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Illustration by April Dela Noche MIlne
Excuse me, yes, you, behind the cosmetics counter, holding the jar of Rejuvenating Derma Glitter Cream – hi, it’s me again. I came back because I took a closer look at this little packet you dropped into my bag after my purchase and I’d like to return it. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, I love a free sample as much as anyone, but this is anti-aging serum so I don’t want it. I’d like to keep aging. Too many of my favourite people stopped aging and I miss them terribly. My mom stopped aging, my dad stopped aging, even Sandra stopped aging, much too soon. Yes thank you for asking, Sandra was a close friend of mine, we’d known each other since kindergarten if you can believe it, over 50 years, and I think about her every day.
I think about us saying goodbye to each other outside a mediocre Thai food restaurant. We wanted to keep talking, we had more to say, but it was so cold we were crushing the sidewalk salt with our boots to keep our toes from freezing. So we hugged goodbye and ran to the warmth of our own cars. I didn’t know I’d never see her again. On another day she dressed for work, drank her tea, dealt with traffic, collapsed at her desk and stopped aging. Sandra, one of the best people I’ve known, won’t see her sons settle into their adult lives, won’t enjoy the romance she was on the cusp of experiencing after such a long time, and won’t see the countries that had to wait until she’d taken care of so many people in her life. She’ll never know her grandchildren and they won’t know her. Yes, I’d like to keep aging.
Yet here you stand in the middle of a suburban mall like the new Professor of the Dark Arts pushing a death potion. Well, I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, but I’m sensitive these days about leaving anything unsaid. And what else am I supposed to think when you use the term “anti-aging,” written in sparkles to distract me like I’m some kind of fool. Okay, it worked for a moment, it’s rose gold and I’m only human, but I get the message. You want to get rid of me and every woman like me. Please don’t tell me you have good intentions, that you only wanted me to feel better about myself because as soon as I saw the label I felt worse and I haven’t even opened it. Contrary to what you’ve heard, words can hurt me. And this stuff is powerful.
In fact it’s almost 100 per cent effective. The words sink under my skin and start to work immediately delivering visible results within seconds. One look in the mirror and I’m unhappy. I’m used to this of course, at each stage of life we women are given new grounds to feel lousy about ourselves dependent on the trends at the time, but I thought it would end when we reached retirement, like a seniors discount. I figured since we’d spent decades working, hustling, slogging, navigating, pleasing, grieving, cleaning, feeding, planning, labouring, organizing, jostling and lugging crap up and down the stairs, we’d finally earned the right to be comfy with who we are. Nope, chop-chop, I’m supposed to spend what’s left of my precious little time, money and energy proving to the world that “I’ve still got it,” when I don’t even want it anymore. Exhausting, one glimpse of Jane Fonda and I need a nap.
Yet if I don’t play along I’ll be dismissed like so many who’ve aged before me. Old wives and witches are still taking the heat centuries later. But I bet they liked themselves. I bet they didn’t waste too much time peeking in the pond and pulling back the skin on their necks. I guess those are my people. The ones who aren’t on our radar or our TVs. The soft-sloped woman with a fuzzy face and soapy scent rummaging in her purse for a humbug, the tiny bird of a woman all lines and wrinkles with a tear-stained poodle in her trolley, and my mom who didn’t care what anybody thought of her before she stopped aging.
Except her grandchildren, for whom she kept her nails their favourite colours and wore cheap battery-operated jewellery that lit up every holiday. Being a grandmother was her finest hour. “Super Nanny,” my husband called her. She’d bundle our daughters in pajamas straight from the dryer and cuddle with them on the couch. They’d share secrets and stories while the girls stroked the skin under her arms – yes, the flabby area people make fun of, they’d hold onto it like a security blanket. Mom and I laughed about it. But not the girls, they were lost in the softness and comfort of Nanny. There was worth in those tuckered triceps. I’m pretty sure it’s a privilege to make memories like that.
So take this free sample back, you’re not putting an end to me. And if, as you claim, I have misunderstood your intentions, then accept my apology and tell the schmuck in charge of inventing endless products for women of a certain age to be more careful when naming them. Tell them to not confuse aging with dying. Aging isn’t dying, aging is living, it’s what we do from the moment we’re born until we die. We should all be so lucky to age against the dying of the light.
Kathryn Greenwood lives in Toronto.
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