You get to wondering when you fell apart. When was the last chance I had to save myself? What day? What should I have done? I'm fine, of course, of course. I feel fine. I don't walk around thinking, look, I'm fat and creaky and I'm getting old. I just feel like me, same as when I was ten. But I guess some part of me is always conscious of being closed out now, swept aside by the eye, forever out of reach of much of life on Earth.
Mirrors were never friendly. Maybe they never are for anybody. But they've gotten bitterer with me, flashing the sight of me in passing, reminding me how far I've slipped from those days, years ago, when I last formed my image of myself. Between reminders I honestly tend to forget.
I was never really the way I wanted to be--at my best I had a persistent little bit of a gut, and I was never muscular even though I was always pretty strong. I'm still strong. In a fat, ponderous way, stronger than ever. But I'm tired all the time too. I do feel the difference and it's maddening.
On one hand I resent the idea, everybody resents, the suggestion that we've failed somehow in getting decrepit, like we're losses against humanity. Is it my duty to devote my life to staying trim? I could have. Maybe I could even now. We all know that. But can you imagine? Where would I find the time? I would have to abandon everything else. Can it really be worth it?
On the other hand this is reality. Look at me. Broken teeth, bald head, old, fat, wrinkled, ruined.
We were at the zoo, in the monkey house watching these monkeys--big ones, the size of my dog, thin white fur and pink faces.
And they were fat; it didn't stop them swinging around in the branches like the rest, but it was funny how fat these were. Funnier because they didn't do a thing to hide it, didn't suck it in, just let it roll around, like little old men. I watched the biggest one take a seat up high in the branches. He had tiny little dark eyes, this ridiculous long bent nose, and he just looked amazingly human, but like a cartoon of a man. He leaned back and sighed with his hand on his great big gut, and I could just imagine him reaching for the remote.
And the reason I remember that so sharply is I right away identified with him. Not exactly but he made me think of me. It's no one thing but the slow piling sum of it all. It creeps up on you.
"Shave my head and grow a beard." We all said that when we were young--rather than face the disfigurement of baldness, or worse, the old man's pitiable vanity of trying desperately to hide it. We'd just get it over with and settle for the second-best of an ageless, tidy look with its own mystique of sorts.
I still can't quite decide if the time has come for that. I'm bald; I have to admit that. My hairline faded back early, and it's well back behind my ears, now. But then when I see some guy who actually did it, you can still see plain as day where he has hair left and where not. It looks okay but everybody knows it wasn't really his choice.
I don't know. My hair was always long before, so what's left of it is long now. I might still shave it off one of these days but who am I kidding? It won't make me good-looking. Won't make me any younger. I've been riding in this same body my whole life, and it seems like every knock I've ever taken is still written on it somewhere, one more straw on the camel.
It makes you paranoid, thinking how horribly permanent everything is, how fragile you are. I chipped my front tooth a long time ago, when I was twenty-four, with a fork. I ws eating, something made me jump, and ting, off comes a little corner of my tooth. Hurt like hell, and I kept running my tongue over it for months, learning the new shape, and rueing it. But the worst moment was spitting out that little crumb of enamel and knowing for certain what it was.
Doesn't matter now--the tooth is gone. Lost it on the back porch steps, carrying a cabinet into the house. The guy in front lost his grip, and it was pitch forward or fall back blind into the driveway. I had that one flash of a moment to decide. Backward, I don't know, I would have probably come down on my head, broken my neck, maybe. There was nothing to grab for. I couldn't see.
So I let my knees buckle, let myself fall down into the cabinet, knowing I'd catch the edge of it right in my mouth. I could see just how it would go. People do make these choices. Give me a choice between a chance of death the certainty of being made ugly, and I'll take ugly every time.
Lost that same front tooth, and split the next one over. This lower one was different--that just had to be pulled. But it leaves a hole all the same.
I stare in the mirror now and can't believe, can't imagine when I got this way. I think of the years I still have ahead--plenty--and tell myself that every day of all those years I will be ugly.
It's not what I wanted. I look at that face and it doesn't look like me. But I'm still in here, right where I've always been. Been me all along. Still alive, still on my way, for better or for worse. Still human.