To all the elderly women who have tried my patience over the years: Retribution is yours for the asking, for as you have known all along, I am becoming you. I’ve stood behind you in the supermarket line, tapping my foot and pretending to be absorbed in the details of Jennifer Aniston’s love life splayed across the magazine covers, but really I was a roiling tsunami of frustration that could boil over at any moment.
I stood silently as some of you fumbled with your wallets, then swiped your credit cards through the readers with the magnetic strip facing up instead of down and then had to swipe again. I’ve bitten my tongue as those of you with fingers felled by arthritis took, oh let’s say, a whole minute, to pluck a nickel from your change purse. And I’ve smiled insincerely when it took another whole minute of my precious time to neatly stack your bills, fit them into your wallet, snap the darn thing, place it neatly in your purse, fold your receipt into a neat bundle, reopen your wallet to nestle the receipt in with your bills, re-snap the wallet — which is no easy task for you — place the wallet in your purse, search for your keys because why should you wait until you are at your car to find your keys, fit your groceries into your cart just the way you like them, and finally, transaction completed, walk away, leaving your sunglasses or cell phone or roasted chicken behind. Jennifer Aniston went through three boyfriends in the time it took you to buy bread, milk and Oreos. I smiled, but little did you know my closed-lip grin hid teeth so gritted, air couldn’t pass through my molars.
Take delight, Dear Ladies, that I am getting my comeuppance now. The young girl behind me at the Acme yesterday perused two Katy Perry/John Mayer breakup articles while I searched for my debit card in the bottomless pit that is my handbag. I could tell she was seething as I organized and reorganized my bags so none would be too heavy for my tennis elbow to bear. The tension in her brow signaled that I was keeping her from very important appointments, appointments that must have been far more substantive than anything I had lined up that day. I almost implored her to chill out until I recognized my younger self in her bridled impatience.
I send you my apologies for any bad vibes my highly metabolized being sent your way. I spent decades in a hurry, and unfortunately sometimes you were in my way. I decorated my house from top to bottom in a week and a half. I can make it from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Greenwich Village on foot in a half hour. A few years of my life have been wasted waiting for movies to begin or planes to board because I am always the first one at the theater or airport. Please don’t ask me what roses smell like.
I’m sorry, ladies, and I want you to know I’m eating my just desserts. I’ve left my phone or my sunglasses in restaurants and shops all over town. I vividly remember the lasagna I served at my sweet 16 party, but can’t recall what I ate for dinner last night. I maintain the speed limit on highways these days and people honk at me. Recently, a restaurant hostess asked if I’d like to have my seat moved because many older people don’t like to sit near the air conditioner. I loathed hearing that but much preferred my new seat away from the vent. And I still needed my sweater.
Intellectually I knew all along you had no control over the deceleration of your everyday activities, so I did not judge or condescend. But I had little control (or chose not to control) the brisk rhythm of my days. When our paths crossed, one of us was bound to feel off-kilter. Invariably, it was I.
I suppose you and I had a tacit agreement between us. I respected you by allowing you your time and space and by keeping my annoyance under wraps, and you respected me by restraining yourselves from mentioning that I would become you much sooner than I could possibly imagine. Thank you for that.
Karin Kasdin is an award-winning playwright, author and essayist whose articles have appeared in Ms. Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Family Fun Magazine, New York City Parents and others. Her book “Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy: Confronting Motherhood, Womanhood and Selfhood in a Household of Boys” was named Best Parenting Book in 1997 by the Parent Council Ltd.