There is another pandemic happening other than COVID-19. It’s happening on my head, my feet, my hands, and my face. Quarantine is forcing me to witness the sneaky, stealth aging that is wreaking havoc on my body. Aging is cold, ruthless, unrelenting and there is no vaccine.
I had two great aunts, Tanta Hedwig and Tanta Frieda from Germany. For as long as I knew them they were old, extremely frugal, and fixed their hair like it was 1947. They wore floral house dresses, garter belts that hiked up their pantyhose, black orthopedic shoes, and no supply of roll-on deodorant. They had big age spots dotting their bodies like a pair of Dalmatians.
Onetime my sister Sandra and I visited their four-story walk-up. The space was sparse, gray with lawn chairs for furniture. As younger women, Hedwig and Frieda were domestics for the very rich and Hedwig took the advice of her boss, a financier who gave her stock tips. Supposedly she had accrued nice savings and took care of her sister who was managing happy dementia. Frieda liked to make collages out of newspaper and magazine clippings and she sometimes colored around her Elmer’s glued decoupage. On the day we visited, Frieda gave us some of her artwork.
“Shhhh,” Frieda whispered, sneaking a glance toward the little kitchenette to make sure Hedwig didn’t hear, “It’s for you. I made this for you.”
We “ooohed” and “ahhed” and “thanked” Frieda until Hedwig marched back into the room and scoffed in her thick accent, “They don’t want those silly pictures.”
On the way home from our visit, I said to my sister, “That’s going to be us someday; old roommates sharing a crappy apartment.”
“Well you’ll be Hedwig,” she chirped back, “Big and bossy.”
“Fine, you can be Frieda, stinky who colors outside the lines.”
The brief visit with Hedwig and Frieda stayed with me. These once stoic, strong women with perfect posture, and big bosoms were now gray and forgotten with just their fledgling bodies, long memories, and lawn furniture. The women died just a few years apart from each other each at the age of 100.
At 50, I feel like I am at the gateway to warp speed aging. Aging is revving up, ready to speed all over my body, my innards, and my mind. With no place to go, 50 plus days into the pandemic my right knee aches, there is a freckle that I can’t deny is really an age spot smack in the middle of my face, and my hair root line is more than an inch.
I am trying not to follow the lineage of Hedwig and Frieda. I am going through my closet and purging clothes purchased prior to 2010. I lather lotions all over me, tweeze my whiskers, deodorize, walk, run, do burpees, brush my teeth religiously and cultivate bangs to cover my forehead which has fifty lines like a tree has rings for each year it’s lived.
My great aunts had no children and both had marriages that ended prematurely in death and divorce. They loved Germany and tolerated America, they appreciated beautiful things like Hummels, crystal, and ornate steins and they liked being included in my parents’ family gatherings.
When I am elderly, I want more than the occasional visit to a nephew’s house. I don’t want to be alone with my collectibles, and as much as I don’t mind coloring in adult coloring books, I don’t want to sneak drawings under the dining room table to the grand-niece sitting to my left.
Maybe in a month, I can get my hair done, maybe that will mask the aging and my consciousness that growing old is happening every second of the day, every sunbeam on the skin, every breath I take. Maybe a fresh coat of powder gel on the nails, a good foot massage, and some new base makeup will allow me to pretend for a bit longer that nothing is happening to me. Maybe no one else will notice I don’t look 32 anymore because they are having their own aging pandemic rapidly receding their youth.