April 23, 2020 § 36 Comments
I went and hugged my husband hard this morning. Long. We’ve been isolated, home, for 35 days.
He hugged back, hard.
“What was that about?” he asked.
I’m sixty-five. He’s sixty-nine.
“The world is acting like it’s going to lose us,” I said.
His smile was wry. As was mine.
“Well, they’re losing us anyway,” he said.
“That’s true,” I laughed.
“Just not en masse, like this.”
The warnings to people over sixty have been repetitive and stern, especially early on. Now we see this affects us all. We will lose the young, too. Just not as many.
We decided to stay home before they told us to. We went to Costco and stocked up on canned goods, but left toilet paper for others. We’ve had groceries delivered and tipped two, three times as much. We are so fortunate we CAN stay home.
Bob Dylan just released a new song. Seventeen minutes long. “Murder Most Foul” centers around the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. I was nine years old. The lyrics are chilling:
…Hush, little children, you’ll understand
The Beatles are comin’, they’re gonna hold your hand
Slide down the banister, go get your coat
Ferry ‘cross the Mersey and go for the throat
There’s three bums comin’ all dressed in rags
Pick up the pieces and lower the flags
I’m goin’ to Woodstock, it’s the Aquarian Age
Then I’ll go to Altamont and sit near the stage
Put your head out the window, let the good times roll
There’s a party going on behind the Grassy Knoll…
Exit song, I think, on the first listen. That’s our exit song. The baby boomers, born between 1944 and 1964. The final scene.
Am I being morbid? I can’t believe the timing, Bob.
Those over sixty are being marginalized, written off, along with those with pre-existing conditions.
Sixty-five, it feels surreal to be in this group. “Who, me?”
I am a writer. On fire. Ageism is real. It often goes over my head because I don’t think of myself as outdated, over-the-hill, irrelevant, invisible. But that is often the attitude of those younger.
Other writers, much younger writers, are often surprised to discover my age. A few years into creating a presence as a writer on social media, I attended a reading hosted by someone I initially met on Facebook. As someone who is photogenic and has a fairly youthful appearance, my age evidently wasn’t apparent online, because the hostess, upon meeting me, said, “Oh my god! I had no idea you were this old! I thought you were, like, my age!”
I had published a story that many of those attending had read and loved. Along with compliments, I repeatedly also heard, “Oh, wow! From your story, I just assumed you were a lot younger.” Clearly, my story was relatable to people of all ages. But when they met me, I didn’t fit their construct of a person capable of writing it. For the younger women who had loved my story, for the hostess eager to meet me, my actual physical presence seemingly broke some taboo, unspoken; my age defied the construct that says “Beyond a certain age, you must comport yourself differently; less visibly, less enthusiastically. Dampen your fire, recede into the background and stay out of what is deemed “youth culture,” culture occupied by youth, and constructed by youth. KEEP OUT.
If they had met me in person and I told the same story, they would have written it, me, off. I wonder what’s so terrifying about my aging face, this well-worn body?
Over sixty, they say. Most at risk.
“Wear masks for essential trips,” the governor of Colorado told the state recently. “Except those over sixty,” he added. “If you’re over sixty, don’t go out even with a mask. Stay home.”
In a movie from my youth, Wild in The Streets, everyone over thirty was rounded up and taken to camps. The youth were going to create a better world and anyone over thirty was in the way. That’s often how I’ve felt as an older, unestablished writer. My route to writing, a lifelong passion, was a circuitous one. I was a teen mom, then a solo working parent of two, and it took decades to get beyond poverty, the struggle to survive, and to find my way to writing.
On March 23, POTUS threatened to reopen the country, “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” he said. He acknowledged a tradeoff: lives lost to save the economy.
No, I won’t die for capitalism, for Trump, for Wall Street.
I would for my girls, for my grandbabies.
But for consumerism? For the lie that there is not enough?
Not a chance.
Ageism is real. But since this pandemic? In addition to the snark on social media (some youth calling the virus a “boomer remover”) I have seen a sudden, and often tender, respect, concern, and care for elders. Who, me?
Healthy, active, passionately alive. And yes, over sixty.
Like my husband said, “You will lose us anyway.” We are in the third act. Age is a construct and so is time. But death is not.
Nothing like this has ever happened, kids. Not in my lifetime, and not in my grandparents because no pandemic has happened during a time of air travel and global reach. All of it working together to pull back the veil on us.
Satellite photographs of China show the view before the pandemic and after. Before shows horrendous pollution, brown and dirty, ominous. After shows clear skies and the topography untouched. Like a world without us.
If we didn’t know we are one before this, we will after. It’s time to, as the Beatles sang when I was fifteen,
Come together right now over me.
Kelly Thompson has been published in Guernica, VIDA Review, Yoga Journal, Entropy, Oh Comely, Proximity, The Temper, and other literary journals. She is a contributor for the Rumpus and editor and curator for Voices on Addiction. She lives in the sunlight of the spirit in Denver, Colorado. Find her on Instagram @kellyblog or Twitter @stareenite.