I'm swimming laps in my black Miraclesuit: a complex contraption engineered with pulleys and trip wires and industrial-strength trusses designed to cantilever my aging body into an acceptable shape that will not frighten other swimmers.
At least, it looks like I'm swimming. What I am really doing is stealing surreptitious glances at a young woman who has come to sit by this public pool. She unzips her lacy minidress, revealing airbrushed perfection in a tiny, white bikini: long legs, a flat belly that looks as if it has never carried a child, sculpted arms that do not have flapping sub-arms appendaged to them.
I feel nothing but white-hot rage in this cool, blue pool.
Oh, I know I shouldn't. Especially now, when we women celebrate bodies of all sizes and excoriate those who would judge us on appearance alone. I get that it is precisely the wrong moment to be filled with hate against one of our own.
But it's pulsing through my veins, this primal, intergenerational fury. I am the evil stepmother wishing this Snow White nothing but poison apples. The Wicked Witch of the West tormenting Dorothy for possession of those suggestive red slippers. The cannibalistic crone who lures Hansel and Gretel to her house to make a meal of them. I now contain all of these archetypal hags and it's taken me more than 60 years to fully understand their wrath against fading power and beauty. To comprehend that the term "miracle"—used to describe Jesus walking on water, a cure for cancer or finding fresh water when stranded on a desert island—also means to "instantly look 10 pounds lighter in 10 seconds." Or so the sales tag on the bathing suit fabricated for aging women promises.
How I long to rocket out of the water, point a bony, gnarled finger at this stunning mermaid and scream, "Just you wait! Beauty vanishes with astonishing swiftness!"
In an era of militant self-acceptance and pink hats and speaking one's truth, this late-in-life obsession with aging has knocked me off-kilter.
I know these are the years to reap the rewards of a life well-lived: a long, happy marriage, children finally raised, a career tied neatly in a bow and deepening friendships that should all lead to a grateful and graceful appreciation of simply being alive.
I feel that. But I'm feeling it in a body that symbolizes—and graphically illustrates—every mortal's deepest fear.
This preoccupation with not being 30 is especially shameful, given that the person who writes these words is impossibly lucky and lives in a house with heat and indoor plumbing, and might as well have a flag planted on her front lawn declaring white, economic privilege. That the person who writes these words knows women have always been subjugated by impossible societal demands to stay forever young.
The bikini-clad goddess dips a toe into the water, while I pointedly swim to the far end of the pool. My husband, previously absorbed in a novel on a poolside chaise, now looks up, the way a fox quickens when a rabbit crosses his radar.
"Don't look at her, don't look at her, don't look at her" I am silently imploring, but it's too late. He is a man. She is gorgeous. She sits and executes a flirty flutter kick at the water's edge.
I need to get out of this pool right now, dragging my 62-year-old dripping carcass with me, away from this young woman who has unwittingly ruined my afternoon. But how to do so without juxtaposing my wreck of a body next to her sublime supremacy?
There's the towel trick, known by all women of a certain age. I strategically left mine by the pool ladder. I regard the sylph with a steely nod of my gray head, hoist myself up the rungs, one wobbly thigh at a time. I grab the towel, wrap it around me, swaddling the jiggly bits at warp speed and hug myself.
"I love you," I suddenly whisper fiercely—improbably—to my body, a radical affirmation for a sturdy corpus that has walked me to kindergarten, made love, birthed babies, watched my children get married, trembled over my parents' graves, sat at a desk in a television newsroom for 30 years, miraculously carried me to this point in time, doing the best it could, nobly pumping blood, ambulating, hiking, running, sleeping. It's a miracle. My body has not a clue about the war I've waged to shape and manage and transform its aging shamefulness into a superhuman being that never gets older or loses its sexual currency.
But it's a fleeting insight.
My husband of 35 years locks eyes with mine as I walk towards him, sheathed in terrycloth. He knows. His smile telegraphs kindness.
Do you think this is the part where I have my epiphany? Where I realize how great it is to be an old biddy, how all that matters is love and family after all, how stupidly superficial it is to wish I looked younger, to rejoice at not having to procreate or raise children, to be grateful for every sunrise and every sunset?
Seriously? Go find yourself another essay. Because I don't want kindness or an epiphany. I want to be her.
To feel again the electric buzz when I enter a room full of men. To take for granted that all body parts are working and that desire is an endlessly renewable energy source, to effortlessly get a hotel upgrade, slink out of a parking ticket, be offered the best table in the restaurant, emit that invisible pheromonal pollen that confers magical powers on young women.
To feel anything less than this politically incorrect longing is gonna take a miracle.