He stood back up, looked me in the eye, nodded, and left. I said: “Hey, what about me?” Loudish; but not loud enough for him to hear. Half in jest; but half not in jest. He kept walking. My companion laughed it off, she hears it all the time. But the compliment stuck in my mind. What had he thought when he looked at me? Even if it was – “Holy shit this old broad looks exhausted”, could he not have mustered “and you are ok for your age too.” Jeez little dude, throw me a bone.
Truth is he was playing into an insecurity. Usually something like that wouldn’t have bothered me at all – but I feel frumpy at the moment. I have gained a few pounds, my clothes don’t fit right and I’ve had a year of very little yoga so I feel slack and droopy. I am tired, too, there is no sparkle or pop in me right now. That guy probably thought I was the beautiful girl’s mother. And he wasn’t wrong – at a teeny stretch, I could be.
When I got back to my hotel room I stood under the hideous overhead bathroom lights looking at myself, making all those promises again: I will lose the weight, I will go back to yoga, I will walk faster and longer with Jack. But the truth of it is I am 54 and I look like I am 54. A hip 54 – but I “yam what I yam” as Popeye would say.
The question now is how to slow the ravages. Diet, exercise, sleep and a holiday will work out some of the kinks. But my legs will never recover the tone they had, and the decades long depositing of fat into them have meant that skirts any shorter than floor length are out of the question. I have cellulite on my calves. And swathes of dropped flesh around my knees. A few years ago I went to see a couple of Cape Town’s finest Cosmetic Surgeons on behalf of a friend who was considering having some lipo done. I presented my legs to each of them and said: “So what could you do”. One of them made me stand on a box in a huge plate glass window, in full and direct sun, wearing only paper panties. A lesson in abject humiliation, if I ever needed one.
“Nothing”, was the consensus – “lipo on the calf is hit and miss”. And can be dangerous if the nerves leading in the ankle are damaged, I could end up dragging my foot. “Wear trousers,” recommended the fellow, “after all how much time do you spend in a swimsuit?”
“Tan your legs”, suggested the woman. “a little colour on cellulite forgives so much.”
There is no template to help us deal with this betrayal by our bodies. No-one has written a book outlining the rate of droop and sag and what remedy there is outside of an operating theatre. I am not skittish when it comes to surgery, I had my eyes done years ago. And I know that reclaiming my legs is is the height of wishful thinking. I’ve had my time in the sun, I should be content to be the wise old (wizened) bird now. But it’s hard to know I will never look decent in a swimsuit again. I will always be reaching for the wrap. Even, sadly, when I am on my own.
And, please understand I am only too aware that I am being crassly superficial here. The cancer that may come, the thinning of blood and veins, the tremors …. would all wipe out all worry about dodge looking legs. If the losses of the past year have taught me anything, they have taught me that life turns on a dime. That disease is both creep and slasher. That you never bloody know what’s going to happen. I am healthy – but I am shallow too: I wish I was healthy and had decent looking legs.
And it never stops. I watched my mom stretch out this weekend and grasp the skin under her arms – “look at this”, she said to her pal Maureen and me, “it’s disgusting.” Surely my mom in all of her years of being everything that she is, has earned the right to be gloriously visible exactly as she is?
A few weeks ago I mentioned to the Nans that I had decided to stop growing my hair. I felt like the curl and bounce made me look mumsy. They looked at me and frowned: “Not really”, they said. “You just look like you. Like Suzie”. And maybe that’s it. That’s what I should be content with: to look just like me. The daughter, sister, aunt, friend, colleague, individual that I am.
Flabby legs and all.