The Freedom of My Years

§ What I really remember about her essay is how profoundly sorry I felt for this young woman.  She still hadn’t managed to figure out that growing older is inevitable, but growing up is optional. §

As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog (see Barbie Shoes, published November 13, 2019), for many years one of my favorite ways to waste time at the office was to read a Lifestyle section which scoured the Net for interesting personal blog posts. The essays shared there were rarely boring.  Shocking, irritating, enlightening, silly, funny or thought-provoking, but not boring. Some still stand out in my memory.

One that I remember vividly had been written by a woman who was just entering her 30s. It was directed to other females of her age group who, she felt, were failing to take seriously their sudden elevation into true “grown up” status. It was time, she chivvied, to cast off the last remnants of wild, uninhibited youth and start behaving like mature, responsible adults. To this end, she offered a great deal of advice, most of it having to do with makeup, hairstyle, and dress. (Surprisingly, she provided no suggestions about behavior, which makes one wonder if she really comprehended the concept of “mature”, but, well, shrug…).

Her first recommendation was: No Graphic Tees. It was time to give them up, she pronounced. Graphic teeshirts were for teenagers and 20-somethings, and We’re All Adults Now. Plain colors and quiet prints only, please.

Then there was eyeshadow. No colors, she directed–no muted blues or soft greens; no lilacs or lavenders, and certainly no wilder shades, no matter what one’s eye color. Ivories and sandy browns and smokey greys, only, please, with perhaps the barest hint of eyeliner. A touch of pale lip color and mascara, but not much in that department, either. Remember, We’re All Adults Here Now.

Fingernails, too, had rules: no bejeweled nails, nor longer lengths; no sparkle, no swirls, no deep, dark colors. Soft, rosy tones or a French manicure, and a single shade only; never different colors on each finger. Don’t even think about unnatural shades, such as electric blue or diamanté black! The same rules applied, of course, to pedicures: muted colors, no shimmer, one shade only.

And hair! Chop off those long locks. Get a very short, wash-and-dry style, and never, ever, choose a hair color other than the normal brown, black, or dark blonde, or, at a stretch, red.  Highlights were acceptable, but, again, only in quiet shades. Don’t even think about adding a streak of purple at Halloween, or Kelley Green at St. Patrick’s day! Adults, remember! Adults!

This “mature” blogger provided numerous other rules for the adult females of her acquaintance; these are only the ones I recall. But what I really remember about her essay is how profoundly sorry I felt for this young woman. At the minimal age of 30, she had become an old woman. She still hadn’t managed to figure out that growing older is inevitable, but growing up is optional.

At 65, retired, I no longer have to deal with office clothing. I have one dress for weddings, and one outfit for funerals. All the rest of my clothing consists of teeshirts, shorts, jeans and sweatshirts.

And every one of my teeshirts is a graphic tee. Every last living one of ‘em.

I have teeshirts from which tiger and cat faces stare out; teeshirts with funny mottos; teeshirts with cartoons. A wide-eyed kitten proclaims, “Doom Is Near!” The shirt that I wear when feeling particularly grumpy reminds me, “No Bad Days!”

During the months just before my retirement, I took to wearing glittering gold eyeshadow. I wanted some bling in my life, I explained, and eyeshadow was one way to begin. Eventually I tired of ending up with sparkles on my contact lenses, but I still occasionally break out the glitter shadow just for the hell of it   I also have a sort of muted gold dust shadow that I periodically take to wearing. I line my eyes heavily when I’m of a mind to, and I prefer rich mauve and berry shades of lip gloss that stand out and define my lips.

I rarely paint my fingernails because the paint always chips and looks awful, while the feeling of fake nails drives me nuts. But for my daughter’s wedding I wore sparkling, iridescent eggplant-color nail polish that exactly matched my gown, while my toenails shone in my sandals with glittering, besparkled bright purple polish. In fact, throughout each summer, my pedicured toes are almost always topped with glittering polish that shimmers in the sunlight.

And my hair, long for most of my adult lifetime, is long still. I wear it up in topknots and Gibson Girls, and down in braids and twists and ponytails. And every five weeks it is still dyed the very standout shade of a brand new copper penny, which brightens my ultra-pale skin.

