I love reading The Divine Comedy, especially the Inferno part. For those unfamiliar with it, it's a long-ass poem written a long-ass time ago by Italian dude Dante Alighieri. It describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, and depending upon your mood it can be either fabulously enlightening reading or leave you wondering if you have enough Tylenol on hand for a permanent slumber.
I am especially fascinated with the whole concept of Hell having several circles, which are divided into different levels...kind of like the Macy's here in my town. Kids clothes in the basement, cosmetics and women's clothes on the main floor (plus size section waaaaay in the back of course), and men in their own little world.
When I read the Inferno section I like to imagine who I'd run into in each particular circle, which circle I'd be most likely to reside in on that day, which would be worse...hornets, maggots or walking around with my head on backwards? Fun reading.
Anyhoo, the last time I perused this little poem, I thought to myself, "Hey. There needs to be a circle for women of a certain age." More specifically, women in that misty-around-the-edges span of time that is 40-something up to about 50-something.
You see, ladies, once you hit 40, life has a way of changing. And I'm not just talking about menopause (please God, hurry up with that one), wrinkles, body stuff..we all know that's coming. No big surprises there.
What I'm referring to, and what is slowly dawning on me as I do the army crawl through my forties, is that we are completely changed in our positions in life. Kind of like ranks in the military.
I guess this could qualify as limbo, but for the sake of funny let's just make our own circle. In this circle, we struggle daily with new-to-us issues, like the inability to see our faces clearly in the bathroom mirror. Remember the show Moonlighting? Pairing the forever hot Cybill Shepherd with the future poster-boy for midlife, Bruce Willis? I was just a spring chicken when that show aired, but I clearly remember Cybill's close ups were always so gauzy and ethereal, almost dream like. I later learned that was an old school film trick designed to appease aging actresses. Literally "gauzing" the lens. Of course in today's high def/plasma/count my pores world, that would never fly but I clearly remember thinking that she looked like a fairyland queen. That's what we start to see in the bathroom mirrors now. Lookin' good, mama!
Until you take out your contacts or sidle up to the magnifying mirror and realize that you've been gabbing with friends, grocery shopping and whispering sweet nothings into your lovah's ears while sporting Bert eyebrows and a Vote for Pedro mustache. This is the time of our lives when tweezers ace out blow-dryers and curling irons for the number one bathroom must-have. And please, don't get me started on the inch long white eyebrow hairs that spring up overnight. What the hell is that all about?
I have several friends who have or are having babies at this time in life, and I find myself mixed with incredulous disbelief and insane jealousy. I loved, LOVED being pregnant and was really good at it. Would I do it again, at this age? Honestly, I don't know. I guess if money was no object and if I had a partner guaranteed to stick around til the end, maybe I would. But I digress. The majority of my girlfriends had their babies in their twenties and early thirties. Which leaves us with actual young adults on down to tweens in our broods. This is the time of life when you find pubes in the bathroom and you do not know with any certainty to whom they were once attached.
Our children no longer qualify for the kid's meals, and we are not old enough for the senior deals. Menu limbo.
We can fit into the cute junior's clothes, but the last time I wore an American Eagle t-shirt, a smart ass child took time out from his busy day to tell me that I'm too old to wear "those clothes". Thank you, sweet angel, for letting me in on this big taboo. Now please, point me in the direction of the nearest Alfred Dunner store. Actually, we are the darling demographic for stores such as J.Jill and Chico's, and I begrudgingly wear some of it. I just wish that their catalogs made me feel as young and hopeful as the J Crew catalogs used to. Now I see sleek gray haired mavens proudly standing tall, hands on hips whilst showing us the power of the TUNIC. Sigh.
We watch commercials for Viagra and quietly feel sorry for those pretend t.v. wives. We know that behind their glossy smiles they are thinking, "Dear sweet Baby Jesus, why? I have a Pilates class tonight!!!!".
We aren't quite old enough to have the full-on, Bea Arthur-as-Maude take on life...we want to say a giant FUCK OFF to many people but we still worry about social or familial repercussions.
We catch ourselves thinking naughty thoughts about younger guys, only to be flooded with shame and the creeps when we realize that they are almost the same age as our sons. My friend and I were recently at a graduation party for another friend's son. As we sat there admiring the parade of young people, we reminisced about our own lost youths. We made the pedophilia jokes, of course, and thought about what we would tell these kids if only we were visible and audible to them. I said that if I had 18 year old boobies again, I would probably just lock myself in a bathroom and play with them. We are borderline dirty old ladies.
Our parents are old now. Some have left us, some are in the painful process of leaving. Some of us care for them as we cared for our babies and as they once cared for us. The circle of life is glowing brighter for us now, brighter than it ever has. We are reminded now, more than ever, how short this time on earth is. We have come to realize that yes, this is really all there is, and if you don't make damn sure you squeeze every bit of joy and laughter and love out of it, you will be sorry.
All kidding aside, yes, I do know that these minor little grievances I write about aren't really Hell. They aren't even hellish. For every mundane annoyance in my life there are at least ten good things, things that make me grateful and humbled and happy.
I just wish I didn't have to squint to see them.