I'm old, not in spirit but old none the less.
Young, it was so short a time ago. Then young, was forever.
When did it become so, being old? Was it when pop culture figures were unfamiliar, when I knew more dead than alive, when none my age were present at an event? Was it when a seat was offered, a door opened, a senior discount given? Or was it when I preferred to sit than stand, stay home at night, retire early to bed? Becoming old, it never seemed to happen but then suddenly did.
I grew up, married, became a mother, a grandmother and now a great-grandmother. Oh God, great-grandmother, it’s an old woman, no?
Fashion’s forsaken me. Female tattoos I abhor are in. Red lipstick and nail polish I adore are fading out. It’s now no gloves for spotted hands, no hat for thin gray hair, no curtain lace to conceal a wrinkled face. Even a fur wrap, to ward off winter’s chill is taboo. In dim light, makeup’s art can’t conceal my mirrored old age reflection.
Peers tell me my soon to be 70 is the new 50, that we’re not old. They delude themselves. Why lie to myself? I’ve spent a life doing so. Now, in old age, I want honesty, to bask in truth, to live reality. I don’t abuse their self-defense deception but know, we’re old no matter what we tell ourselves.
Who wants an old woman? Some lewdly flirt thinking they still attract interest. Why play the gray-haired, heavy make-up clown? I accept being old, an inconspicuous passerby, a white hair shadow among the throng, a little old lady (LOL), that’s me. If there’s a second glance it’s from an old man. Our fleeting smiles sigh.
If young, would we, could we, again?
Instead we shuffle past and reminisce of when we did.
It matters not, I accept what can’t be denied. Old age has its pleasures too. I’m lucky. I have many. It provides a tranquility I enjoy most. There’s also candid insight introspection, satisfaction with a life lived, delightful memories of back then. With recollection, I live my life anew but by age’s learned perspective. It brings family, friends and my life’s journey a satisfaction overlooked when young.
A journey to old age starts with birth. Born in Santa Clara Valley, California, on June 8, 1950, my world’s gone, like the pear orchard I greeted it in, pushed aside to create a new world, Silicon Valley. My tale occurs against the background of change as I attempted to adopt while not understanding it all. Silicon Valley’s transformation makes it no longer my place under the sun. I’m an alien at my place of birth, where I grew up.
Looking back, I realize, in the swirl of change, I made decisions, deemed small and unimportant when made, which congealed into my life’s portrait, each subsequent experience a pearl. Strung together they make my life's necklace. It’s a lustrous one. There is, however, a secret strand, told in a hidden diary, until now never read, yet my lifelong friend.
Like my husband, I was unfaithful to it. It’s filled with lapses, omissions and lies.
By the fireplace’s warmth, a candle’s glow and wine’s comfort, my companions, I re-write my diary with aged insight.
As I write I wonder how it became so; life's string of events, the known me versus secret me, two lives in one. Like all, I lived an open life, the one known as me, each with their version of who I am.
We all have secrets, dark wishes, forbidden fantasies, convenient lies, selfish omissions but minor ones, forgotten as made as we move on, unperturbed. It's the big lie, the hidden life, the double agent act few know. That’s my secret puppet shadow, a lifelong lie. Like a spy, those who knew and trusted me, knew me not. They loved me while my secret puppet shadow betrayed them, over and over.
How can one hide a 2nd life? When young like all there was only me, open for all to see. During puberty, however, another was born discovering sex during a soapy shower. She was baptized in a confessional lie, took first communion in mortal sin and once married crossed a forbidden threshold, the 2nd me, the secret me, hidden from all but me.
Wracked with guilt I concealed her but with time, guilt waned. A spiritual metamorphosis occurred. My intended nun’s habit cocoon was left behind. With wings of guile I flitted to elicit pleasures, without guilt. I loved her. She was me, not all but an intricate part, the hidden me. Only I knew and enjoyed her foibles.
Secrets yearn to out, no? It's true. Bottled up a lifetime, she yearns to blurt forth, no demands release from her confined mind cellar to make me whole. So now I write, compelled to set her free, in graphic detail, without denials, with insight’s truth.
Entering a salacious memory, my mirror's reflection gives a Mona Lisa smile. I’m telling you the amours behind the smile. When I close a chapter, I return to who I am now, LOL, unless I have another glass of wine. Then my memory's amorous puppet shadow remains alive, but only in my tipsy mind until sleep takes me.
Life's twists and turns have taught me what once I knew were things untrue. Late at night, awake before sleep, unable to do so, the past drifts randomly before me. With the scrutiny of age’s honest hindsight my life’s story requires revision.
I plead guilty, not innocent.
I was guileful, narcissist, libidinous, manipulative, selfish, vindictive, hypocritical, even mean. I lied to and betrayed those loved and risked all for my secret puppet shadow. Hard for me to accept but it’s true, I’m guilty.
Even though I selfishly risked the love of those who loved me I don't judge myself evil. I crossed a forbidden threshold, experienced a lover’s rush, an erotic high, became addicted and sought again and again the initial crossing euphoria. Like an addict, I lied to and endangered the love of those who loved me for my addiction, over and over. That's my sin.
I’m generous to a fault; try not to judge others, offer help instead of criticism, have never stolen, maimed or abused another. I’m devoted to family, even extended, assist them when asked and when not. My list of good deeds is long.
Yet, while I don’t judge myself evil was I morally tested? I did things which could have forced me to do evil, unforgivable evil.
