I remember a few years ago reading a piece by a woman who was apprehensive about turning 30. It was sent to me by a number of other female friends. Most sent me the link along with comments such as,
Wait until she hits 40.
I managed to get through the piece without too much eye rolling. It was well written. The mechanics were there, but I realized very quickly that I wasn’t her target audience. It felt strange reading it. It made me feel like a judgmental voyeur. I was the more world-weary and slightly bitter forty-something who just couldn’t relate. Thirty just seemed so incredibly young to me. Why is she so scared of thirty? Most people probably thought she was 25 anyway.
Our culture values youth above all else which makes very little sense in the grand scheme of things. Young people are beautiful, quixotic and passionate but they aren’t fully cooked yet. I don’t mean this to be some sort of insult to younger adults. As I’ve said many times to my much younger friends.
You’ll understand it better when you get here.
The disappointment and surprises life will throw at a person in two decades will shape them in ways they cannot possibly imagine when they are twenty-two.
Since then I’ve really felt the true pain of aging. I’ve lost friends for reasons that will never make any sense to me. Wonderfully radiant folks full of life who died suddenly or over the course of months. They braced themselves for their battles with tenacity and spirit yet died anyway.
The worst case of this was with the death of my dear friend Laura. She was a bright light who radiated joy in every direction. Even though she was a couple of years older than me she felt much younger to everyone who met her. She was one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. Nothing would stop her from achieving her goals of being a musical theater performer. No amount of heartarche or disapointment would cause her to spiral into self-pity. Her enthusiasm and idealism made her seem almost childlike. For reasons that will never make sense to me cancer took her life when she was in her mid-40s.
I found out she died via instant message from a mutual friend. The moment I read the words “Laura died,” I collapsed immediately. I fell to the ground and couldn’t stop crying. I had no idea she was even sick as she’d hidden her illness from most of her friends. I was in Manhattan on a residential street surrounded by people who breezed right past me. I forced myself to get up but briefly developed tunnel vision. I couldn’t see anyone or anything around me. My world went blurry and I could barely walk. I somehow managed to make it to the subway at Union Square and get back to Brooklyn. When I got home I scrolled through everything I could find about her on Facebook. I discovered it was cancer. She went quickly. She was surrounded by friends and family.
Years before we’d gotten into an argument over a costume I’d made for her. Laura was being neurotic and kept asking me for alterations. She sometimes did this with very little notice. I was annoyed with her but ultimately fixed the costume to her liking. I just needed a break for a while from the whole mess. Then I got divorced and my world collapsed. A couple of years later we re-connected via social media where Laura repeatedly invited me to come see her sing at various venues in Manhattan. I wanted to go. I was over our stupid disagreement. I just felt so embarrassed about my divorce. She had always known me as one half of a couple. It didn’t make any sense, but I had a hard time hanging out with certain friends after my divorce. I just felt so ashamed of everything that had happened. I was so broken by all of it. I always told myself I would catch her next show but I never took the opportunity to see Laura perform again.
Why was I so ashamed? Why did I avoid someone I loved so dearly? Our stupid disagreement about a costume was inane. We had resolved it anyway. Now she was gone. To this day I still have deep regret about not re-connecting with her before she died.
I’m currently as old as Laura ever lived. Along with Laura I’ve lost so many others. I would list them all but it would rip my heart out. All of them were beautiful people with so much life ahead of them.
When I look in the mirror I can see my jowls on the bottom of my jaw line. As I lose collagen in my face pockets form around my eye sockets. I check for gray hairs constantly and to see if there are any growing out of my chin. My eyebrows grow fainter and fainter with each year and my lashes aren’t as full anymore. My teeth get slightly chipped and more yellow. I notice how I’m slowly becoming invisible as younger women will always get more attention. That part doesn’t really bother me so much though as that kind of attention was so often unwanted. I can’t lose weight as easily as I used to and notice weight gain in places that I’ve never had before. For some bizarre reason I’ve gained weight in my rib cage even though I can clearly see my ribs through my skin. Dresses that have fit me for years must be donated to charity or given away to a younger friend. My cycle has gotten completely batshit crazy. I will spare you from the many dramatic details but most women in their mid-40s know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve added farsightedness to my severe nearsightedness. My contact lenses are mostly useless. I can see just fine until I have to read anything and then I absolutely must use reading glasses. If I’ve forgotten them that day than I simply can’t read fine print. I have to hand whatever I’m trying to decipher to a younger person or try to fake my way through the situation. Dim light in restaurants only makes it that much harder. My body aches and hurts for no reason. I sometimes wake up with stiff legs and shoulders. I’ve just learned to live with heel pain and the random knee stiffness.
