It’s a rare day when you don’t hear my husband or me or any of our peers complain about getting longer in the old tooth. Our backs ache, our joints crackle like Rice Krispies, our hearing’s shot.
“Pass me the salt, please,” I’ll say to my husband.
And, half the time, he’ll answer me with, “What do you mean it’s my fault?”
“I didn’t say it’s your fault. I need the salt.”
“Well, you don’t have to scream,” he’ll say.
By this time, I probably don’t even need the salt any longer. But incipient deafness, at least, does keep the conversation all stirred up and rolling right along.
So why not complain? We don’t have the energy we used to, didn’t Baby Boomers promise themselves they’d never get old, and oh, and by the way, what’s this deal with sensitive teeth?
Worse, every time I turn around, I get smacked in the face with clear signals about our generation’s growing mortality rate. I mean, sure, I guess I knew, theoretically, that the bullets were always raining down. But, damn! For years, we had the comfort of buffers in front of us (that would be our parents and grandparents). Where have all the buffers gone? Well, you might stop by the nursing home or the cemetery if you want to find them.
And, by the way, as long as we’re talking about bullets: Isn’t the shooting getting a little too precise?
But, anyway, that isn’t the point. My point, as usual, has gotten a bit lost in all the vehemence and digression. My point is that I’d still choose to be this age instead of being young.
If you’re reading this and you’re young, you will probably find this unbelievable. But trust me. Sure, I’d swap skin tone, metabolism and energy levels with you in a nano. Oh, and maybe your whiz-bang ability with all the high-tech gadgets that I spend half my life fumbling with. But aside from that and probably some other advantages I’ve forgotten: No. This is a happier age.
“How old are you?” my orthodontist’s assistant asked me eons ago.
“Sixteen,” I said.
She radiated joy. “What a wonderful age!” she said.
Was she crazy? I had a mouthful of metal, a few minor eruptions on my face imperfectly smeared over with Clearasil, and crippling shyness that dogged my every moment. A wonderful age?
A year or so later, our high school band director spoke to the audience before we began to play some tune called “The Golden Age.” “They don’t know it,” he said to an audience consisting almost entirely of our parents and coerced younger brothers and sisters, “but this is their golden age.”
He smiled at us in the band the way the orthodontist’s assistant had beamed at me. How wonderful to be young!
Standing in the percussion section, ready to bang on some level surface, I wanted to keel over. If these were my golden years, I might as well go ahead and shoot myself, I thought. This was the best it was going to get? Let me out now. The train could go on without me. I’d just lie there on the tracks and wait.
Sometimes I think there are two kinds of people: Those who enjoyed being young and those who didn’t. Those whose faces get a misty glow as they think of their golden youth, with its endless parties, constantly ringing Princess phones, premier membership in the cool crowd. And those who prefer to develop full-blown amnesia about a painful time in their lives. (In the book Whatever Happened to the Class of ’65?, chapters begin with classmates recounting fond memories of each person profiled. For one of the kids, there was a series of quotes: Who was he? Oh, was he in our class? And, Who? That was roughly my level of popularity in high school.)
The funny thing is, maybe low expectations and hard times prepare you better for life. Sure, I’ve got aches and pains I’ll tell you about if you’ll just give me a second of your time. They’re kind of a bitch and all that. But, so far, I’ll take them over the sheer heartache of being young any day of the week. Anything is all right, as long as it isn’t high school.
Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker