My Turn: On turning eighty

  • mactrunk

Published: 1/13/2022 6:50:30 AM
Modified: 1/13/2022 6:49:37 AM

He turned 80 and she laughed. Not that it seemed all that funny. Not that it was a laughing matter. Not that her laugh was expected or that she knew why she laughed in the first place. More that the joke was on her.

“I’m married to an old man,” she cried, hysteria mounting, the hysteria overcoming the words.

“Was I always married to an old man?” she asked him, between spasms of giggles, her belly jiggling her old ladies’ belly.

“Emotional incontinence,” that was the doctor’s label when her brother suffered a stroke, often breaking down in weeping tears. In other words, she wasn’t dealing with his 80th birthday very well. Hers soon enough to follow. The inevitable truth of their aging not going down well.

When she looked at him, however, what she saw was his strength and vitality: the orange wool hat on his balding head, the spouts of gray hair sticking out, the Santa-like white beard he’s let grow and the weathering of his goodness. That he’s still here. That she’s here. Them, together, chugging their way up hills, she more breathless on the up, he more cautious on the down. And the care now needed to descend the sometimes slippery stairs. Stairs he built. When? Decades ago.

She dreamt he was lost. She couldn’t find him. She could only wait for him to come back home. Impatient, she opens the back door and claps three times. “Jack-Jack,” she calls, not his name. Later, when she wakes up, she thinks it’s odd that she was calling him back the way she does their cat, “Jack. Jack.” Clap. Clap. Clap. The cat, when he chooses to hear them call, always comes back. One day, she fears, the cat won’t. One day, she fears, he too, her guy, won’t. It’s not a good dream. Yet it lingers.

They were alone on New Year’s Eve. For dinner, they had leftover pot roast made by their daughter. She skipped the champagne because her stomach wasn’t having it. He prefers beer but he has mostly stopped that, too. They indulged instead on a piece of “Nana Cake,” golden cake with mocha frosting; his mother’s recipe. Also, a daughter’s handiwork.

For the evening, she put on pink tawny lipstick. He wore a new flannel shirt. They watched a classic black and white movie. And then, what they do-what they do … is dance. She put on Sam Cooke. An oldie, “A Change is Comin’.” It’s the one she loves best. The one that goes, “It’s been a long, a long time but I know change gonna come … it’s gonna come … yes, it will. ” It’s a song of waiting, a song of struggle, a song of hope. She stands, reaches out her arms to him, beckoning. Their hands touch. He rises slowly, the bum knee taking its time to un-bum. Then they move into the music, into a knowing hold, of steps In synch, the flow of familiar moves. He’s smooth now, sure now, lifts his arm, she glides under, turns, glides back.

And they dance.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.


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