The gun, would I have killed him to evade illicit exposure? If affair pregnant would I have aborted an unborn child, deceived my husband to raise one not his, confessed and destroyed the family loved?
“What if’s,” we all have them but mine are too frightful to face, tucked deep in my subconscious. Still they percolate up to interrupt sleep.
It's better to be lucky than smart, they say. It's true. My secret puppet shadow gambled over and over yet always won despite unwise bets, a lifelong string of good luck, undeserved but gratefully accepted.
Does gambling with the devil make me evil? God makes final judgment. I managed to stay out of God’s mysterious ways. Will God punish me when I die? I don’t know.
I’m confessing a life of adultery. You are my confessor. As you read you can judge, guilty of evil or not. My saga begins with my birth, family, schooling, puberty, engagement and marriage to provide my wanton perspective. It ends in old age’s acceptance of my sins. Wait until you read the epilog to judge. I may be more like you than you first think.
Don't attempt to piece together the story to discover who I am. I write in an indecipherable code for anonymity. My story tells the truth, as lived and now related. The details provide a cloak’s cover. The dairy’s entry time span lapses, omissions, lies are edited as I reveal my tale.
Are my revisions subject to future review? All history is. Each day lived, I failed to comprehend what was happening, who I was, what it meant. I amend my past with honest hindsight, yet others remind me of shared events I can’t remember and they in turn often fail to recollect what I recall we did together. What really happened?
Our minds distort events as they occur based on what we think is. Our memory banks then delete, twist and re-imagine things as they become our past. I try my best to be true but memory keeps shifting as I recollect. It’s not just events which change in fluttering memory but my roles in them. I write, edit, write again and edit again. It wasn’t really that way, or was it? Reality, it’s what’s believed, now, back then or tomorrow? I don’t know, a conundrum but I try to tell honestly what happened.
It’s a salacious tale but to me a philosophic one. I try not to be pornographic, apologize if details offend but they will for some. It’s necessary to relate the raw experiences remembered because in truth they did change me.
They say only 2 things are unavoidable, death and taxes. I add another, change. While it may be glacial or volcanic, it’s constant. Even our remembered past is subject to change, a rear-view mirage of selective memory. What happened changes in the angled light of recollection.
I write of a life lived in a time gone, even though not so long ago. It was in a different world, hard to imagine now. Events and characters I remember move against the candle’s flickering light of memory and the diaries' opaque screen, a Balinese puppet shadow tale.
I couldn’t imagine now back then. Microwave ovens, personal computers, cell phones and the internet were not predicted by the future experts. Instead they prophesized flying cars, house cleaning robots and trips to Mars.
Back then roofs were adorned with aluminum antennas. They were connected by wire to a black and white vacuum tube TV which required a repairman now and then. Kids watched Howdy Doody and the Mickey Mouse Club. At night adults watched Lucy and Rickie sleep in separate beds, their kissing taboo. Father Knew Best, Ed Sullivan frowned at guests and Milton Berle bored the rest.
A black rotary phone sat on its command table, its loud ring alerted the house.
Kodak’s bulb flashed in our face. For a moment, we couldn’t see. The picture taken took a week to get. Music played on a revolving disk, a needle rode a vinyl grove and on occasion stuck in one.
Cars were American, each year’s model an awaited event. Only airplanes had seat belts, all walked to the airport gate. There a machine sold flight insurance.
Banks were only open from 10 to 3, Monday to Friday and observed every holiday. Stores closed Sunday, mom served the week’s dinner best while everyone else except preachers took a rest.
Bottled milk was delivered to your porch, the mailman dropped mail in its slot, a pesky salesman rang its bell, the paper boy threw to hit it and its front door was left unlocked.
Boys played marbles, flew kites and read comic books. Girls skipped rope, played hop scotch and had tea parties with dolls present. Both tried a hula-hoop now and then. The family played checkers, Monopoly and cards. There were no dungeons and dragons, barbie dolls or video games.
Children all got measles. Polio’s scourge haunted summer. Moms marched for Easter Seal dimes. Doctors advertised cigarettes. You’d walk a mile for a Camel.
On every busy street corner “service” stations sold gas for 33 cents a gallon or less and had quarter cigarette and dime coke machines plus a glass enclosed phone booth. They gave Green or Blue-Chip stamps plus free maps as boot. The attendant pumped the gas, cleaned your car’s windows, checked its water and oil and put air in the tires. They repaired cars on hydraulic hoists, the mechanic interrupted by the ding of the bell when you drove on the pump station hose.
Gay meant cheerful, pot was for cooking, porn wasn’t a 4-letter word, Catholic Mass was said in Latin, the Pope was Italian, Russians were the enemy and Santa Clara Valley was an agricultural wonder land.
A woman's place was as a wife who stayed home with kids, her work never done. A man’s position was as a husband, the family provider who left home in the morn for work, his job a life sentence. Dinner was a family affair cooked by mom. Dad sat and ruled at the table head. The day’s events were discussed but mention of sex was proscribed.
It was a different world though not so long ago, difficult now to comprehend.
Then the “pill” changed women. Computers, silicon wafers, integrated circuits and the internet changed the world. Santa Clara Valley suddenly became Silicon Valley.
Like any story, much is unsaid. You read only what I write. I tell how a young girl turned into a woman and committed a life of adultery. Not how she would today but back then, even if not so long ago. Only women my age will relate. Those young will think me an old crone.
Doesn't every young generation think the old so? Mine did.
Author Notes: Prologue to longer tale know as Balinese Puppet Shadows