When I wake up this morning, I am 85 years old.
I notice it right away. Walking from the bedroom into the kitchen to feed the dog, I am vividly aware of my feet, my right knee, the small of my back, a spot deep beneath the blood-red heart with raven’s wings that hovers on an invisible wind over my right shoulder blade.
I am vividly aware of these body parts not in my usual “I freakin’ love the fact that all of me is an erogenous zone” way, or in a New Age state of my-physical-being-as-God consciousness. I am vividly aware of them because they hurt.
Creaky, slow, rusted-bicycle-chain-stuck-in-the-sprocket kind of hurt.
I actually wince a couple of times as I crab my way from dog food cupboard to dog bowl; said four-legged goblin cocks his Martin Scorsese eyebrows at me and inhales his breakfast, unimpressed. After a few minutes I loosen up, so to speak, and the pain subsides, morphing from bicycle chain to leg irons and manacles.
Not only did I gain 35 years overnight, apparently I also gained 45 pounds…all of it heavy metal.
An hour later, Mark and I are laced up for our customary three-mile Saturday run through our sweetly suburban hillside neighborhood. By this time I am maneuvering impressively, in my opinion, despite my recently acquired medieval dungeon accoutrement. We walk to warm up, then hit the pavement at our mailbox starting line.
“Jesus,” Mark groans. We are half a block in, and already our pace is noticeably lagging. “What the hell happened to my body? Who came in the night and replaced it with this old thing?”
Mark is 21 months younger than me. He will always be 21 months younger. I remind him of this fact yet again, as well as the fact that being a man, his hormones will not be filming a remake of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” using his body as a soundstage anytime soon. Mine, on the other hand? Let’s just say I’m preparing a killer acceptance speech to have at the ready come Oscar time.
My husband laughs, as always, at my mathematical assessment of our differences, and reminds me that I always outpace him up the hills, even if I am waaay older. I smile, feeling his easy love for me; I am convinced my age, and my body, have betrayed me.
* * * * * * *
Menopause has been easier for me than for most, I suppose. So has turning 50. I’ve never burst into tears or flame in public, my favorite drugstore brand wrinkle-reducing/skin-firming moisturizer happens to actually work, and my libido is happily intact, thank you very much. And part of me has loved being the hip, cool crone who smokes her eyes with iridescent liner, two-steps rings around twenty year olds every Tuesday night and can still rock jeans with style names like “Vanessa” and “The Kiss.”
“So what seems to be the problem?” you might ask, most likely with a touch of impatience.
I’m tired, I would answer. Probably with a bit of a whine.
I no longer have the energy to fly Mach 5 with my hair on fire through my days. Then there’s the aforementioned bicycle chain situation. And the girls, Vanessa and The Kiss? About ten pounds too young as of about ten months ago. And not merely because Mark is an amazing cook and I’m an amazing foodie. Remember, I’m a math whiz. I was also a personal trainer and aerobics instructor during one of several professional incarnations in this lifetime. I know how to calculate calories in minus calories out.
Menopause, it turns out, likes to fuck with the calculator.
Each week, it seems, I collect new and unwarranted physical quirks like some grim dime-store charm bracelet. I feel heavy and broken and unwieldy and all the things I know to do to make myself feel better no longer work. And that’s terrifying to me.
A few weeks back, heading down I-5, we passed a Cadillac Coupe DeVille, that at one time must have been someone’s pride and joy, once the color of a freshly hatched robin’s egg with a vinyl top like frozen whipped cream. Now, a pox of rust has erupted on the faded quarter panels and along the hood, the vinyl top leprous with mildew and age. Above the static whir of tires on asphalt we could hear the Cadillac rattle and wheeze, its sad rear bumper nearly shaving the pavement, as if whatever was in the trunk was probably wrapped in blankets and would be dumped in a vacant lot outside of town as soon as it got dark.
That’s me, I remember thinking, watching the car with a sharp and sudden distaste. Colors faded, shocks gone bad, carrying my tangled woman-cells like some immense, unsavory secret deep in a compartment in my bones.
I am used to being I.N. C.O.N.T.R.O.L., particularly of my physical self, but this hormone thing is beyond even my considerable capabilities. And I am unaccountably furious with myself because of it.
It is this last awareness that finally pulls me, humbled, from my own self-loathing.
If the body is a temple of the living God, then I am standing outside of mine, rattle can in hand, spray-painting obscenities on the walls and windows in artistically vulgar strokes of green and grey. I’m pissed off because my physical self has the unmitigated audacity to go through the natural cycles of maturation. I mean, really. How dare it.
So where’s God in all of this for me? Probably stuffed in the back of that Coupe DeVille, wrapped in a blanket, headed south in a hurry out of town. I have once again oh-so-humanly tied God’s hands and duct-taped His mouth, stopped Him cold from helping me, because not only am I trying to figure out the answers myself, I’ve grown angry and afraid because I can’t.
Not much wiggle room in a trunk…even if it is a Cadillac.
Liz told me a while back, when my struggle first began, “God is bigger than menopause.” I now recognize that I have not let Him be. Funny how, as “limited” humans, we actually set the parameters for God’s omnipotence.
So, I finally pray for guidance and I get it, of course, almost immediately, in the form of a trusted friend’s trusted Naturopath. Appointments are made. Tests are run. Supplements are being implemented. There is a plan now, a direction, actions to take, and there is space for faith and hope in the unfolding. There is room once more for miracles.
There is also fear that I will never again have control over my body. I can hear it, deep in me, rattling around somewhere in the back between the jack and the spare tire. And as much as I might rage against the admission, I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point. I need to cultivate balance, but only after I relinquish my desired control to God. I’m still figuring out what that looks like, and I can say without hesitation that I hate it, and that right now I suck at it, big time.
I want to honor my body. I really do. I want to respect it, acknowledge it for all it has accomplished, all it has overcome, all the life it has managed to pack into and express out of five feet two-and-a-quarter inches these last fifty years… give or take ten pounds.
I have always been good at striving for perfection, achieving a respectable degree of it, and raising the bar every time I do. What I’m not so good at is self-appreciation, self-acceptance, and the aforementioned balance thing. I anticipate yet another learning curve up ahead on this particular stretch of highway.
I suppose it would all be infinitely easier if I would just pull over and open the damn trunk.