That's Just How it Is
When we were thirty, my friend Sara said, "When I start getting wrinkles, I'm going to have surgery to get rid of them."
"Why would you want to do that?" I asked, flipping through the latest edition of Vanity Fair. "Why not grow old gracefully?"
"Because," she said, "there's no grace in having wrinkles."
"But everyone gets wrinkles," I said, bemused.
"I won't," she retorted.
When we were forty, Sara, alarmed at the crows-feet growing around her eyes, went to have an eyelift. She came to show me the surgeon's handiwork once the bandages came off. She looked great.
"You look great," I said, my hands dripping clay from the pot I was throwing. I wiped a wisp of salt-and-pepper hair from my eyes. A smear of clay lodged in a smile-line by my eyebrow. I didn't notice it until later, when someone in the supermarket queue pointed it out. Sara hadn't told me.
When we were fifty, Sara had another eyelift, a chin tuck, and a boob job. She dyed her hair burgundy. She felt much better about herself.
"Your tits look like a pair of cruise missiles," I snorted. We'd been friends a long time, so I could say these things to her. "They don't wobble."
"Yeah, aren't they great?" she preened in her tight purple angora sweater. "My boyfriend loves them." She had divorced her husband when we were forty-two, and had had a string of younger toy-boys ever since. The latest one was twenty-six; his conversation was limited to the wonders of Liverpool FC, the Beamer he was saving up to buy, and the great novel he planned to write.
I still had my same old husband, who, I must say, never liked watching football and drove a ten-year old Volvo estate. Thank goodness. He also didn't mind that my boobs now ended somewhere at the level of my elbows. I wore comfortable bras, the kind with thick straps that hold your breasts in place without too much bounce; the lift-up bras with thin straps looked a bit silly on me, I thought. Why be uncomfortable? When you grow older, things move south. That's just how it is.
"You look great," my husband would tell me.
When we were sixty, Sara and I held a joint birthday party. We invited the friends that were left; people start dying off after you reach a certain age. The table fairly groaned with food. My husband brought out a two-tier chocolate cake, which Sara's current boyfriend, a thirty-five year old chef of some fame, had baked himself. Sara couldn't eat much of anything; she'd had her stomach stapled the year before and it was now the size, say, of a slice of cake. She wasn't much bigger herself.
"Have to stay thin!" she said, gazing longingly at the brine-cured turkey with sage and cornbread stuffing. She allowed herself a few tiny bites.
"Don't be stupid," I told her. "You're sixty. You look great. Just eat a piece of cake, fer chrissakes."
"I can't," she said. "My staples will pop."
I ate my slice of cake. I ate hers, too. They were delicious. That chef sure could bake.
When we were seventy, Sara had her whole face stretched back, and the skin on her neck, too. When she was dressed, she looked great, like a thirty-year old. When she wasn't dressed, she looked like a science experiment. She told me she didn't let her current boyfriend (a retired stockbroker) see her naked with the lights on.
"I'm old! Look at my wrinkly hands!" she wailed one day, sitting on my sofa while I eased myself out of a Reverse Side-Angle posture on the carpet in front of her. I'd been doing yoga for forty years, and although the arthritis in my hands and knees made some postures more difficult, I stuck with it. It made me feel great. I tucked a strand of silver hair behind my ear.
"Sara, you're seventy. What'd you expect your hands to look like?"
"They can't do hand-lifts yet," she said sadly.
"Wear gloves then," I said dryly.
"Hey! Good idea!" She brightened up. After that, she wore gloves wherever she went - cashmere ones, or the thinnest, softest calfskin. She looked very elegant.
"You look great," I told her.
When we were seventy-five, Sara died from a secondary infection caused by a ruptured staple in her stomach; the surgeons fixed the staple but couldn't stem the infection. She only lasted a couple of weeks. She was lucky, I suppose, that she had survived as many years as she had with all that metal in her belly.
In the mortuary, I prepared her body for cremation. She had no one else to do it, and we had been friends for sixty years; it was the least I could do. I dressed her in her finest clothing; she'd always insisted on keeping up with the latest fashions. The arthritis in my hands was very bad now; I had to ask the attendant to help me shove her feet into her Prada slingbacks and slip a pair of kidskin gloves on her hands. I made up her face the way she liked it, with mascara and eyeliner and Prussian Rose lipstick by Maybelline. I brushed her burgundy hair back from her smooth, flawless forehead. When I was finished, I slowly, painfully bent down to the table and kissed her waxy cheek.
"Don't worry, you look great," I whispered.