I have heard others say that life begins at 40. It’s been that year for me and definitely new things have started to happen, but few of them give me the feeling of an impressive start. What kind of a good beginning is it when the moment you wake up in the morning you start with some groan falling from the sky, some back ache, a hurting leg or some other part of your body in pain. Almost every day you wake up with some new ache! And to put a stamp on this whole new beginning, you have the most trusting reminder.
The mirror never lies to you! Forget the physical pain, the moment you turn your eyes towards the mirror you see the pillow marks that have covered your face overnight, and it takes them more than half an hour to disappear. These get on your nerves more than the lines that have formed on your face over the years. You start and blame the mirror: ‘I don’t know why, but this mirror reflects the image slightly skewed.’ You look at it and your reflection reminds you of some aunt of yours, a neighbor or some woman that you have no relation to her whatsoever! Your hair is glued to the back of your head as if all night and day you leaned your head on something. You try hard to give your hair a different shape but… without success.
Could something new begin when everything starts going down with the pull of gravity? Look, or maybe I’d better say don’t look at some women, my age, who think it is the right time to experiment with their looks more than at any other time in their lives. They wear very short mini skirts; reveal a very low cleavage, thinking that exposing their bodies could win them some points. No, no, no, not at this age!
Something I found hard to believe when I was younger was women discussing their concerns about their sight. I had the impression they were doing this just to show off! Start wearing spectacles in order to look more ‘sophisticated’ or more ‘intelligent’. How would the eyes know when you step into your forties? It’s not that I don’t like the way the others look when they wear glasses. On the contrary, those who have been wearing glasses for a long time seem to me better looking with them on than without them. It’s because my body used to be ‘allergic’ to them – whenever I tried them on (until quite recently) I needed a long time for my sight to get back to normal. I have bought a pair of them with a number (dioptre) that I have set myself (just like our grandfathers used to do). I can see better with them – when I have no other options sometime – but I must admit, nobody has seen me wear them yet.
We can talk about hormonal changes, when you start getting on people’s nerves, blaming them, with no reason at all. Why did you take this picture of me from so close up?! In fact, as soon as you meet someone new, you run to your photo albums to say to them, ‘This is how I looked.’ Or with those that you have not seen for years who ask you to send them some pictures over the internet, you go and look for some old photo and keep quiet the fact that this picture was taken … you have forgotten actually how many years ago!
You do not know whom to trust: those who say to you that you’re looking good or those who suggest that you try and look after yourself more. Mostly you listen to those who are more experienced that say to you “you are not young any more; you should ‘rejuvenate’ yourself.” Not that you don’t want to try new things but usually you end up even more disappointed. You go and powder your face, you coat your eyelashes with black, smear a few shadows on your eyelids and, a few moments later, it’s better not to look at yourself in the mirror at all. You look as if you had been holding your face over steam or that you had been caught in some heavy rain – doodling that reminds you of circus actors. So, I have decided to stay true, until the end, to my lipstick only.
You start getting fewer and fewer compliments but you enjoy complimenting yourself on qualities you really had once and to add a hundred others that you never had. You look at your husband enjoying the comments that people have been making about his looks. Of course you are happy about that but this does not help the way you feel about yourself.
How did I imagine myself getting old?
Perhaps as an old lady who has put on a lot of weight and can hardly wait to gather her family at weekends and impress them with cooking that she has been learning for half a century; or some eccentric old lady that would ride a motorbike to the end. Maybe like some old lady who has reserved this part of her life to write, something she has wanted to do all her life but has kept postponing for later because of someone or something… But never as one who may try to hide her looks.
‘Forget the onset of forties,’ a colleague of mine once said to me, ‘in a while you’ll start being afraid to laugh because your urinary organs begin to give you signs that they are not under your control any longer. Then, probably your mind will start to play other games – not that you remember how you had imagined yourself as an old person, but probably you will wonder yourself if you have ever been different.’
We can only wish ‘to be happy and healthy for as long as we can be,’ and as for the nuances that the life brings with the passing of time, as spices to flavour our lives, we are only left with the option to greet them. Salute!