There are movies that go like this.
The hero reads a book. He is engrossed. Or she is engrossed. (As with so many things, gender is irrelevant.) Someone reads a book and can’t stop reading it.
The character in the book hears floorboards creak in the bedroom. The character on screen does, too.
On screen, an eyebrow goes up, then down again. No, just a curious coincidence.
More reading. The character in the book sees a shadow flit past the window. The character on screen does, too.
On screen, a pause. Eerie music begins to rise.
In the book, there’s a knock at the door, echoed by one on screen.
Our protagonist stifles a scream, tries to pull themselves together, and walks slowly to the door…
This usually turns into a horror story, but it’s also what getting older is like.
* * * * *
The complaints about aging are timeless: bones groan, hair wilts and turns gray, the body goes slack, no longer taut enough to turn heads. You hear these laments repeated everywhere you go, in fairy tales and magazines and news exposes.
You think, Oh, that’s too bad. You think of these stories as stories, as things that happen to other people, never to you.
Time marches on. Your metabolism slows, arthritis cuts into your workouts, and looming in the background, always the specter of sciatica, butt of senior jokes.
One morning, you awake with a stiff ankle or a twinge of pain along your back, and you think, Wait, why didn’t anyone warn me it would be like this? Suddenly it dawns on you: they did. Everyone did. The book you’ve been reading, the movie you’ve been watching, the complaints around the dinner table, the jokes, the jokes, the jokes–the joke’s on you.
And you realize, Holy shit. I thought Prufrock was just a whiner.
* * * * *
There at least four different reactions to this epiphany.
1. You can immediately Google “plastic surgeons near me” and spend a small fortune on nips, tucks, and tamed botulism. (Not recommended. The procedures rarely yield the desired results, and even if they come close, the science is always improving, luring you back to the outpatient clinic with promises of a newer, better, younger-looking you.)
2. You can spend money on hookers and rent boys or trophy wives and husbands to make yourself feel desirable. (Recommended with qualifications. This only works until the money runs out, which is likely to happen faster if you pursue option #1 and option #2 simultaneously.)
3. You can do yourself in, go out on a high-ish note. (Also not recommended. There’s no refund policy.)
4. You can do like most of us do: let your jaw (and your chin and your ass) drop a bit further and keep reading. Be amazed that the story of your life has already been written so many times in so many ways. Be humbled that you are part of humanity’s long, long, strikingly similar lineage. The DNA that’s given you an expiration date is the same DNA that makes you socially inclined, offers you the ability to eat meat and vegetables alike, and gave our ancestors just enough variation in hair and skin color to prevent bigger killing machines from slaughtering them all in the jungles, deserts, and arctic wastes of a younger-looking Earth.
And more importantly: it’s not over. When most people experience this kind of epiphany, they still have decades to go. There’s more written about the later years, too. It’s engrossing. Read to the end.