Illustration: John Ritter
I had it all down to a system. Whenever a conversation would turn to the subject of age, I'd casually mention that I was 28, or 37, or 42, or however old I was at the time and then I'd pause, magnanimously allowing people the beat they needed to acknowledge their surprise and commence with their compliments. "You're kidding," they'd gush. "I mean you sure don't look [fill in the blank] years of age." This is where I'd generally blush slightly and mumble something just a touch self-deprecating about how God probably figured giving me a bad case of split ends was enough. But I was being coy, and we both knew it. The truth is, I have never looked my age.
Then something happened. While chatting with one of the other mothers at my daughter's preschool, I casually mentioned that I'm about to turn 47 and, naturally, stood back, waiting as usual for the shock and awe to set in. Only it didn't. Perhaps she was distracted. Perhaps she didn't hear. "Yep," I went on, "the big four-seven...can you believe it?" She didn't appear to have any trouble believing it. I searched for an explanation: Isn't this the same mommy who forgot the class snack? Didn't she inadvertently kill her kid's radish-plant-in-a-Dixie-cup project? Perhaps she's a teeny bit deranged, I reasoned and wrote the whole thing off as an isolated incident.
Only it wasn't. Over the next few weeks, it happened again and again...and again. My date of birth came as no surprise to the new dentist. The woman who renewed my passport didn't give it a second thought. My mother actually changed the subject. Soon I began desperately shoehorning my age into even the most mundane exchanges, hoping against hope that I would once again hear all about how young I look. Only I didn't.
The Butcher: "Should I bone the chicken breasts?"
Me: "You know, I'm not exactly a spring chicken myself."
The Butcher: Odd grunting sound coupled with cold, dead, heartless stare.
Me: "I mean I'm practically 47...can you believe it?"
The Butcher: "I'm leaving the bone."
Me: "My grandma always looked good for her age, so I guess..."
The Butcher: "Next."
There comes a moment when you know that your face has changed; when that effortless glow you always had going for you suddenly requires serious effort. For me, that moment came on the fifth of August at 4:13 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, while buying a pound and a half of chicken breasts at Simchyk & Sons.
The thing about being young, or at the very least, looking young, is that you honestly think you'll live forever. And the thing about not being young is that it finally dawns on you that you won't. I stare into the bathroom mirror as my fingertip traces a fine line in my forehead that I swear wasn't there yesterday, and just as sure as I know I was born, I now know that one of these days I'm going to die.
It saddens me that unlike Leona Helmsley, I do not have a yappy little Maltese dog to whom I can bequeath my vast fortune. It further saddens me that unlike Leona Helmsley, I do not have a vast fortune. Still, I've got stuff...not good stuff, not giant-flat-screen-TV, fabulous-shoe-collection, secret-family-recipe, antique-emerald-brooch stuff, but stuff just the same. So without further ado, here is my last will and testament, or as I like to call it: a place for my stuff.