The path to thirty-six is a tunnel of mirrors. I realized it as I leave Marco Polo messages for my friends far away, my friends still quarantined. I watch the lines of my own face move with expression, startled sometimes at how my skin looks in the sunlight, on camera. This was the year I found out that most of my peers are botoxing, and I had no idea.
As if she read my mind, my youngest asked me one night, stroking her finger along the veins of my hand, “Will my skin always be as soft as it is, or will it be rougher like yours someday too?”
So, I go to sleep considering my skin and the way it changes. It stretches, but not without alteration. I remember the year I turned thirty, how long I considered getting a tattoo; except I am not impulsive, and I could never come up with what I would want to keep with me forever, through those changes. Still, I have learned to accept and appreciate the lines that spider across the parts of my body that grew and nourished my children. I was stretched, and I am changed. Perhaps I’m being stretched now, again, and I won’t know until I find the evidence of it on my body.
I keep having dreams that I am blind. “See this?” someone will say to me, and I will insist that I can and that I love it, even though there is nothing but a smear in front of my eyes. Why can’t I see the thing I want to see? Why can everyone else see it but me?
Just now, since the end of July, I have lived with myself for thirty-six years, and still I am surprised at my own reflection, surprised at the way my skin changes. I am blind to my true likeness, sometimes seeing what I want to see, sometimes selling myself short. I pause for reflection whenever I can, and I can admit that there are times that it is vanity; and I know it is also because, after thirty-six years, I’m still trying to know and love myself as well.
I wish I accepted uncertainty, didn’t wrestle against my own blindness. I wish I wasn’t tricked by our ideas of time, our notions of esteem. I wish I knew what I couldn’t see. I wish I liked my skin. Still whatever is just out of sight, perhaps it is something precious, marinating, hiding itself away until it is ready. Then one day, from that pure part of myself, I’ll finally catch a glimpse of what I’ve been waiting for, and, recognizing it, like recognizing my own face in the mirror, I’ll know it was worth it.
The fact is, I’m trying to age gracefully, but it is harder than I thought. It is difficult to watch the slow deterioration of a body. But also, in anything else, I find aged items the most desirable—vintage clothes, furniture with a patina, a dusty bottle of wine hidden in a cellar—why don’t I feel the same of myself? Romantic as my notions of old age are, I neglected to consider, there is a path there. The path is aging. I didn’t prepare for the many years in between being old and being young. It is terrifying to see the end but not find the steps to get there, just as it is hard to look behind and know you can’t go back.
All I can do, is face myself—not a younger me or the sage woman I hope to be. So, each morning, I rise and slather my body in lotion and grapefruit oil. I say, “I’m so thankful my skin stretches. I’m so thankful it is alive. I’m so thankful it hugged the space where my baby grew. I’m so thankful it is willing to give to my laughter and tears. I’m so thankful it holds me together, even when I am uncertain.”