I have nine grey chest hairs now. I noticed them this morning in the mirror. They surprised me because I’d forgotten they were coming eventually. It was only last year – the year that I turned 40 – that I even started to notice grey hairs coming in on my head. “Oh I love grey hair,” I used to tell people. “Salt and pepper is so handsome. Bring it on.” Grey on my head sounds dashing. Grey on my chest sounds old.
I went to my doctor recently to have a physical done. Both of my parents have had high cholesterol in the past, and Dad was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about six years ago, so I thought it was time to have these looked at. While I sat there, I tried to remember all of the concerns that I had for my doctor. “My shoulder’s been tense lately. I’m losing my hair. What do those numbers tell you about my blood pressure?” – and decided to let others go unmentioned. I’ve accepted the fact that my left elbow will hurt forever, after I fell on it last summer. I’ve accepted the fact that my knees ache when I try to run now. These are just small things that I’ve been moving over to the ‘unavoidable’ column. What will follow?
He handed me a requisition form for my blood tests and wrote me a prescription for Propecia – the pill that makes your hair grow back, but robs you of some of your sex drive. Seems like so many problems can be solved now, but that there’s a price to pay in doing so.
I went to the dentist last week too, to get her to look at one of my back molars. It hurts lately, and I feared it would be another root canal, having had one two years ago. She x-rayed the area in question and told me there was nothing she could see that was causing it.
“It’s probably because of your gums,” she told me. “As you get older, they recede and the roots beneath them become exposed, and that can be painful." I left, happy not to have had my tooth drilled, but feeling a bit defeated because of the slippery slope toward the future that my tooth roots are on.
This feels like it's happening fast – my sensitive teeth and aching knees, my balding pate, my neck that seizes up when I turn my head to the right, my tingling face due to a pinched nerve, my slowly deteriorating eyesight and my slowing metabolism. For years I told myself that I was good with getting older – that I looked forward to calmer, wiser times. The reality is something quite different though. Getting older feels more like "closer to the end", than it does "better and more like myself". When I see my face changing with age, I wonder, have I really done what I wanted to by now? Am I where I wanted to be? Have I really done the very best I could with life so far?
I was waiting to get on the streetcar yesterday. When it finally pulled up, the small group of people I was with had to wait for a few moments to get on because a small, thin, older man, likely in his 80s, was slowly taking the steps down, one by one. He apologized to all of us, speaking from the bottom step.
“Sorry, everyone,” he said. "It's terrible getting old." He then moved ahead through the people and walked directly up to me. He touched my arm, looked at me with his blue eyes and told me, “Don’t get old.”