i’ve never, ever been fond of old people. memories swim back to elementary school days performing simple songs in nursing homes to shriveled bodies propped forgotten in plastic chairs and air scented thick and moist with soft food and stale urine. nothing of those forced performances was pleasant. leaving hollow spaces between my ribs where sadness and pity pooled. knowing they’ll eventually be forgotten and already overlooked.
this culture treats the old like worn wash rags or widowed socks. no longer good for it’s purpose but not dead enough to throw out, we tuck them away on a shelf or in a bin (an old coffee container, perhaps?) for later use, to be forgotten or thrown out in next spring’s purge. lack of independence. vitality. speech and motor skills. these things haunt me. because i know i’ll one day turn to dust, yes. but also because i know i’ll never be able to restore those old bones. i can’t fix them or help them or stop the plodding on of time. it’s the hopelessness and inevitability, the idea that the end is blatantly near, that each breath must be taken with fragile care lest the lungs tear to pieces. like old silk. what do you say to someone who very clearly is going to die?
it happened just last night at dinner. one of those hibachi steakhouses with sticky air and loud noises where you sit with strangers around a steaming flat grill to consume mass amounts of rice with soy sauce and seared meats. beside me sat an old man, the kind of old where skin turns to paper and each vein seems to sit atop the flesh like fat noodles and any movement could cause those spreading purple-black bruises. the kind of old that scares me. with his son, not far from old, and his son’s adult children buried deep in smartphones, he sat staring blindly at the menu. when asked his order, he mumbled until his son barked over him – you like chicken don’t you? yes. he’ll have the chicken. no input. no say. less of a voice than child in the party across the way. what stories flowed within those paper veins? what words could he not say? soon to be forgotten. already overlooked.
love always, sarah.