In addition to my body falling apart I’ve had dreams and aspirations disintegrate or implode. I’ve performed Off Broadway and was in a show that was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. I produced a few of my scripts. I’ve been on sets with Spielberg and Scorsese. That sounds exciting but I was just an extra in their movies. A human prop who in one case was scolded for being “too big” to fit costumes the wardrobe department never bothered to pre-fit me for. It hasn’t all been a disappointment. I did what I set out to do. I became a theater actress and performed for nearly two decades. I just reached a point when it wasn’t fun for me anymore. I lost the love for an art form that I was once singularly obsessed. I no longer want to miss out on a job because my hips are one inch too wide or a Casting Director doesn’t like the sound of my voice. I have grown to loathe the lifestyle of never-knowing when my next job is starting and constantly bonding with other artists only to have a show close and then never see them again.
Most of my friends my age are in places they never dreamed they would be when they set out on their journeys 20 years ago. Nearly all of them have left the business or transitioned to a different aspect of entertainment or media. I don’t view any of this as failures. We just realized the reality of the life of an actor was not what we actually wanted. Even my friends who picked far more traditional paths have changed direction numerous times. They might start out wanting to be an accountant or teacher and then find themselves running a small business instead or staying home to raise children. It’s all one big crap shoot.
Marriages implode and new ones start. Children are born after tragic miscarriages or years long struggles to get pregnant. Babies die in the womb or soon after. Some friend have had partners desert them or let them down in spectacular ways. Others have battled addiction and won, while some still succumb to the constant war with their own minds. We all assume all of our friends and loved ones will live to a nice old age and then just fade out. That’s not what happens. Death is random. Disease is cruel and senseless. Accidents and violence sometimes take the best among us.
That’s life. That’s the 20 or so years a young person hasn’t lived yet. It’s not a straight path of glories and milestones. It’s often crooked and filled with dead ends.
Despite all of this though I still feel so lucky to have made it this far. I know in my heart my friends like Laura would love to go through all of it with me. It’s a gift that I’m still here. The screenplay of my life is not yet finished. It’s a gift that any of us are still here. Despite the many contradictions of pain and sorrow in this world and the disappointments people in our lives will put us through. We’re the lucky ones. We’re fortunate to get lines around our eyes and gray hairs. Just to see a sunrise or hear a baby’s laugh is a blessing sent from the universe to remind us of the connection we have to life itself.
To my friends who decided they couldn’t take it anymore and took their own life. I don’t judge you. I’ve felt that way at times and I know the terror that was inside of your mind. I wish you hadn’t done it and I can assure you plenty of people loved you so much. I won’t condemn you though because I know how hard that must have been. You did the best you could. You wanted the pain to stop and you ended it. I wish I could have stopped you but I’m still glad to have known you. You changed my life in ways you’ll never know.
So yeah I’m old. I’m not 25 anymore. I’m not 30. I soon will have to admit that I’m pushing 50. None of this is easy. If aging is the price we pay for life, I’ll take it. I’m sorry that I never got a chance to say goodbye to so many of my friends that left too soon but I swear to them I won’t bitch about sticking around. If I’m lucky I’ll fall apart. I’ll grow hair on my chin and my joints will creak and ache. My face will wrinkle and my eyes won’t be as bright. I’m just happy to still be here. I want to see all of your kids grow up and turn into astonishing human beings and have babies of their own. I embrace the ravages of time and consider myself fortunate to endure them. Being old is not a weakness. Growing old should not be scary. The next time you feel yourself angry for getting older remember all of those who weren’t lucky enough to stay here one day longer.
- A Straight Spouse Goes to a Dinner Party (straightforwardonline.blogspot.com)
- On Being a Straight Spouse: Broken Memories (julietjeskeblog.com)
- 10 Anti-gay Myths Debunked (Southernpovertylawcenter.com)
- Homophobia an Equal Opportunity Destroyer (julietjeskeblog.com)
- Collateral Damage in the LGTB Community (huffingtonpost.com)
- One Straight Spouse in Support of Marriage Equality (huffingtonpost.com)
- Chik-Fil-A Do you Really want to Run your Company on Biblical Values? (Huffingtonpost.com)
- How Did You Not Know? The Worst Thing you could say to a Straight Spouse (julietjeskeblog.com)
- Bonnie Kaye’s Official Gay Husband Checklist (gayhusbands.com)
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