“Back in my day, we used to-” Startled at the words that were about to tumble from my lips, I pause with a hand to my mouth. Back in my day? When did I start saying things like that? Those are the things that my parents used to say! Looking around at the confused expressions on the faces of those around me, I clear my throat, remove my hand from my lips and abruptly stand. “You know, I’m actually not feeling very well. I think I’m going to go upstairs and lie down for a while.”
Waving away the protests and offers of assistance from my dear friends, I stand and begin my trip up the staircase. Somewhere in the back of mind it registers that my knees are a bit shakier than they used to be, and the fingers gripping the rail of the staircase so tightly have lost their youthful color and are beginning to show a few wrinkles here and there- something that I had not noticed until then.
At the top of the stairs, I make a left, heading down the hallway that leads to my bedroom. Lining the walls of the hallway are framed photos of past family outings, school pictures of the kids, and pictures of my and Michael’s wedding.
Pausing at the picture of Michael and I standing at the front of the church, big, silly grins on our faces, surrounded by those who love us, I note the twinkle of youth in our eyes and the childishness of our faces. With me being 19 and him being 20, we thought we were so grown up- a thought that is almost laughable now. We had our entire lives mapped out: we knew exactly where our lives were going to take us.
We had plans of buying an RV that was going to take us around the world. We would visit each of the states first, starting with Florida. Then we would begin touring Europe- Italy, France, England, and all of the quaint little towns in between, and after that, who knows? With nothing but love and dreams in our eyes, we had so many plans.
When did we ever decide to let those plans go? Did we make a conscious decision, or did we just allow it to fade slowly from our minds, so far in the background that we no longer even remember them? I guess that somewhere between the stress of work and the children, those plans got lost somewhere.
Turning away from the photos that inexplicably bring sad tears to my eyes, I open my bedroom door and am assaulted by the sight. Closing the door behind me, I take a few steps into the room and realize how dated and stuffy everything looks. I mean, what happened to my love of posters and artwork from when I was a kid? What happened to the floral comforters, the patterned curtains and the fuzzy rugs? Where are the piles of dirty clothes and stacks of dirty dishes on the nightstand?
When did I decide to buy a plain, dark gray bed set (which is much more practical,) swap the curtains out for plain white shutters (because they are easier to clean,) and roll up the pretty, patterned rugs (also known as tripping hazards)? Since when is the vacuum sitting in the corner of the room for easy access?
Walking over to the vanity, I absent-mindedly pick up the tube of lipstick sitting there, and have a sudden memory of all of the fun-colored lipsticks that I used to spend my allowance on each week. So many shades, so exciting- Tango Red, Witch’s Brew Green, Smoking Gun Blue and so many more. Now looking at the dull, muted pink that goes on my lips each morning, almost as an obligation, I feel a wave of nostalgia wash over me.
Lying on my bed, (lying, not flopping onto my bed, as I used to do,) I close my eyes and ask the question that has been going through my head since I uttered that dreadful phrase earlier: “When did I get old?”
Thinking back, I can remember having conversations with friends, proudly stating that I would never “get old.” I would forever remain young and in the loop. When did those dreams die? It must have been somewhere between having three kids, trading the Camaro in for a minivan, and throwing out all of my beautiful sandals for more comfortable, sensible shoes. How could I not have seen this coming?
I’m not the only one though- Vivian, bright, fun-loving Vivian with the dark lipstick and slightly risque outfits, is now a mother of five, wears a sweater for every occasion and forgoes makeup entirely. Motorcycle-driving, risk-taking John now drives a Volkswagen nicknamed Gloria and chooses hotel rooms without balconies for fear of having a heart attack everytime a kid steps outside. What happened to us- the high school best friends? Was the decision to trade in our previous, exciting lives sudden and deliberate or gradual and subtle?
Taking a deep breath to calm myself after these sudden realizations, I get to my feet (slowly) and begin the trek back downstairs- I’m sure my company is wondering where I am. In just a few hours we will all be standing outside sipping lemonades, music playing, all looking up at the sky in awe of the fireworks that commemorate the freedom of our country, while in the back of my mind, I will be visualizing instead the death of my personal freedoms.
“Delia! There you are! I was just coming up to check on you! Are you feeling okay?” Michael, my dear Michael, takes my hand and helps me down the last few stairs. For the first time, I notice the strands of graying hair in his goatee, the crows feet and laugh lines on his face, and the weathered feeling of his hands on mine. I wonder what he sees when he looks at me.
