Tonight I officially turned 83. I spent the evening listening to musical soundtracks from the 50s and 60s and putting together a puzzle. On a puzzle mat. Wrapped in blanket to protect myself from the winter draft. I bet if I’d checked my pockets at the time they’d be filled with used tissues and cough drops. This was all after I’d completed my very strenuous exercise routine of the day: taking a brisk walk after dinner. I even changed into sneakers before the endeavor because I wanted to be sure I didn’t hurt my feet.
I know I’m only settling into who I’ve always been—an old lady trapped in the body of a not-quite-so-old lady. I remember once being at a party at my parents’ friends’ house. Their home was the epitome of fun. They had a pool, a trampoline, and a hot tub. It seems unimaginable that any home could be gifted with all three of these, but this place was built to be a haven of happy. I think it was willed into existence for the sole purpose of bringing people together to laugh and eat and dance. There was a garage full of strange off-road vehicles that my sister and I were never allowed in. There was always rock music blasting through the speakers. But, most importantly, there was a policy of wild freedom and unabashed love—instilled by one of my parents’ oldest friends, the ultimate matriarch and an unparalleled embracer. It was the best place to be a kid. And yet, it was there I was first told I was, at my core, not quite a kid at all.
This couple had plenty of these parties and, at each one, I would try my best at the beginning to keep up with the other kids. I loved the trampoline, and I was happy in the pool, but I’d inevitably end up back in the garage, standing at the knees of the adults, or in the living room, sitting at their feet. It was easier there. I could hide in plain sight, listening to their conversations and quietly cataloging all the new information. One night I was standing at the bottom of the garage steps while a group chatted away. In the middle of the discussion, another of my parents’ friends—one with a bellowing laugh and a penchant for bright Hawaiian shirts—turned and looked down at me. He told me, seriously but kindly, that I had an old soul—a claim that would seem contrived if it hadn’t come from a member of this tie-dye wearing, long-haired, heavy-hugging crew. He said he could see the little adult in me, my mind always turning.
At the time, it embarrassed me—the acknowledgement of my presence even more than the statement. It may have seemed like a compliment, but I knew all the cool kids were out bouncing on the trampoline or jumping back and forth between the pool and the hot tub. And now I knew it wasn’t just me who realized I wasn’t with them. I didn’t respond. I filed it away in the brain folder where I kept things adults said that I didn’t completely understand. There it stayed, waiting for other notes to slide up next to it. And the rest of them came. I read books while other kids played with dolls. Put that next to the original “not quite a kid” file. I saved my money instead of spending it on candy. Slide that right up there with the others. I fell in love with classic movies. Slot that in right behind the last one. I got teased for putting on the Motown radio station when a friend came over to play. Another entry to log. Eventually there was enough material on the subject to warrant a separate folder, and there was no denying the truth.
Decades later, that friend came up to me at a wedding. He repeated what he’d told me when I was five and said he remembered the way I used to stand nearby, quietly listening to their conversations instead of running around with the other kids. This time, I nodded along with him. The folder of proof that I had really always been an old lady was bursting and there was no retreat from the facts. Plus, YouTube videos of old men dancing at raves and grandmothers playing pranks on their grandchildren had taught me that growing old is mostly about boldly embracing your true self. I told him I remembered those moments too, and then I walked over to the DJ in my sensible dancing shoes and requested “You Can’t Hurry Love.”