Ultimate Cougar alert
(Be sure to read the name on the card)
Yep. Today my bride turns 50. And she’s none too happy about it, either. In fact, she was so traumatized by getting her offer to join AARP in the mail that she called me at the clinic: “Something terrible just happened,” she told me, her voice cracking slightly.
OhmyGod! Is Rio OK?!
My mind always jumps to the worst-case scenario.
Once assured our only surviving child was alive and well, I next asked about her mother; whether her car had broken down or suffered another flat—we drive them down to the steel belts; if phones or power had been shut off; or if she had bounced yet another check.
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.
“They sent me an AARP card in the mail,” wailed Debbie.
OK. I didn’t see that one coming. And my response didn’t help matters much. I said: Cool!
Movie, dinning, and lodging discounts here we come!
I don’t know why my wife is so bent out of shape about her age. She went through major meltdowns at 30 and 40; so I knew this one was coming. Last night, when she was moping about the house feeling sorry for herself, Rio asked me, “Is this the meltdown you warned me about?”
This is only the beginning, son.
So let’s talk about age. All biological organisms age. Of all the things you can and can’t control in your personal universe, this is surely the least controllable. But age is a funny thing. It is partly a matter of body, but also largely a matter of mind.
Looking around my personal universe, my quite spry 86-year-old mother is more active than… well, than me. She still drives cross-country, keeps engaged in world news and politics, and generally looks and acts like a woman 30-years younger than she is; while on the other hand, my 68-year-old mother-in-law has become frightfully frail and sometimes can barely walk across her living room safely.
In our electronic medical records at the clinic, under “physical exam” we have a drop down menu where we must select one of three options:
Patient appears stated age.
Patient appears older than stated age.
Patient appears younger than stated age.
Debbie hates, hates, hates to have her picture taken so I have no way to prove it to you today (plus taking pictures of your sleeping wife is a fast road to divorce, or so I’ve heard), but:
Wife appears younger than stated age.
So much so, in fact, that about a year ago I asked a middle-aged female colleague, who had met Debs for the first time the week before, Hey, what did you think of my wife?
Middle-aged female colleague (voice PURE ice): “She seems a little young for you.”
Actually, Debbie’s 1.5 years ahead of me, at least in terms of birthdays. When we were first dating, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, Deb almost broke up with me when she found out I was a hair younger. My winning argument: I had more mileage; so the whole age thing was a wash.
I won that round and kept the girl. It’s always bugged her though, more so at birthdays, and even most so at the Big “O” birthdays.
But back to biology. She’s not really 50 today. Not biologically. Biologically she’s either a little bit older, much older, or a whole hell of a lot older—depending on how you look at it.
First, your birthday only marks the day you drew your first breath upon leaving your mother’s womb. It has very little to do with how old you are. Debbie’s body turned 50 nine months ago.
Or did it?
Did you know that a woman is born with a full magazine of eggs in her ovaries? So all of us actually are exactly as old as our mothers. The cells that built us start with that ol’ egg. When the egg gets used hardly matters, all the eggs are the same age.
So if you want to know your true biological age, look to your mother. Debbie isn’t 50. She’s sixty-eight. Or maybe 68 + nine months. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that my chance of scoring with a certain card-carrying (under duress) AARP member just got pretty slim indeed. Bear with me. Because under those rules—egg age, not anniversary of first breath—I’m 86 years old. I’m 18 years older than my wife. I’m a fucking cradle robber! Sly dog that I am.
And if we really are concerned about our biological age, shouldn’t egg age be the barometer we use to measure it? The age of your oldest cell?
But wait. Is your first cell really the oldest part of your body? Maybe not. What about your mitochondrial DNA? Yeppers, your smallest chromosome is inherited from your mother. And she got it from her mother. And her mother got it from her mother. All the way back to Mitochondrial Eve, the common ancestor of every living soul on the planet. So maybe if we are looking to the roots of life, we’re all around 200,000 years old.
