Hilary and I met in a Waterloo Starbucks, during my last visit home. I’d arrived before her, in time to grab the leather chairs by the front window while I waited.
Moments after I settled in, she blew in the door, along with a frigid winter blast. I popped out of my chair, and she launched herself at me. It had been more than six months since we’d last seen each other.
“Let me see you,” she screamed after giving me a fierce hug, every eye in the place upon us.
The stares were for good reason. Hilary is a 42 year-old, very talented photographer, who happens to be a knock ‘em dead gorgeous creature without a clue as to how her presence impacts a room.
She knocks it sideways.
So, in full view of the 8:30am giant coffee line-up of people, with all gazes clapped on Hilary, she held my face in her palms and begin an up-close-and-personal scrutiny of my face, a la 15X magnification mirror. I, in turn, got to see the pores in her skin, if she had any that is.
Her roving eyes formed a benediction of sorts, starting at my forehead, then moving from left to right eye and then straight down my nose and lips to my neck.
Unable to stop myself, I muttered an instinctive “Amen.”
When she was done, she pulled her head back and away from my face, grabbed my shoulders and shook her head at me.
“God. You just don’t age.”
“Geez, Hilary,” I griped. “You examine me every time I see you.”
“Course I do,” was her jaunty response. “You’re my 54-year old specimen.”
She wasn’t having me on. Since the day we met, almost ten years ago, our 12-year age gap has resulted in me having the unofficial role as Hilary’s real life guide to aging.
This is not a job I want. Although I’m well aware that I don’t look my age, I’m neither a role model nor do I have any worthy advice. I deliberately tan without sunscreen, I don’t take off my mascara at night, I rarely moisturize, and I eat donuts. Lots of them. And candy too.
Hilary, though, is one of those friend finds who pooh-poohs any whiff of self-deprecation and turns negative self-talk about shortcomings upside right. A little shot of Hilary does me a world of good, especially when another year is ready to roll to the next.
* * *
Granted, I look younger than I am, and I’m still pretty fit for 54. The primary reason I’m fit is due to the obsessive running that muse be done every day ito feed my latent and undiagnosed hyperactivity. And looking younger? Well, every one of my four siblings is exactly like me, and not a one of us has done a thing to deserve either youthful looks or perennially in-shape selves, save being born to parents with fantastic DNA.
Unfortunately, this DNA did come at great cost: we had to deal with our crazy Jamaican parents. Remember my dad and the nudist colony story ? Winning the genetic lottery was no silver bullet because the trade off was hardly worth it. I’d rather have wrinkles.
But oh well, I can’t do anything about that now, and I’ve made my peace with my parents.
And isn’t that exactly the way that an evolved woman should think in her 50s when on the precipice of yet another big birthday?
I sure hope so, because tomorrow, I will hit the mid-point of this decade, and I can’t believe I’m here.
50 feels forever ago. Not that I am all that keen to remember that birthday, but the tale is the important and truthful back-story to how I ended up in Halifax and provides context to understand the way I plan to greet 55.
So here I go.
* * *
I never did do anything special on my 50th birthday, and actually, I was sick as a dog with a terrible cold. There was a cake, which at least I didn’t have to bake, and dinner in my dining room, with sons and now ex-husband in attendance.
All day, I’d been wracked with fever and a cough, and as soon as I’d eaten, blown out the candles and sampled a lick of icing, I collapsed into my bed, hitting the pillow with a box of Kleenex and my laptop. Sadly, it was early days for Netflix , and the 2011 selection lacked anything I hadn’t seen already, plunging me further into abject self-pity.
You see, hitting 50 makes you reflect on your life and where you’re at, particularly when you’re sick and there’s nothing to watch. So I laid in my bed and considered my life at 50.
Full self-disclosure: I was physically and mentally depleted by my daily juggle. The list included the management of my second marriage and a huge house, the additional parenting of two teenage step-sons, bringing home a bigger-than-ever chunk of bacon , and somehow, albeit somewhat inexplicably, being saddled with the expectation that as the female in the house, I was responsible for everything, including rustling up a hot meal for dinner. Every. Single. Day.
Making matters even worse, the present moment had also let me down. The giant diamond earrings I’d envisioned glittering in my 50-year old ears had failed to materialize. My gift was a man’s hard, brown, GIANT, leather briefcase.
First world problems, I know. And usually, acknowledging that was all I needed to power a reset. Not so on that birthday. Life at 50 wasn’t quite what I’d expected.
Shutting my eyes to my fate, I burrowed deeper into my duvet and moaned into my pillow (sniffle, sniffle), “Who cares about turning fifty anyway?” And then I passed out with the assistance of a few of Tylenol Sinus night-time formula caplets and a vow running through my mind that the next significant birthday would be better.
Fast forward to my 52nd year. I was on my own again. Disastrous marriage over but stuck in middle-age primordial goop, I soldiered though the days. Recovery was excrutiatingly slow, and for two years—52 to 54—each day began in some vestige of sorrow, ranging from the out and out howl of a newborn to the silent lamentation of a woman in mourning.
