rambling towards the other side of the hill
I was told yesterday that the age you are officially over the hill is 41. I wish I knew that sooner, for I would have spent this past year standing at the very top of the hill screaming I am king of the world! before I began my descent. As it is, I've got one foot poised on the downward slope and in five days I will officially have crossed that other side. Which is fine with me as I believe the after-40 side is the one on which the grass is greener.
It's not going to be hard to forget all the things that came before my walk down to old age. The media is flush with retro stylings and bittersweet glimpses of the past. It seems the new trend is to talk about things that are old.
I've been watching VH1's I Love the 70's. Of course I remember all the fun fads and toys like Weebles (who wobble but don't fall down) and extra-wide bellbottoms and Bo Derek's cornrows and Joe Namath's silky smooth legs. It's not just the fads and stars themselves one remembers, however. You remember every single episode of your own sit-com like life that went along with them.
If I fell down this hill and tumbled through the 60's and 70's and 80's, I would see a blurry movie of sex, drugs and rock and roll, though not so much the sex and maybe too much of the drugs. Never enough rock and roll. There would be heartache and angst and so much laughter and love and the whole thing would have a soundtrack that would sell ten million copies as people like me clamored to relive their formative years through the music of the times. Nothing shakes a memory like a song.
My neighbor Diane died this week. She was just a few years older than me and I shared part of my past with her, the most memorable event being the day when we stood in the middle of the street, screaming curses at each other for something I fail to remember right now. Most of the kids on the block were out there watching as I flailed my arms in that Italian way while shouting that Diane was a bitch and a whore and then she called me that unspeakable word that girls sometimes call each other and I think the whole neighborhood gasped at once. Diane's mother came out of the house and dragged Diane in by her hair and that was the end of the show.
I saw Diane's mother yesterday at the wake and we talked a bit, but we talked about her grandson, who is 13 years old and now stands 6'2", and we talked about getting old and how the golden years aren't so golden when you're using a walker to get around and your knees won't bend anymore. We talked about everything but Diane because the only thing I could remember about her was the incident in the street and I don't think her mother wanted to relive that moment when everyone in town heard her daughter use that nasty word.
Diane's son was there. He must be about 16 now and he looked somber yet so very adult-like as he greeted mourners at the door and thanked them for coming and asked them to sign the guest book so he would know who came. It broke my heart to see this kid becoming a man for all the wrong reasons. Some day when he is standing at the top of this hill of ages and looking back at his youth, this is probably what he will remember most, the day he had to dress up and accept a million I'm sorrys for the death of his mother.
I saw some old neighbors in the funeral home, people who still, after all these years, give me the creeps and make me want to crawl into a corner and hide. They represent the worst times, the worst emotions of my growing up and growing bitter days and I still resent them with all the force of a speeding tornado. I don't forgive because they never asked and anytime I see one of them, I look them in the eyes to search for some glint of shame or spark of apology and there is nothing there, as if it all didn't matter to them. I'm sure when they looked down the younger side of their hills, they skipped right over the rocks and stones that represent their small torturings of me.
I suppose I should look past that as well and focus on the summer days spent barefoot and the winter days wading through snowdrifts as high as my waist and the sweet smell of the mimeograph copier in the principal's office or my mother teaching us how to play real Brooklyn style stickball. Sundays at grandma's and weeks spent upstate searching for snakes under rocks and driving down to Florida in a the brown station wagon while we sat in the back and made peace signs out the window to other drivers.
I turn towards the other side of the hill now and look down towards my kids getting older and sweeter and smarter, to weddings and births and new challenges that all my experiences have taught me to deal with. One year of a new marraige under my belt and so many to go, and they all are over that hill. It seems like a pretty good place to spend the rest of my life and as I start thinking about new directions and finally setting out to accomplish the goals I set for myself and looking around and seeing all the people who will accompany me on this walk down the second half of my life, I can't help but smile, welcome it and enjoy the feel of the grassy slope on my bare feet.