I’m old and I’m broken and I’m trying to not say either of those things anymore, because my mind doesn’t need to hear it.
My knees pop either way.
My hip stiffens when I sit too long.
My body is a map of scars that healed themselves invisible.
I’ve edited my life story down to soundbites, down to something that feels like it could fit into 34 years, a choose-your-own adventure of conversation clues.
I think about my wrinkles.
I think about my wrinkles and how I am grateful I have lived long enough to see them. I think about my late husband’s skin, flawless at 36 years old, and stuck in that flawlessness forever.
I think about my wrinkles, my wrinkled fingers in the shower.
I tell the doctor, “I don’t know if this a symptom of something, but I’ve noticed that when I step out of the shower lately, my fingers are wrinkled. That doesn’t usually happen.”
This doctor is a white-coated Columbo. I am a mystery. He accepts everything as a clue. I ask if I should take a picture of my fingers. If that would help.
He shakes his head no.
My body is crumbling. I am old and I am broken, but I am neither of those things, and I need to stop saying both.
I promise to stop.
At group therapy, I make that promise out loud, to myself, and the group bears witness. I mention my wrinkled fingers in passing, and the rough-throated vet to my side tells me that I’m probably just losing time. It happens to people suffering from PTSD.
I tell him I take short showers. I’m never in there long enough to wrinkle. He tells me to set a timer and just see.
His voice is not-quite-gravel. It’s clumps of chalk, the notes are rocky and soft-scratch together and every so often there’s a smooth slide. He lost it for a stretch of time, after a knifewound to the neck. It came back. His voice is not-quite-miracle. It came back, but now everytime someone compliments it– once a day if he goes out with new people– the knife comes back, too. It’s a rocky miracle, and it clumps in his heart, and sometimes he just pretends he can’t speak at all.
He just points to the scar.
Some days, I feel jealousy over that. I wish I had a big ugly scar I could point to. Something so disturbing, I wouldn’t have to use words or smiles.
Of the wrinkles.
My timer says I’m taking showers that are twice, or three times, as long as my normal. It doesn’t feel like it.
I grew up in a big house, lots of people, and never enough bathrooms. I’m done in 15 minutes when I’m taking my time. The three-minute prison showers were frustrating but do-able.
I don’t know where the other half hour is going. I’m not curled up in the corner, crying, like girls in the movies.
My shampoo is running out twice as fast, and I thought it was because my hair was growing but now I’m wondering if it’s because I’m washing it twice.
When the shower finishes, I take a wad of toilet paper, wrap it around my wrinkled fingers, and wipe everything dry, the way I learned in prison.
Sometimes, I don’t do this, but it’s too deliberate a choice to be charted as progress.
Girls have died in this country, locked away, because they left hair in a shower cell.
There’s a story about that in my book, Sack Nasty, but I’ve been thinking about unpublishing the whole thing. Starting over, or maybe not starting with it at all.
Sometimes progress looks more like undoing.
Sometimes undoing looks like washing, and maybe that’s why my fingers have been getting so wrinkled.
Sometimes wrinkles don’t have anything to do with old age, they just have to do with brokenness. Sometimes they don’t have to do with brokenness, they just have to do with life.
Years ago, I started replacing “I’m sorry” with “Thank you”, and I think maybe I’ll start replacing “I’m old and I’m broken” with “I’m living life”, because that’s just as much true and half as much sad, and twice less lonely.
I tell the man with the miracle voice that he was right about time.
I’m holding a tea cup, one part of a mismatched vintage set. A girl in group brings them every week because she was stationed at an ocean dumpsite once. It’s where she lost half her face due to a chemical explosion. It’s where she learned to hate the way we use plastics.
And in a town on the other side of the world, where everything was upside down and war was peace and she was beautiful still, she found this tea set and the love of her life.
She is beautiful, still.
I smile at the teapot and then at the man, but there’s a sad stuck in my smile, and he sees it. He holds his tea cup with his pinky finger out, points at my face, and pretends to gasp, “Why, girl, that is a hiiiideous scar. Where on eaaaarth did you get it?”
I think he’s trying to sound like a Southern belle, and I choke on my darjeeling, and my eyes are all full of joy and nothing else, and in that undoing of sadness, and safety of seen-ness, I begin to tell him a story he already knows.
The beautiful girl who hates plastic approaches and asks what we’re talking about. I tell her I’m sharing the story of my hideous scars and she smiles. It’s a half-smile, and it’s startling gorgeous even in its halfness.
“I’d always wondered.” she says, “They’re just so awful. I don’t even know where to look.”
We laugh so hard that the man with the miracle voice has to hold his chalk in, and his scar turns a purple red. A tear runs down the beautiful girl’s eye, the side that doesn’t remember how to do anything anymore except cry.
And when I look at my hands, I see the scars and wrinkles of a thousand lifetimes, the ones that are so deeply buried, every ordinary person can’t see them at all.