I was just so sad.
And then one day, I figured out that if nothing was going to change I would have to make change happen, and so, well, you know, I ran away from home.
* * *
Just about exactly six months after leaving my hometown of Waterloo, I can tell you that running away was absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done. My head’s on straight, perhaps for the first time in my life.
And tomorrow, five years away from 50 and in the middle of my Halifax adventure, I will greet my next significant juncture, 55, in a state of bliss.
Most mornings, my day starts with a slow, steady, hard-won smile for where I’m at now. And sometimes, when I’m running in the mornings and find myself up the top of Citadel Hill or alongside the ocean, I will actually say out loud to myself, “Yes, this is really my life.” It’s a only way for me to remind myself this life is really true.
Today, on the last day before I turn 55, trust that I have no desire to pretend I am any younger than I am, though the Hilary examinations give me the chutzpa to believe that I could pull it off. I’ve no complaints about the loss of skin elasticity or the things that go along with getting older.
Bucket lists for birthdays when in the 50s are all the rage, and I should probably have one, but I don’t. Most of the lists seem to involve climbing mountains, running a marathon, sky diving, and other crazy activities that either cost a lot of money, have serious bone-breaking potential or both.
Na-ah. Not interested.
My bucket list, if I were to have one, is simple. I want every single person I love to be healthy and happy, live close to me, and hang out at my place all the time.
So, in the meantime, plans for this birthday?
Well, my BFF, Leslie, had suggested I fly to the Cayman Islands for a visit during my birthday week. She’s just moved there and her offer of sun, sand, turquoise water, along with the promise of a relaxation and warmth was very tempting, until reality reared its ugly head.
Halfway into my year of not working, I’ve done the math and realize I could probably use some paid work. So in December, I dug into finding some. And naturally, when an opportunity arose, the start date happened to be the day before my birthday. So no beach for me. The best-laid plans, like life, are subject to timing.
It’s all good though. I’m happy to roll with a Halifax birthday because at 55, it turns out I am exactly where and who I want to be. Anything more is a bonus.
So here is what my 55th birthday celebration will look like.
It actually started last week. I was in Toronto and my sons Cary and Graham, along with Graham’s girlfriend, Andi, took me out for hot pot on Saturday night for an early celebration. Tonight, my friend Sandy is having me, son Warren and his girlfriend, Sara, over for a pre-birthday dinner. Tomorrow, on my actual birthday, I’m going for lunch with Susan and then dinner later with Warren at my favourite restaurant, Edna. Then the weekend will be rounded off Saturday with an evening square dancing with yet another new friend, Elizabeth. Sunday, I plan to skate circles on the ice at The Oval, all by myselff.
And my present for my 55th? It is to publicly say thank you to all the sparkling lights in my life, which of course, includes my wonderful friend Hilary. The list is at the end of my post.
Just in case you aren’t going to read that far, I better say my thank you to you, my wonderful readers. Without you, my writing would have no legs. Every pair of eyes that reads my blog comes with a mouth, ears and a voice to take my message out into the world beyond me. And hopefully, maybe what I’ve learned and what I’m learning from my year of running away will hitch a ride to someone who needs to make a change in their life, for the better, just like I did.
Love to all of you.
PS Once I do some more math, I might have to see about buying me some diamond earrings.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
- my three sons who are the lights of my life, Cary, Graham and Warren
- my best friend, Leslie Patterson, whose presence shifts either beside me or behind me as necessary and who has stood by me through all
- my family (the ones I see anyway…), Brent and Deighton and my sister-in-laws, Jane and Agnes and my cousin Angela
- my nephews… Spencer and Sheldon
- the girlfriends – Sara, Andi and Myra
- my ex-husband, Scott Jones, for giving me the best three things that ever happened to me—our three sons, Cary Graham and Warren. (PS This does make up for the diamond earrings you never gave me either on my 30th birthday)
- my friends at home, who are more family than friends, and far too many to name without getting myself into trouble, but you know who you are
- my Pommel Gate neighbours and all the kids
- my new friends in Halifax, who opened up their lives to include me, with special thanks to Sandy, Susan and Debbie who each helped get the Haligonian roll call going
- Brad in my band and all the friends that came with him
- my new school friend and my recently reconnected friends…
- the Halifax library, the sea, and everything. Just everything.
I take you with me, onward.
Special thank you to my body because without my body, I have nothing.
- I am most grateful for my breasts. They fed my sons and still sit, on my chest. I have many friends who lost their’s, some living and some not.
- I have my legs, and they still work really well. They take me out of my house and on long runs or walks or they turn the pedals on my bike, and lately, they are working on skating. They’re my ticket to everywhere. Thank you legs.
- Thank body that my eyes still see, my ears still hear, and my fingers skate across the keyboard and type like the wind.
I take my body with me, onward.
Spencer the great for sourcing and fixing up the audio.