I speak of my youth, which has eked continuously over minutes, days, and years. I don’t mourn it, though. I am an extremely happy middle-aged person who takes advantage of Zumba Gold classes at the Albany Senior Center. (At $7, it’s a fitness bargain, and one need only be over forty.) I plan to use all available senior discounts when I become eligible, which is not quite yet.
I know those who long for their youth because they attention in a way that it no longer does, and they miss their younger selves when they look in the mirror. But I’ve never been a beauty (except to my parents, my husband, and my daughter). At no time have I had to question whether someone’s interest in me was based solely on my looks because I can confidently say that my image could comfortably accompany the definition for “average.”
So for me, the passing of youth is not a bittersweet memory of turning heads in my twenties.
Now I would be lying if I declared that I don’t mind the effects age has on my body. I rise every morning a bit creakier than I did the day before. I’ve come to accept that this chassis is no longer new and shiny; but despite its increasing mileage, it gets me to where I want to go. Sometimes I wonder: if I knew in my twenties what I know now, would I have appreciated how effortless it was simply to go from sitting on the floor to standing? Probably not. Youth aren’t supposed to notice such things—taking it all for granted is part of their job description.
So if it’s not a matter of numbers, beauty, or agility, then what is it that age has wreaked?
I mourn my loss of memory. I’ve spent over fifty years accruing what passes for wisdom only to watch it disappear, and the irony of that stings. I thought I still had time to utilize a rich vocabulary. Otherwise, what were all those word-of-the-day calendars for? Now I often struggle to find the right word. I also presumed that consuming hundreds of books and articles would provide fodder for intelligent conversation for years to come. But when I go to retrieve details, they’ve disappeared.
It pops up in ways that catch me off guard, like ordering movies from Netflix that I’ve already seen. At first I chalked it up to carelessness. Then I began double-booking events because I’d forgotten to put them on the calendar. Recently someone asked me for my street address, which has been the same for nine years, and I transposed the numbers.
It’s as if my brain has been requisitioned a stingy allotment of storage space, and that capacity is shrinking daily. If I could choose what gets retains and what gets jettisoned, that modicum of control would be of some comfort. But apparently the portion of my brain that gets to decide what stays and what goes has a wicked sense of humor. How else do I explain the fact that I remember my third grade music teacher, Mrs. Morris, clapping out meaningless chants to instill a sense of rhythm: ta ta tee-tee ta, tee-tee-tee-tee ta ta! (I still don’t understand what that was all about.) Yet I forget important information that I need regularly, such as the password to my PayPal account.
I suppose I thought I had longer before it began to slip away. After all, I have several friends in their seventies and eighties who are still sharp. What do they have that I don’t?
Well, I decided to ask some of them. I received these suggestions—do crossword puzzles, exercise, and give myself extra time to retrieve information from the old mental files.
But I did take up crossword puzzles a few years ago. I concluded that its only benefit was improving my ability to do crossword puzzles. As far as exercise goes, in addition to my Zumba class, I go to the gym four times a week and walk the dog on Sunday. And I’m perfectly willing to concede that accessing information may now take longer, but that doesn’t help me when I recite the wrong address.
One friend suggested Atul Gawande’s new book, so I went online to look it up. Outside of those pertaining to surgery, the only title I could find was Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, which is not the memory-enhancing bag of tricks I was expecting. I can only assume that she thought my condition was much more dire than I thought.
After careful consideration, I realize the solution that should have been obvious from the start: write it down. After all, I’m a writer. If it’s important, I’ll make note of it, either on my laptop, my phone, or even that old standby—paper. I will list the books I read and the plays and films I see. I will record the news from my daughter. Writing will combat my memory loss and help me hold on to what’s important.
The rest I will allow to disappear with my youth.