that I know exists beneath this bone and marrow and sinew.
I will no longer hijack my dreams; I will make them fly.
I won’t be that person standing outside of my life and looking in, wondering what it would have been like if I’d had the courage to go after my dreams.
I’m gonna’ show up, every day …. kicking, screaming, laughing, fighting, and living!
And someday I’m gonna’ rock white hair.