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I’ve Aged Since James Died

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The other day I caught a glimpse of myself in a restaurant mirror. For a split second I thought the woman staring back at me was my mother. I spent another split second hoping it was my mother, only to painfully acknowledge it was me. I was shocked to see how much I’ve aged since James died. I know what Nora Ephron meant in her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, when she said her friends had begun dressing like “a white ladies’ version of the Joy Luck Club.” In addition to my neck, I need to add my jowls and my forehead to the list of visible body parts in need of camouflaging. It’s not like I haven’t planned for this day, when my face goes south, because I have.

When I was 21, I began buying expensive French skincare creams designed to ward off the aging process: a light moisturizer for day, something a little richer for night and an eye cream that had the texture of vanilla mousse. Since I had insanely youthful, flawless skin, I rationalized the expense by putting the creams in the same category as Social Security: Someday, when I reached a “certain age,” they would pay off.

By age 30, I started buying wide-brimmed Frank Olive and Patricia Underwood hats to protect my skin from the sun; hats that were so big, they needed their own airline ticket when I traveled. I remember a particular trip to Central America to dig for Mayan artifacts. The locals kept pointing to my head and smiling. I smiled back, thinking they were admiring my hat, until I saw my shadow on the ground and realized a bird had perched on my hat. While the bird may have decided she’d found a ready made straw nest, the locals probably thought I was a crazy lady with a satellite dish on her head.

Recently I saw Jane Fonda on television. She’s 73 and looks great, for any age. Ms. Fonda’s admission to having had plastic surgery made me think, yet again, about having a facelift. Ten years ago, I had an appointment with a well-known Beverly Hills plastic surgeon that had “done” a friend of mine. While I didn’t have anything done, his outer office was well worth the price of the consultation. It was lined with young women with gold fish lips and old women in wheelchairs, wearing their granddaughter’s face and short shorts. At the time, I didn’t really need anything done, but now I sympathize with their desire to turn back the clock.

How many of us haven’t thought about having a facelift, or a nip and tuck, more than once? Sometimes I see people who’ve had plastic surgery and who look like another species, or like they come from the planet Restylane. If I were to have plastic surgery, I’d want to look like my makeup artist friend, Sandy Linter, who, at 64, is achingly beautiful. I have the name of her plastic surgeon, but there’s no guarantee I’d wind-up looking perfectly natural like she does. What if I didn’t look like myself, or what if everyone said, “She’s had work done, but it looks pretty good?” I don’t want to be a walking neon sign that screams “Plastic Surgery on Board” although I have had 10 breast surgeries because of breast cancer, but that’s different. Sandy gave me some great advice, however. She said have the one thing that bothers you most fixed and live with it for a while, then decide if you want anything else done.

Since I was the last woman in her 50s to get her ears pierced, the odds of my getting anything “done” are slim to none. Besides, I first have to deal with whether to try Rogaine or not. Also, when people see me, if they notice that my eyes are crossed and my tongue juts out, they’re probably not going to think about how much I’ve aged.

PS: I realize that talking about losing James and finding humor in my vanity may not go together, but I think James would say it’s a good sign. That I have any humor at all after this last year is reaffirming that I’m finding my way without his physical presence. His love and his spirit will reside in me always.