It takes most women years to age. I grew old in about 29 seconds.
As someone who has remained active all of her life, I do a lot of walking, weight lifting, and Pilates. I am lucky enough to have a personal trainer.
How ironic that about a month ago on my way home from, yes, a Pilates session, my sneaker caught on something (a jutting sidewalk?) and stopped cold. My body did not. Instead, it flew up into the air, twisted violently and veered left. My forehead smacked hard into the hood of a parked car. Then I bounced off the car at a right angle and crashed down on the street – painfully hard on both knees. I knew it was a spectacular fall even by New York standards when I looked around and saw passerby staring at me with their eyes wide open in amazement. OMG. OMG, not in a good way, like when you see Lady Gaga is sitting right next to you in a restaurant. OMG, as in a “Wait. Am I still alive? My head just slammed into a Subaru…” kind of way.
“How are you?” asked a visibly upset woman who had seen it all. I looked up at her from the street where I was lying. “What?” I mumbled, “I have no idea.” Two concerned men were by my side in an instant. “Can you help me up?” I asked them. “Of course,” they said. (Let’s hear it for Concerned Men!) “Where do you live?” one asked. I said I lived right across the street and they escorted me to my building. “Watch out,” said the younger-looking man, “for any dizziness, because you could have a concussion.” “Thank you, thank you,” I said. I knew right then I must not have a concussion because the guy (no wedding ring) who said that was so cute and nice, I immediately thought, “Who can I fix him up with?”
These heroes got me into my elevator. Once I was in my apartment, I called my boyfriend, Eric, and asked him to come home right away. Then I started crying. Eric came home. I fell apart some more. Then I called my doctor.
The next few weeks: examinations, tests, x-rays, MRIs, internists, orthopedists, sports medicine specialists, physician’s assistants, Web MD. The diagnosis: No concussion, but contusions in both knees, which turned black and blue and swollen and super painful. A strained back that went into periodic spasms. A big bump on my forehead and recurring headaches. Sitting hurt. Getting up hurt. Standing hurt. Lying down hurt. Everything hurt. I started elevating, icing, taking Tylenol, weeping, canceling my life. No weekend playwriting class, no lunches, no meetings, no writing, no makeup, no sex, no cooking, no interest at all in how Meryl Streep would fit into the new season of Big Little Lies.
29 seconds – a time-lapse leap into fragility/senility/senescence. Even cheese ages more gracefully.
I told my family and close friends what happened and after they gasped, I found myself saying, “Oh, well, it could have been worse.” (Only really old people or people nothing has ever happened to, say: “Oh, well, it could have been worse.”) I felt the need (why?) to impress everyone with my ability to minimize my accident and put it in perspective. I told friends about my hairdresser’s mother who fell into a hole at a rest stop and broke both her legs. I relayed the story about our doorman’s sister who needed knee replacement surgery on both knees when she tripped on black ice.
After a week or so, my answer to “how are you?” was to say that I was “on the mend” or feeling “marginally better.” “How kind of you to ask,” I would reply. (I got that from Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.) The real answer to “How are you?” Cosmically depressed, totally pissed, in searing pain, and haven’t I already paid my fucking dues big time?” How kind of you to ask.
My Mother Teresa phase was very short. Eric asked if he could buy me peonies and lilacs. I told him I’d rather have a gold necklace and a Corgi. I unfriended one of my best friends when she suggested I “roll with the punches.” I started to hate Elizabeth Gilbert even more than usual. I snapped at the doorman who wasn’t quick enough opening the door.
After the fall, I didn’t just feel old, I felt stupid. The fall actually made me stupid. I didn’t know this could happen. I worried about what was turning into one long Senior Moment. I watched the same episode of Fleabag twice and didn’t realize it. I left the oven on all night. I forgot the password for my phone. “Do you get your brainpower back?” I asked a 95-year-old friend who knows everything, “No,” she said, “Absolutely not.” Oh.
Thirty days out, I am trying to be grateful. I can put on my own socks. I can roll over in bed. I can wobble down to the Starbucks on the corner. I have told my close women friends how much their good cheer meant to me. I apologized to the doorman. I bought peonies for Eric. I told him that he was the Best Boyfriend Ever and that if Seniors had a Senior Prom, I would definitely take him. Someday we’ll have sex again.
I have to admit that things are a little different now. I’ve gone from a well-preserved lightly Botox-ed MILF to the nag who insists on having grab bars in the bath. I find myself window shopping at the surgical supply store on my way home from Starbucks. I stay braless in my bathrobe and sweatpants until Eric is on his way home from work. Instead of writing the advertising copy I should be, I google “Senior Discounts” for hours. If I ever get my sense of humor back, I might order a t-shirt I found on Amazon that says, “Don’t Forget My Senior Discount.” It’s discounted for seniors. It hurts to laugh.
What have I learned from all of this? With all due modesty, a lot. I’ve learned that you should take the peonies. That you should forget about the Corgi. That you don’t have to be snarky about Jacquie Lawson get well ecards. That pride doesn’t cometh before or after a fall. That you can only sue the car if the car hit you. (I hit the car.) That you should always look on the bright side of life. Just as long as you’re looking down at the sidewalk at the same time.