“Sorry hon, I was just a little dizzy- I haven’t eaten enough today I guess.”
“Okay, well, if you’re sure.” He squeezes my hand reassuringly.
I force a smile and say “Yeah, I’m sure.”
Slipping my hand from his, I leave my place at his side and walk into the kitchen to grab the lemonade pitcher so that I can go around and refill the drinks of my guests.
“Hey, Delia! Happy Fourth of July!” I turn at the familiar voice.
“Vivian, hey! Happy Fourth!”
“Oh, nothing much. You know how it is- between responsibilities at home and work, I hardly have time to think!”
Nodding and toying with the sleeve of her blue sweater, she says “Oh, yes- I understand! Sometimes, at the end of the day, after making five different dinners for each of the kids, I’m so tired that I go to bed without making anything for myself!”
Setting down the pitcher, I take a closer look at her. “What happened to us, Vivi?”
She frowns. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, when did we get so old?” I throw my hands up and gesture to the room around us. “Look at my kitchen. Since when am I the person who hangs decorative plates on the walls and has signs with cheesy sayings like ‘Live, Laugh, Love’?”
I take a step closer to her. “Look at me, Vivian! Look at my hands! You used to not be able to see the veins, but now look! And my hair! When did I start dying my hair? Since when am I someone who has to cover up their gray roots?!”
Vivian, sweet Vivian, sees that I am close to hysteria and quickly grabs my hand and marches me up the stairs, back to the bedroom that caused so much panic just a few moments before. She pulls me over to the window and opens the shutters and somewhere in the back of my mind it registers that they need to be cleaned.
“What do you see, Delia?” She asks me.
“I don’t know, Vivian.”
“Yes, you do. Look out that window and tell me what you see.”
I sigh. “I see Michael, playing with the kids. I see piles of leaves that we should have bagged up and gotten rid of before we had company over. I see the dog tramping all over the garden that took me hours to plant.”
Vivian sighs. “No, Delia. LOOK. Don’t look at what has potential to go wrong- look and tell me what you see.”
My eyes search the yard, looking for what she could be referring to. Finally, I just shake my head and shrug my shoulders.
She leans closer and points to the piles of leaves. “See those leaves, Delia? Those leaves are from trees that are in your yard- the yard that you always dreamed of having, right behind the house that you always wanted. Remember the hours that we would spend designing our dream houses? Guess what Del- you got it! You got your dream house!”
She points to the dog: “Surely you haven’t forgotten the thousands of times we asked our parents for dogs- and surely you haven’t forgotten the thousands of times they said no. You finally got one!”
Finally, she points to Michael. “I can still remember, even if you’ve forgotten, the thousands of late-night phone calls that I spent listening to you daydream about your future with Michael DeVon- the ‘man of your dreams.’ I remember how you would blush every time he walked in the room, and the hours we spent at your house going through your closet, choosing the perfect outfits. Look Del- you got him! He’s your husband, and you guys have a wonderful family. God blessed you with everything you have ever asked for, and now you’re upset about a few wrinkles and gray hairs? Come on, Delia!”
She leads me to the bed and sits with me. “I know what you’re going through. Change is hard! Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that I was young, fit, and didn’t have a care in the world- but the truth is, that was a long time ago, hon.” She reaches up and wipes away the tear that was sliding down my cheek.
“Just because things are different doesn’t mean that they are any less amazing. Sure, we may not have as much time to go dancing or fuss with silly things like frilly outfits and makeup, but now we just have a different way of enjoying ourselves. God blessed us then, and He blesses us now. Things have changed, but they aren’t bad. We didn’t get old- we grew up.”
Overwhelmed with how right she is, I lean forward and hug her with all my might. “Thanks, Vivian. That is exactly what I needed to hear. I know all of those things, but sometimes I just get so overwhelmed.”
She smiles. “I understand- I need the same reminder sometimes too.”
Sniffing, I ask, “I wonder how John is doing with all of this change? I was just thinking about how much his life changed, too. You remember that old leather jacket he used to wear? The one with the stitching on the back?” I stand and cross to the window, and see John in the yard, playing with the dog in his sweater vest and khakis. “He may need the same reminder.”
Vivian smirks, “Oh honey, he didn’t just grow up: he actually got old.”