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In my early 80s I still had a kind of pride but now, I’m not so feisty

STEVEN HUGHES/The Globe and Mail

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I arrived last spring at old age. After prancing about merrily at the beginning of my 80s, a small medical situation put me into less prancey territory, and I suddenly felt old.

In my early 80s I still had a kind of pride. I was tough, I looked pretty good, I had moments of verbal clarity, I remembered what I read.

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But now, a bare three or four years further along in this voyage, I'm not so feisty. Tiny things have gone wrong, and tiny changes in my being have pushed themselves to my notice.

What is new? What is it that has changed?

Everything takes more effort.

The appearance of attentiveness, which I work to maintain, takes more energy now. I go to the bookshop to hear readings by local authors, or to the university to hear the words of writers from other places delivering lectures and readings. (These things represent one of the perks of living in a university city: There is a lot of free stuff going on, a great advantage for those of us not cushioned by financial security.) I find I must listen closely to follow the reading, the lecture. I make notes in a little red Moleskine. When I read them later, I have no idea what they mean.

There is a sense of some physical insecurity.

Balance? How odd it is, these days, to feel a tiny sense of tottering. I swear it's my new glasses. Perhaps I'm better off without them. Or is it the shoes? I try many different kinds of shoes. Whatever it is, I feel ever so slightly less secure on my feet as I walk on my patio, or down the street. There is, here in my body, a new sense of insecurity. The soles of my feet feel like bubble wrap, unstable. I am particularly careful when I go up or down stairs.

Is it the physical insecurity that leads to the mental/emotional one? Or the other way around?

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My mind is shifting. Memory? Yes, that has changed also. I have the sense that all the proper nouns have fled, or are playing hide-and-seek. Names of people, or organizations, or books and journals – these are gone. Well, not gone exactly, but hiding in the wings, just outside my line of sight, my line of thought, outside the memory trace.

This has been troubling me for several years, fleetingly. The absences, now, are of longer duration. Sometimes the idea itself vanishes from my mind before the noun presents itself.

I tell myself I am tired when it happens. Thinking about the name of a person, a book, an idea, I have learned to back off, not to try too hard. It will come, I tell myself.

And sometimes that's true. Sometimes it does come. Sometimes I forget it was ever missing. My mind moves on.


Yes. This, too, is more frequent. I like my afternoon nap, as I have for years, but it feels different now. It's less a real nap and more like a long state of leisure, a bit of floating in space/time.

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The face in the mirror.

Weight loss, four or five pounds, has brought with it an epidemic (an epidermis?) of wrinkles. My bony face in the bathroom mirror looks terrified at what it sees. Vanity, vanity. A little fresh paint helps, but not much.

Bones – I have my mother's knee and other body parts.

I seem to have acquired her right knee, the one that turned in slightly, giving a small twist to her torso.

I am thinning out. I am weakening. This is not good news. My doctor is worried about my old bones, and therefore I am, too. There's a new treatment that might prevent fractures.

As I write, here at my keyboard, I see my bony fingers whacking away at the keys, feel the arthritis in my left thumb from 20 years of mouse-ing.

The voice. Oh, the voice.

At one time I had some familiarity with standing in front of a room full of people and speaking out in a good strong voice, being heard, being listened to. I used to be, I say with some chagrin, quite vain in my vigour and quickness, my good posture and strong voice.

Gone. Gone. All of it gone. My voice is full of squeaks and cracks, powerless. It's quite a comeuppance, I tell you.

And yet, something endures, something of the past exists.

Sometimes, waking in the morning without pain, my body will forget itself and think it is young. Under the duvet in the early morning, my old limbs may feel smooth and lithe like those of the girl I used to be. My skin, experienced from the inside, seems supple and rosy.

On the pillow, my hair may be long and blond and gleaming, and there may be eyelashes lacy against my cheeks as I dream-doze, early, before the light, before the morning air, before the thought of coffee, of breakfast.

In that delicious dream state, when words jumble and roll about on the pillow hinting at dreams or poems, I have no age.

Laurie Lewis lives in Kingston.

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