Some days I feel it, too.
Anyway, the whole physical age thing is a fallacy. What’s not so much a fallacy is what kind of shape we are, or aren’t, in at a given age. Debbie’s grandmother died in her mid-80s. One of the ICU nurses who attended to her cried when the grand lady passed on.
“It’s so sad,” said the nurse, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, “she was still so young.”
Grandma had that perfect Hispanic skin that never develops a wrinkle. The nurse had mistaken her for 60. Debbie has that skin, too.
While time has been kind to my bride, the same probably can’t be said for me, although I have no complaints. I’m more weather-beaten. More lines and creases on my face, especially the little spider-web like ones around my eyes. Half my hair is grey, mixed in with the light brown. My beard, almost black when I was young, is shot with white now. Debbie claims I look better now than when I was younger. Maybe so. While women are more likely to obsess about youth, men are taken more seriously as we age.
How people look is a funny thing. Now granted, I was fired from my job at the circus after I lost the outfit too much money trying to guess people’s age; but it is harder than you might think. I work in an area of crushing poverty and that kind of poverty ages people quickly. I was surprised when I first started at the clinic that patients frequently underestimated my age by a decade or decade and a half. That’s because people around there who look like me are 15 years younger. By the time they are my age, they look 15 years older than I do.
So my ability to judge a book by its cover, never good in the first place, has gotten really worse over the years I’ve worked with the poorest of the poor. But where I work I have noticed something odd. From late 20s up to mid-60s, my patients look waaaaay older than their stated ages. The ones in their late 60s and 70s look about right. But then something magical happens. The ones in their 80s and 90s look younger than their stated ages. I had an 84 year old lady in my office yesterday that any of you would have sworn couldn’t have been a day over 60.
I don’t know it is. Maybe they ate healthier back in the day. Maybe they didn’t fall into the trap of drugs and alcohol (although to hear their spouses tell the tale, some of my oldsters really hit the bottle back in the day). Maybe the gene pool was stronger back then. Or maybe, by the time you are in your 80s, you have to be made of pretty tuff stuff to still be alive. Maybe the weaker ones have been weeded out by the Grim Reaper, only leaving us with the youthful elderly.
But it’s strange. One hour I’ll be staring into the withered face of a 40 year old who’s telling me of his assorted aches pains and inability to function as I review a med list of a dozen prescriptions that are doing a bad job of treating four or more serious chronic illnesses; and the next hour I’m staring into the pin-sharp twinkling eyes and smooth skin of a 80 year old who’s only complaint is “my knee bothers me a little at the end of a day of cutting wood.”
And I can’t tell you how many times Debbie has introduced me to some weather-beaten old hag at Wal-Mart and then later told me that she went to high school with her. Drugs, alcohol, poverty. They wear people down like sand paper.
And where do our brains come into play with our ages? Are we only as old as we feel, or at least only as old as we let ourselves feel? I know that Debbie feels old. I don’t know how much of it is what she feels in her mind or how much of it is what she feels in her body. I don’t know how much of it is her internal make up and how much of it is baggage from our society and her culture. I only know that when I gaze upon her face I’m getting a very different message than the one she gets when she gazes into the mirror.
And yes. I have had my eyes checked, thank you very much.
To me anyway, she doesn’t seem to get older. Only better.
So what did I get Debbie for this momentous birthday? Apparently I bought her a pretty new watch I couldn’t afford. She brought it home to show me the other day and told me what great taste I have. What a guy.
Of course we’ll go out to dinner tonight to “celebrate,” a.k.a.: drown her sorrows. And I also got her a birthday card. Ummm… a rather lewd card, actually. But as Debbie is so wound up in the effects and appearance of age this year, I decided that “I love you” was the wrong message to send. I decided the words she needed to hear was that I was still attracted to her. Still found her every bit as desirable as I did the day I first laid eyes on her. That the sands of time, which can flatten monuments and pyramids, seems powerless against her. In short: that I still lusted her after all this time.