Reality Bites

LVal_01I wasn’t ready, not for any of the realities that are settling around me in these terrible days. I suppose I believed I was invincible and would be ‘exotic’ forever. Exotic was my beloved step-mother’s word for how I looked, not beautiful, not ordinary, not ugly but ‘exotic’. I also believed my body would never betray me and my brain would someday be as valuable as my body. Of course, these things were all fairytales; I always did have a vivid imagination.

Confidence is a grand thing when you are young and can afford it. When you have bouncy houses to fall back into and plenty of friends and relatives to catch you when you stumble. Truthfully, an overabundance of confidence in the young and not quite ready for prime time is a necessary ingredient to success. When we are young, we wander through life fluffing our hair, flexing our muscles and demanding attention for achievements we have not yet truly completed. When we are young, we are thrilled with the monumental triumph of being voted ‘most likely to succeed’ and decimated by our first broken heart.

It is all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? As we age, we gain insight into what is what matters. When we were young, especially if we are women, that first grey hair devastates us; it signals the loss of something we have been Going Greytold is vital to our success; our youth. We stare at that grey traitor for long minutes before we grab our tweezer and pull it out by the root. From that moment on, every morning, we inspect for more. If you have dark hair like me, they are obvious those bright white streaming ribbons throughout your head. Today I keep my hair its original dark chocolate, but this is one of those luxuries up for reevaluation as reality digs its claws into me, striping me of vanity and confidence at once.

I wasn’t ready for what aging meant. There was what my mind and heart thought and there was the truth. These were so distinctly different; I was never able to reconcile them. There was what those who loved me said; brilliant, exotic, funny. There was what society said; pushy, fat, odd, too smart, different. There was what I thought; smart, not ugly, fat, damaged. None of these assessments ever fully aligned; mostly, we agreed I was smart, but in some cases, too smart was a condemnation. I realize now, decades later, it was rarely, maybe never, a compliment. How can anyone be too smart?

Too smart means you intimidate others, not through intent but simply through your existence in the same space as them. Too smart, if you are a woman, means you make others feel small or dumb. Too smart is never a compliment when it is offered by any person in a position of authority. For twenty-five (25) years, I have heard the backhanded compliment of ‘too smart’ and had one woman manager suggest I dumb myself down when interacting with certain peer groups. Looking back, perhaps I would have been better served following her advice.

I wasn’t ready, not for the pandemic, not for another round of long-term unemployment, not for being alone at 63 and not for growing old like this. Honestly, I thought it would all be much different. I had this fantasy in my head, fueled by my overabundance of confidence and the fairytale. I thought at this stage of life, I would be in my last career stop earning a good living, retirement settled and money in the bank. I thought I would be FairytaleCottagehappily ensconced in a relationship with someone who loved me, respected me and thought exotic equaled beautiful and brains were sexy. I thought, because of that damnable fairytale, career and personal would somehow finally have merged into something resembling a life of shared travel, backyard barbecues, friends and family mixed in with laughter, sex and shared secrets.

I simply was not ready for the reality that is pounding me with the potential of losing everything I worked for my entire life. A lifetime of hard work being of zero value on a market that wants bright, shiny and new. Being too smart, too experienced and too damn old is a bitter pill to swallow.  Reality has finally shattered the fairytale I held for decades. Mine were so closely held and so finely built, I weep as they tumble around me, knowing I cannot save even small pieces of them any longer. Now it is merely a question of how to let go knowing I have weeks, not months left before there is nothing more to keep me safe.

Reality settles around me like a miasma of bitterness, and each day I try to push it aside in the hope there will be something that rescues me. I realize this abyss is mine. I allowed this to happen to me. Perhaps I could have prevented it, but I chose differently. I chose others over myself too often. I have nothing left of a safety net. I will soon lose everything which allowed me to keep body and soul protected and some semblance of normalcy around me. There was a time I thought never giving up was important, a sign of strength. I no longer have anything left, certainly not that strength that says I can go another day being beaten down. one_eyeland_desert_woman_by_christopher_wilson_30325

I was not ready for this and do not have it in me to do this; my strength and my will to rise have been battered out of me. I wonder how many others are saying to themselves I have nothing left and nowhere to turn, I am done. I wonder how many others, like me, are saying what now and how will I survive after everything is gone. I wonder how many others ask these questions and find no answers in a world that seems to have become more heartless.

Too smart? I clearly wasn’t ready for this and my brains will not help because they reside in a body to old and I am unable to change any of my history or dumb it down from here. Now, choices are what I cut from a budget already sliced and diced to almost nothing; of course, I know what is next and am terrified.

Yet, I know I have more than others, so I am grateful for my small blessing even in the wake of my terror. I have had decades more than I was supposed to, so I have been blessed. I have known great love and seen all of my family’s next generation grow into extraordinary human-beings, so I have been blessed many times over. I cannot even in my terror and fury say that I haven’t had immeasurable blessings in friends and family over these many years. Even in counting my blessings, as I contemplate where I will be soon, I find I have a difficult time being grateful. I wonder how many of us will survive this intact.

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