An Older Woman
By Patricia Hemingway
Jenny Joseph proclaimed, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, and a red hat” and she spawned a cadre of copycats who took her words literally. I believe she was saying, ”be yourself, dear.” Wear any damn color you please.
I dress the way I want to and enjoy my own flair for style and fashion. But… I look at myself in the mirror, in the spotless baño, and admit that I look old.
It’s my face that is betraying me: I’m up to SPF #85 to protect my fragile skin, and I am pale as a spirit. Around my face, my hair is snow-white (well, at least not blue, you may say). I’m not pretty anymore.
This makes a huge difference in who is kind to me, who speaks to me, how invisible I am, and whether or not I feel safe on the streets. To respond in order: Other women are kind to me. Both men and women I pass dog-walking speak to me. It is the aged, local women who are least visible, for being poor and not beautiful is one of the most severe states of non-being.
Safety is a positive side-effect. I am an older woman out walking her dog within a few blocks of her apartment, not even carrying a purse: yes, I am safe. I do make a point of not smiling at Mexican men in the evening, and though this may cause some hurt feelings, it is the self-preservation of the female.
A recent story told of a 65-year-old woman who imagined herself a mysterious Latina of indeterminate age, and lived out this persona. One evening among gringos shattered her illusions: she was horrified to overhear the men say, “She may be an old bag, but her body looks like it could still hold up under two tough old buckin’ Texas boys don’t it?”
The writer, who is a male, sure got the danger right.
I am hovering at that point of acceptance which requires I step across a cavernous divide and become an older woman. I am thinking of my mother: she wore turtlenecks in mid-summer to hide her wrinkled neck. She said she wanted to come back as a giraffe. I am not my mother, and not an old lady – but I am not quite on the other side of the divide either.
In my own mind, an older woman is a positive and realistic self-image that implies a number of traits:
• Preferring the company of women to men at practically every decision point.
• A deep satisfaction in productive time spent alone.
• Happily throwing out all shorts and short skirts (I’ve already done this one) with a sigh of relief.
• Knowing perfectly well that the surest route to joy is love for others.
• Realizing that all future sexual activity may be solitary.
• Being okay with the probability of never being in love again. Not in waking reality. Not this time around. As I write this last point I realize I have gotten to the edge of the divide.
In my list of traits, the healthy older woman has learned to value passion in all its forms, and to embrace love as it finds its way into her life.
Passion exists for me, and it will continue to: it blazes in my work, in color and texture, in fragrance, and as it enters my ear from my MP3 player.
It is skin on skin caresses that I cannot let go of. The mystery of orgasms shared with another, no matter whether they are simultaneous. The deep satisfaction of cradling my partner’s bottom between my knees and belly, my cheek pressed against his back, just before falling into the abandonment of sleep. I miss this terribly.
I do not believe that this is desire for sex itself; the ache for pleasure. It is a longing for certainty. The exquisite certainty one feels at such a moment.
And what is all this to do with the steady approach toward death?
“It is a journey/to a world unknown.
Who will I be/ when I am at its door?”
In imagining the cavernous divide, I implied a leap across it. This will not happen. There will instead be incremental steps in the thin air of reality: I will proceed, one trait at a time under my belt, until one day I will find that I have forgotten my list entirely.