Friday, November 14, 2014

The age I am in my head

Anyone out there who hails originally from the Caribbean will know this drill: Whenever the news goes out that you're traveling from America to see the family back home, the messages start pouring in, requests to locate, purchase and transport everything desired for oneself or one's children that cannot be found on island, or that cannot be found for anything resembling an affordable price, things like an X-Box One for a son's Christmas present; or a laptop for a teenager in danger of falling behind in school because the other kids can do research on the internet and she cannot; or a particular kind of undershirt, V-neck, not crew, and only this particular brand. Then there are the gifts for the wonderful women who take care of my mom, and for my niece and nephew and sister in law, which means for the past two nights I have been shopping with my son, my patient cohort, driving me here and there across the city in search of the items on the ever expanding list.

The children of those who hail originally from the Caribbean obviously know this drill, too, because he had not a complaint, and I felt supremely accompanied and supported on my quest as he took my hand and walked me through Costco to where the X-Box Ones were, and then the laptops and tablets, and then we drove to Target where the CD player for my mom's morning music could be found (her sister who lives in Toronto, whose CD player she has been using, will soon be returning to spend a few months with her daughter in Jamaica and will need it back). And so on.

I've enjoyed spending the time with my son. He's the only one in our family with a Costco membership; he does the bulk shopping because he's cost conscious like that. We talked as we shopped and drove around, and he told me about a man who comes to the sports club where he works as an assistant program manager. This man has early onset dementia, and has a constant companion whom he pays extremely well, because he's rather wealthy, thank God; apparently before his brain started to betray him he was a respected and sought-after cardio thoracic surgeon, and did very well for himself financially. My son found it heartbreaking, because even in the months that he's known him he could see the precipitous decline, and, he said, "He's just your age, Mom. Imagine that. A stellar career and then dementia that incapacitates you at your age!"

Here's the odd thing: As my son was talking I was thinking, But how did he become so successful and wealthy in his thirties? He was barely out of medical school. And how absolutely tragic to know yourself as brilliant and then to see your mind slipping away from you day by day, until you can't take care of yourself any more and have to pay someone to make sure you go to the gym and stay otherwise groomed and healthy.

You see what I was doing there? I was imagining this man in his thirties, at the prime of his life, struggling with dementia. It was a good long while before I realized that, wait, my son said he was my age; he was well past his thirties; he was well into his fifties! And that's when I realized that my age in my head is 37, the age I was after both my children had been born, no doubt because I have no desire to be in a world that does not include them. But in my head, I am not the age I am on paper. I didn't even realize it but I don't feel a day older than 37, at least not mentally, though my aches and pains say otherwise. When I told my son we had a laugh, and he said, "That's good, I suppose, that you feel younger than you are," and I confess I wondered for a fleeting moment whether I might have a touch of that dementia, too.


  1. Ah but...when I turned sixty, it was SO real that now, no matter what age I feel in my heart or even body (on the very good days) I know without a doubt that I am sixty.
    I fear dementia worse than death.
    I love your son. I love you.

  2. This subject is dear to my heart. As I rant inside my head about my mom--if only she hadn't smoked for 70 years. If only she'd stop those martinis. If only she'd exercise, etc., etc. Then I have the realization that she was 65 (I'm almost 62) when my youngest child was born. She was a powerhouse then. I wonder if I will be anywhere near that vibrant 3 years from now. Sigh. The thing is we don't know. We never know. We only have right now, this minute, as the man who loves me used to say. Have a wonderful trip. Wonderful. Wonderful. And that shopping You're awesome.

  3. At some point your son will discover the aging of his self-perception has stopped, leaving him, leaving all of us, mostly as people in our 30s. Looking in a mirror slaps me momentarily back to reality. Apropos of almost nothing, my blog stats today showed a number of people reading a post from Oct., 2012, in which I linked to your post about the Simon and Garfunkle documentary. I shared my blog link today on FB and pointed readers to your link. It was a lovely piece of writing and remembering. It moved me today as it did two years ago. Here is the link: xo

  4. Hmmm very interesting. I think I might be just beginning to get this real-age/head-age split going on. I'm old enough that people in their 20's think I'm fully grown, but I don't feel that yet.

  5. You are so generous to run around town and collect all that stuff! I used to make fun of my dad when I was a kid because he would claim to forget how old he was. And now I completely understand -- I sometimes have to think about it before I can be sure! I suppose there IS a tendency for us to freeze ourselves in our mind as young-ish adults.