Through These Eyes: On Aging
Listen to Justin read: On Aging
A man sits in his living room. He’s in his mid-50s. Handsome. Smartly dressed. He’s normally jovial. Gregarious, even. He is known for his kindness and his sense of humor. But today he’s darker. His face is flush with too much alcohol. His hand trembles when he reaches for his vodka-soda.
His home is impressive: palatial, airy, decorated with pricey art and sleek furniture. He loves white decor. There’s white everywhere. It makes me nervous to eat or drink anything here. I hesitate to sit on his sofa, afraid I’ll stain it with my inferior success.
We’re sitting side-by-side, hunched over a glass coffee table, looking at a photo album–a real-life, leather and adhesive paper, photo album. I’m 21 years old at the time, and I’m looking at pictures of him when he was my age–pictures depicting him surrounded by gorgeous, half-naked young men.
“This is George,” he says of a cute blonde in one picture. “We used to get into so much trouble together.” He forces a laugh, and it seems like he’s about to cry, as if it’s painful to look at the picture.
He frequently chats about his youth in my company, and references the many pictures he’s collected over the years–evidence of his debauched and glamorous twenties. He promised to show them to me one day, and here we are. But sitting at his side, watching him choke up on seeing his former life, makes me regret my visit. I feel bad for making him relive these memories, but I don’t understand why they are painful. These are pictures full of happiness. Shouldn’t he treasure these?
“You don’t have to show these to me,” I say softly.
He fights back his tears. “No, no,” he clears his throat. “It’s just hard for me to see these again…” He looks at me and there is a long silence. And then he breaks down. “I’m not that boy anymore,” he says abruptly. Tears fill his eyes and stream down his face. He sobs uncontrollably. “This isn’t me anymore.”
I embrace him, and the white sofa and its worries melt away…
That was four year ago. I’m 25 now. I’ll be 26 this year. I’m by no means an authority on aging, but I’ve experienced firsthand what it does–what it means.
When I was 19 years old, my ex, with whom I was madly in love, told me, “Justin, when you turn 20, I won’t like the idea of you anymore.”
His revelation was earth-shattering. I was everything I thought he wanted me to be. I kept my body the way he wanted it. I dressed and smelled exactly as he instructed. But I couldn’t control my age.
His words still haunt me. I’m self-conscious of my age–even in my mid-twenties–not because I think I’m “old,” but because maybe I’m afraid the people who I want to care about me will think that way. Irrational? Of course.
What does this say about us? When we step back and remember our lives, do we remember our youth with nostalgia or longing? Are we jealous of who we were?
Many people appreciate where their lives have taken them. They look to their youth with great fondness and a “I enjoyed it while it lasted, but boy did I have a lot to learn” perspective. And there are those who know it’s silly to try to recapture what once was (and what, quite frankly, looks better only in retrospect), but who still try.
It brings us to the unintended point my friend made four years ago, as he sat amongst the evidence of his professional success with a friend who didn’t care about his age. He said to me, “This isn’t me anymore.” And it wasn’t. He was a million times wiser than the boy we saw in his photo album. He’d experienced a thousand more memories and a hundred more heartbreaks. He was known now not for his partying or his age, but for his kindness and his sense of humor.
He was a few years older and a million times better.