Kari Hoffman – Something Unexpected

Kari’s story about aging at our November Tenx9 event at Cafe Coco. 

This all started about 10 or 12 years ago  – and it was unexpected alright! Not sudden or exactly surprising not like a car wreck or someone dying young or an evil clown popping out of a box at a birthday party. No, of all the unexpected even shocking things that have ever happened to me the most unexpected thing I’ve ever experienced is the exact opposite of dying young. The most unexpected and shocking thing that has ever happened to me ever, ever up to this very night, is happening right now, is the fact that it’s my birthday and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m old. I am. I looked it up on the internet and according to the accepted definitions (which must be true if they were on the internet) I’m hardly even middle-aged anymore. I’m pretty much headed out the far side of middle age and into elderly land. Well maybe you’re not shocked, it’s not unexpected to you – you’ve never seen me any other way. But you haven’t been along for the ride.

So when this story (somewhat arbitrarily, I admit) starts or shall we not say starts but when we step into the story I am 20 something. It is summer. Those glorious summers when you were in school and could skip class or had some crappy menial job you didn’t mind quitting at the drop of a hat or being fired from if an invitation to something or anything the least bit interesting came your way. Good economy, believe it or not – there was always another crappy menial job to be had at the drop of that very same hat.

So this particular summer my parents are off on a road trip headed for a reunion of sorts with my father’s siblings, my aunt and uncles and their spouses. They’re going to stay at in inn in Connecticut where one of my aunts works as the manager. It’s summer and I am… in between . It’s so long ago I can’t really recall exactly what I was between or why. Between dropping in and out of school? Between some of those crappy jobs? Between lovers? All of those circumstances were rather common for me in those days so you’ll forgive my mental lapse at the exact details.  I’m elderly – what can I say? I’m between and my parents are going to stay at a lovely inn in Connecticut and there you have it  – a plan was made and I was off on one of those why the hell not last minute adventures – a vacation with my parents.

The inn was lovely I’m sure, the food was good, the sight-seeing here and there not bad at all – a historical site, a vineyard, a museum.  No, these are not the details I remember the most. This is what I remember the most vividly about this lovely trip. I am the only person of my generation in the group. My parents and uncles and aunts are in their mid to late 50s. (Seems young to me now!) Everywhere we went and everything we did was accompanied by an endless running conversation about conditions, about illness, about drugs (and not any good kind of drugs, either), about doctor’s appointments, about surgery, about dentures. The first thing in the morning it was about being stiff and achy getting out of bed, when we ate the conversation was about cholesterol, when we walked it was about blood pressure, and heart attacks, in the evening it was about insomnia. It never stopped. Did I use the word endless yet? my doctor said I should walk more. No my doctor said exercise wouldn’t be good for me. I’m taking this drug for high cholesterol You are? My doctor prescribed this. Well, my doctor prescribed this and I have a friend who’s taking that. It went on and on and on and on morning to night for a week. I’m sure I can’t say I literally didn’t say a word for the whole week but I didn’t really have much to offer to the conversation. I was a perfectly healthy 20 something year old. What was there to say? Oh, uh, I had a cold last winter. Boy I sure did feel bad for a few days. Anybody else get a cold last winter?

So that’s the beginning of the story. I leave them there that group of 50-somethings blathering on and on about their health or the lack thereof. And the young woman with them rolling her eyes. And on we go to the middle of the story.

The middle of the story is just my life – finishing school, getting real jobs (and still quitting some of them), serious relationships starting up, serious relationships ending, siblings weddings, the death of grandparents, the deaths of aunts and uncles, the births of nieces and nephews,  buying houses, going on vacations, performance art, a black belt in kung fu, a marathon run, a book of poetry. The stuff of life, the lovely and dreaded thing called adulthood, and the apparent origins in my opinion of that lovely phrase ‘shit happens’.

And then about 10 – 12 years ago strange occurrences began to transpire.

First there was the time our whole family gathered for some holiday or another and my parent’s house wouldn’t fit all of us from out of town so my by now grown niece and nephew and their significant others were staying in a hotel down the road. We had eaten, we were laughing, drinking, reminiscing, we were having fun when niece and nephew said – we’re going to go hang out at the hotel. You all are just talking about a bunch of  people we don’t know and things we relate to. No big deal..wait a minute. I recognize this. The twenty-somethings are making their escape from the boring adults. Hey, we’re not boring! Are we?

Then after that something odd began to happen to mirrors and cameras. I’m still in here picturing myself looking the way I did when I was maybe not 20-something but maybe 30-something or 40. Seriously I had that face for so long I really forget I don’t have it anymore. I still do a double-take every time I look in the mirror and feel a little shocked to see a photo of myself that someone’s snapped. Who’s that old person with the bags under her eyes and the sagging jaw line standing exactly where I was when that picture was taken? Oh yeah….I forgot. I’m old.

So now of all the folks we left back there in Connecticut at the beginning of my story –  now my 91 year old father and his 87 year old brother-in-law are all that’s left.

And I will leave you now, step back out of this ongoing (one hopes) story with one last scene – 3 middle aged sisters of whom I am one around a kitchen table in my father’s house. We’ll just listen in for a minute at what they are we discussing so intently:

what 3 different doctors in three different cities said about osteoporosis, a dental implant, anti-aging skin care products, rogaine for women, my brother-in-law’s COPD, our brother’s heart, fish oil, calcium, mammograms, colonoscopies, Lipitor, thyroid medicine, bone surgery, OMG! We have become them!

And yet in a world without them there is some comfort to be had in this changing of the guard. Yes, today I am 62 and I tip my (invisible hat) to that old cliché – indeed it beats the alternative!

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