Denial is not a river in Africa

Someone recently accused me of “fighting my age.” She cataloged my outfit from stem to stern and then said, to whom I’m not sure, “Jolene is fighting her age.”

Now, to be fair, English is not her first language. It’s possible that the meaning was lost in translation. Perhaps she meant “That outfit looks good on you!” or “You look great for your age.”

Either way, it brought out the fight in me.

“I’m not fighting my age – I accept my age,” I barked.

And, of course, anyone over a certain age will tell you that I was lying. I’m fighting my age tooth and nail. I’m holding on to the belief that I still look the same as I did 20 years ago, and I’m blaming my delusions on my parents, who are the youngest people I know.

My mom wears hot pants – well, not exactly, hot pants, but short-shorts – and she looks adorable. Granted, she probably would not choose to wear hot pants, but my dad buys them for her, along with a lot of other items that fit in tiny boxes.

He’s a romantic with a weakness for lace and is probably headed to Victoria’s Secret right now to spend our hard-earned inheritance on a new Valentine’s outfit for his bride of 60 years.

Let’s just hope he makes it home. (More on that later.)

“Age is a state of mind” – a cliché I grew up with but did not understand until I hit 50. Now I look at my baristas and wonder if they even see me.

I try to make a meaningful over-the-counter connection as I sign my unrecognizable signature on every iPad in town, but in the end, I know, all they see is another older woman ordering a 12-ounce latte. One barista (she’s wins awards for her swirls) always remembers my order and that is because, as she said, “It’s been like 12 years, right, that you’ve ordered the same thing?”

“Yeah, give me a dirty chai with an extra shot, will ya?” I replied.

Let me be clear. I do not remember their names, either, except one: Lennie. And that is because after she told me her name, I chanted “Lenny Bruce, Lenny Bruce, Lenny Bruce” as I walked to my car.

All around me, knees are crumbling, feet are failing and backs are popping. My friends, I’m sorry to report, are falling apart. So: You’re damn right I’m fighting my age.

My mother and father, both in their early 80s, have had their share of broken parts – a knee replacement, eye surgery, removal of a few things here and there – but they are still the youngest people I know.

Why? Because they do not make old noises and they still care about how they look. They buy each other presents. They sleep in the same bed with their cat on their head. They shop for cute clothes. They call each other by their pet names. They fight. They drive each other crazy. They kiss.

My dad claims he feels like a 20-year-old. My mom says that each decade gets better. Like me, they are delusional, and I now understand why: survival.

Survival, in this world of “everything is better fresh.” “Everything is better new.” “Everything is better young.” The real bummer is that you have to grow old to know that this belief is absurd. Just because we live in a younger-is-better world does not mean that we have to accept it as fact.

On Sunday, when I ask my mother what she got for Valentine’s Day, I will already know her response.

“Hmm, well, your father went to Vicky’s and bought a few things for me.”

And I will ask, “Did he make it home?”

With a chuckle she will report that yes, he did make it home this time, because he did not go with his friend John, who, on the last trip to Victoria’s Secret, left my dad there without a ride home. Tired of shopping, I guess.

My dad, not one to get too worked up about things, and without a phone of his own, sat outside Victoria’s Secret in the middle of the holiday season, until a nice young lass loaned him her phone so that he could call my brother for a ride home.

Written for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald, February 13, 2016