"I thought that was the dark side," the gentle reader might be wondering.
"Well, yeah," a somewhat subdued Walhydra replies. "It wasn't the cheeriest of tales, was it then?"
She glances around awkwardly.
"But you see, Mom put her finger right on the sore spot. Remember what she said?
" 'For years I've been telling myself I was going to die perfectly healthy.' "
Walhydra isn't laughing.
This week Walhydra read straight through a weirdly brilliant "young adult" novel called I Am the Messenger, by award-winning Australian thirty-year-old Marcus Zusak. She recognized him from the very first pages as one of those youngsters who is "wise beyond his years."
Granted, going all the way back to childhood, a now rather envious Walhydra has liked to think of herself as "wise beyond her years." Unfortunately, since she never liked to be caught out speaking in error, she mostly kept it to herself—unlike this young genius. Now she suspects her years are beyond her wisdom.
In any event, at a pivotal moment in Zusak's novel, his first person narrator Ed says the following:
It's impeccable how brutal the truth can be at times. You can only admire it.Walhydra has had her own pants down for much of this same week. Unproductively, so to speak.
Usually, we walk around constantly believing ourselves. "I'm okay," we say. "I'm all right." But sometimes the truth arrives on you, and you can't get it off. That's when you realize that sometimes it isn't even an answer—it's a question. Even now, I wonder how much of my life is convinced.
I get to my feet and join [my friend] Ritchie in the river.
We both stand there, knee-deep in water, and the truth has well and truly pulled our pants down.
The river rushes by. (304)
As part of her diligent Virgo program of "dying perfectly healthy," a year ago she joined the local taoist tai chi class. It's actually made noteworthy difference to her in terms of limbering up her posture and unkinking fifty-mumble years' worth of asymmetrically stored psychosomatic stress.
Joking aside, she seriously recommends this practice.
Nonetheless, it doesn't make incarnate the Virgo fantasy of returning an old body to its unblemished and divine wholeness. Darn.
Instead, what the practice does do is to give one a template towards which to aspire.
What delights and fascinates Walhydra is this. This far along with her practice it will happen that, at any given moment, walking, standing, sitting, driving, her body will notice miniscule misalignments—a left shoulder slightly raised, a right psoas muscle failing to release enough to square her hips—and will make the correction as best as the ancient nerves and muscles can.
"Ancient?!" Walhydra objects, seizing the fountain pen from the hand of her amanuensis. "Just write what I tell you. Don't editorialize!"
The point is that tai chi is slowly restoring a bone-deep body sense which Walhydra has known only sporadically since her bout with non-paralytic polio at age four. This gives her hope.
But about that dark side.
Two Saturday's ago, Walhydra joined her class for a day-long intensive workshop. Despite the sound of that word "intensive," it was a pleasant day of gentle, deep-muscle workout and friendly socializing—until it was followed by a long night of aching, groaning, upset stomach and cramping bowels.
"Oh," Walhydra said in the pre-dawn darkness. "That's right. This is Chinese 'alternative medicine' exercise, releasing old toxins into the blood stream. I need to hydrate!"
Four days of hydrating later, four days of unproductive pants-dropping—despite doses of the liquid chalk some wag cleverly misnamed milk of magnesia—and Walhydra is saying, "Somethin' ain't right!"
She makes a doctor's appointment for Friday.
On Thursday night, Walhydra and hubby Jim are out for dinner with four of their fifty-something gay bowling league buddies. And they're all joking about it!
When she heads for the men's room at one point, Walhydra taps the guy next to her and says, "It's not the emergency you feared sitting in the way of. More likely just wishful thinking."
Upon her return—unproductive again—she asks her fellow geezers, "Did any of you think in your 20s that you'd be joking about stuff like this in your 50s?"
All shake their heads no, sobered by this strange, privileged camaraderie of having lived longer than most of the human race and yet still being prosperous and active.
Privately, Walhydra's Pagan buddy in the group says, "I wonder if it's all the grief and sh-t about your Mom that you're not yet able to let go of?"
Walhydra nods. "I've thought of that. It's bound to be part of what's going on."
But it's not only grief and sh-t about Senior Witch. Walhydra can't keep denying that she is older, too.
Yeah, tai chi is loosening things up for her—well, some things. Yet when she watches the progression of her Mom's failing memory, she's also aware of her own. And the doctor has been warning her about her not-yet-diabetic-but-rising blood sugar level. And the dentist wants her to cap the forty-year-old filled molar and the yellowed, root-canalled eye tooth.
For decades, Walhydra has been secretly delighted that people routinely mistake her from at least ten years younger than she is. During her prison counselor years she used to joke that she grew the goatee "because that's the only place I get gray hairs—and I've earned them."
But, as the Chiffon commercial used to say....
When Walhydra was making one of her recent lone trips to South Carolina, before Senior Witch moved to Pensacola, she stopped near Savannah for a pancake lunch. Browsing the menu, she realized she wasn't really up to eating five pancakes. Then she turned to the back page.
"Perkin's '55 Plus'!" it read. Three pancakes for the senior citizens' price.
"Hmm...," she thought bemusedly. And, like the baby bear's—or maybe grampa bear's—portion, it was just right.
On Friday, the physician's assistant finds nothing of concern in her physical exam of Walhydra's cramped up abdomen. An x-ray to rule out blockages finds nothing either. So the P.A. says to up the water and "milk" and fiber-rich foods...and wait.
That night things are—*phew!*--more productive.
At work on Saturday, Walhydra jokes with a soon-to-retire crony.
"By this age, I've learned to just laugh at my own psychosomatic ailments, instead of worrying about them," she says. "So I had to get the doctor's permission to start sh-tting again. Oh, well. It's silly, but it's a lot easier and quicker than psychoanalysis."
By this age?
Here, then, is the dark side. Trying to keep Senior Witch from aging and dying comes out of genuine fear of her loss. But someone else doesn't want to age or die either—despite her sometime enlightenment.
"If I could just eat the right diet, do this tai chi faithfully, get serious about cardiovascular workouts at the Y...."
Every once in a while, in the midst of her holier-than-thou rants, Walhydra acknowledges being a product of her culture's fears and fantasies, a mortal like all other mortals.
As she sat in Perkins eating that third pancake a couple months back, she thought about her chronic "fifty-mumble" joke. Then she tried out a different line, just to see what it would feel like.
"I'm almost sixty."