In the dark, writing away, trying to make sense of things. I've been around fifty-six years and found my fair share of folly, some of it on purpose, most of it because of my own stupidity or lassitude. Inertia. Chance. Who was it that said, "The important things in life just happen to you?" Relationships, family, health. Success, failure. Getting promoted, getting laid off. The two bookends, birth and death. L. used to say, "You're an accident waiting to happen."
Now a good ways past the halfway point of my life, I feel myself slipping into solidarity with the aged as they linger in the anteroom of death. The surprised look on their faces. Their orneriness and impatience. Their fatigue and hunger for a good night's sleep. The biological imperative that keeps them breathing even when machines are performing the rest of their bodily functions. We live a long time these days, longer than any of the generations that came before us. As my brother the cartoonist likes to point out, our faces solidify into caricature. And having resisted gravity for so long, we finally begin to sag and cave in on ourselves. The medicine cabinet fills up with pills, so many we need an alarm system to remind us of which ones to take and when.
Which is not to say the aged can't dance or laugh or lean back and tell their own brand of lies. In fact, they're good at it. It's just that those moments are few and far between. So let's be sentimental and say that it's precisely the steady diminishment of joy in the aged that makes its occasional late blooming more beautiful and more precious than ever. We can afford such sentiment when most of the time we ignore them, or humor them, or laugh at them. Or wish them already dead so we can inherit the little money they have left, or a piece of property, or maybe win a bit of illusory freedom when we no longer have to care for them.
It's not easy to feel solidarity with these wraiths in their stained nightgowns, with their greasy hair and funny stink, and their constant demands. I want this. Can you get me that? I need help with those. Can you come over today? I need you. I need you. I need you. It's not easy to hold back the scolding and the revulsion, the anger and resentment. It's not easy to hold back the crocodile tears, even if those tears are for yourself, you weak prick.
And then they start dying off for real, and you get older, and accidents keep happening all around you. Inertia. Chance. Until one oppressive morning -- thunder your only companion now -- you find yourself slipping into solidarity with the aged. Here they are, ghosts now, standing somewhere close in the gloom, silent, staring. Their eyes have been pecked out by innocent black birds, so they stare with empty sockets. Dry leaves, broken sticks, dust. You think to yourself, what in god's name do they want from me now?
They don't want anything any more. They're just lonely, content to watch you go about the rest of your life.