When her head is turned away, I steal glances at the older woman sitting next to me on the modeling stand. Her body is falling off her frame. Her breasts reach down to her waist. Her arm flesh gathers on the underside of her arm bone. Her thighs are bunched up above her knees and her belly collects above her pubic hair. This may not seem unusual for a seventy-five year old woman but like me, she is an avid hiker, and has been all her life. She can still put in fifteen miles a day in the high peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the most challenging and steep trails in the country, so how can she possibly look like this? This is unbelievable, unfathomable. How can “fit” look this bad? I naively thought if I stayed active and worked out, I could stave off much of aging’s sad results.
Tamara Hirsch left Nazi Germany many years ago hidden in the bow of a ship bound for America. The Catholics had created a safe hiding place for her as this 13-year old girl was slated to become a sex kitten for Hitler’s men. The very next boatload of kids got caught. Hers was the last boat to freedom. I met Tamara many decades later here at Kutztown University, where she is also a life drawing model.
My professor and friend, Anna Kuo, thinks it is a very good thing for students to see and draw a seventy-five year old woman. She is real, she is the future. It is a very good thing for me to see her too, to prepare myself. My God, I think, I am going to look like this someday, regardless of how many mountains I climb or how swiftly I pedal my bike.
The other day, my daughter Sierra and I were doing yoga together and while in downward dog position, she glanced over and looked at my knees. Sure enough, gravity was causing the skin to become unhinged and hang independently from my knee bones.
“What is that?” she acts horrified.
“The work of gravity. It’s gross, isn’t it?” I reply.
“What do you expect?” she answers, “You’re old.”
“I am not old.”
“Ok, you’re older,” she retaliates.
“Look,” I reply in defense. “My legs can do anything yours can do at twenty years old, maybe even better. Besides, I don’t feel much different from I did at thirty years old. ”
I’ve always said that I just want to be able to move through my world. It didn’t matter what I looked like. But I don’t think that is necessarily true.
When my hair began to lose its pigment, instead of white I thought of it as platinum blonde, which I always wanted to be. But my son said I reminded him of Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit,” and when I acted crushed at this insult, he quickly told me he was merely kidding. I know he was not.
And now with Tamara leaning against my back, and my children poised to launch into the adult world, I am thinking of my own mortality or at least begin to embrace the fact that I am approaching change.
My husband does not care if my body is beginning to fall off my skeleton. He sees the coming change as a good thing. He thinks we will be going back to the way life was before children (BC). He dreams of sharing baths together in the same tub, doing naked yoga together, having spontaneous sex in every room on every surface, at all times of the day and night.
I personally think, that no matter how much a father loves their children, the husband lies in wait to get their wife back, from the first episode of breast-feeding when the cold reality hits them that those breasts are no longer “theirs” (and never were, I remind him) until the last child goes away to college and moves out. I told my husband that you can’t ever go back and I am not sure I would even want to. Up until now, I have merely written around the edges of my life, lining the margins. After all these years of taking care of everyone’s needs first, I’m thinking that it might be time for me.
(looking for feedback from my readers- please comment)