And, yes, I sometimes even wear a red hat trimmed with a clashing purple ribbon and a sparkling purple rhinestone brooch. Because I can. Because I no longer chose to follow the “grown up” rules. Because my years have given me the joyously complete and utterly unfettered freedom to be young at heart—a freedom that the genuinely young can never experience, but may (if they are lucky) someday come to understand.

My Doppelganger

I’ve heard that we all have doppelgangers, and I’ve marveled at the results on websites devoted to finding one’s double. But the concept troubles me, because for many years now I’ve been mistaken for another woman — someone who apparently lives very near me.

Because I am a relentless worrier, my first thought is always, “But what if my double is a really awful person? Omigosh, what if she’s a criminal?!”  And that is not, as it might appear, a ridiculous concern, because some of my encounters with those who apparently know my double have been extremely uncomfortable.

For instance, once while out shopping, I was accosted by a couple quite unknown to me. The woman half-dragged her male companion up to me and demanded, “Do you remember us?”  The ominous edge to her voice was warning enough to deny all knowledge–even if I had previously met the couple, I’d have replied that I didn’t know either of them from Adam’s housecat!

The woman and her companion were black, and I, with my fish-belly-white skin, am definitely not, so I wondered uneasily if there was a racial problem indicated by her tone – or if her demand had something to do with her obviously uneasy male companion. Either scenario seemed equally bad, so I was happy to be able to reply  honestly, “No, I’m afraid I’ve never met you. You must have me confused with someone else.”  The woman’s “hrrrmmmpphhh” indicated that she hardly believed my answer, but I turned and edged quickly away, grateful when they did not follow.

On another doppelganger occasion, I was taking a selection of goods to a drop site for a charity auction. After a terrible time finding the home of the person collecting the contributions, I hauled my sackful of goods out of the car and up to the door, where I knocked and waited.  The door was answered by a woman who looked visibly startled to see me.  “Oh, you’re back!” she exclaimed.  “Did you find more items for us?”

I stared for a moment, and then muttered in confusion, “Uh, I haven’t been here before. But here are some things for the pet rescue auction.”  I thrust the sack at her and hurried back to my car. Well, at least my double contributes to charity! I thought.

Another confusing encounter occurred as I was returning a heavy wall mirror to a home goods store. A car pulled up much too close to me as I trudged across the parking lot, and I nervously swung around to glare at its occupants, nearly dropping the mirror as I did so. “Don’t be scared. It’s just me!” a woman sang out, and then, in answer to my bewildered look said, “You know, from church?”

The problem with this being, of course, that I do not attend a church.

My list of these encounters could go on and on: the girl who stopped me outside a museum, believing I was the aunt she had not seen in years; the woman who dashed across the lawn at a festival, exclaiming hello but calling out to me a name that wasn’t mine, and who was astonished when I explained that I did not know her.

But perhaps my favorite of all my doppelganger encounters was the afternoon I boarded my regular bus to return home from work. I settled into a seat and, as usual, poked my nose into a book.  But a tiny elderly lady had boarded the bus just behind me at the same stop, and now sat in one of the sideways seats, glaring at me and muttering imprecations under her breath.  Engaged in my novel, I was totally oblivious to her behavior.  But those seated around us were nervously glancing at one another, wondering what the heck was going on.

As the bus pulled up to the next stop, the elderly lady bounced out of her seat and stormed past me, intentionally slamming her purse into my arm as hard as she could before darting out of the back door. Roused from my novel with a vengeance, I caught sight of her face as she rushed out.

I hadn’t the faintest notion in hell who she was.

The other riders exclaimed over the incident, telling me about her glares and curses, and asking me why she’d done that. I could only reply, “I have no idea!  I’ve never seen her before in my life!”

Whoever she was, she’d given me a pretty good walloping with that purse. My arm was bruised for days, and for the next week my daughter insist I lug about the huge hardback final edition of Harry Potter in my tote bag, just in case I needed to fight back.

So, as I say, I worry that my doppelganger is perhaps not always a very nice person. And I would really like to meet her someday, if only to thank her for contributing to charity before I advise her to contact her long-lost niece, attend festivals in Broad Ripple park, tell the people at church that she’s never bought a mirror, and please, please, be more courteous to elderly ladies armed with purses!