Caution! Contains NSFW images…
A boy grows up and becomes a man. Ch-ch-changes happen. Muscles appear, the result of physical maturity and hard work at the gym. In my case, at first, it was to discourage bullies. Then it was to look attractive to women. Finally, it was because I loved what my body was and could do. Given my nature, this led inevitably to jobs as a figure model and as a (shock!) male stripper.
Now the man changes from a physically powerful and fit individual to an old man. The muscles start to disappear. Weight rearranges itself from the upper body and leg muscle to middle belly fat. I am not much heavier now than when I was at my prime but I am probably as weak as I was as a boy.
Welcome to old age.
I have the bladder capacity of a pregnant woman.
The doctor just informed me I am prediabetic. That was the trigger for this post. I hate being rudely reminded of my age and my mortality.
I have to exercise more, lose weight and cut out all “sweets”. I’m not eating any “sweets” and haven’t enjoyed sweet-tasting things for a long time. I even like my wine as dry as the Mojave. Exercise still hurts despite the shots and all the Tylenol, hydrocodone, and Ibuprofen. Losing weight also means eating less and that leaves me tired and not wanting to do anything.
Yeah… and my memory is going too. I’m living by lists. The odds that I’ll remember to do something I really intend to do without an alarm or constant reminders have become poor. I can remember some detail from 50 years ago like it was yesterday but it is likely that if I walk into the garage to grab some toilet paper, in the 20 feet it takes me to get there I will be baffled as to what I went there for.
I am frightened of incapacity and losing my intellect is the most frightening of all. I am afraid of not being useful for anything. I left my job because I saw that I was no longer able to do the mental work. I can’t do heavy manual labor or many of the fixer-up jobs at home anymore. I haven’t even been a decent sex toy for many years now. So what am I any good for?
My wife says she really liked my shoulders. (I guess that’s a lost cause.)
That is 44 years of change in me. 18 y.o. nude model, 30 y.o. stripper, 62 y.o. Bare to Breaker participant. College freshman posing for art class. Grown-up man partying hardy. Old duffer still acting young even though the body says otherwise. I weigh more than when I was 30 but I’ve lost a lot of muscle and gained a lot of fat. That’s 3 of the 7 ages of man. Gawky teenager, able-bodied man, and fat old fart.
Not many people have explicit photos of the changes in their lives. I’m glad I do and wish everyone did. I expect change to continue. And as long as someone is willing to press the button, I’ll probably continue to accumulate them. I just wish I had more going all the way back to infancy.
When you’ve gotten used to having a nice body, losing it hurts. Nobody is going to be looking at you “that way” anymore and if you look at someone else “that way” you are a disgusting old man. If fitness and muscularity are part of what makes you “manly”, what does growing old make you? What about your vision? Your hearing? What about mental acuity?
At what point is one just sticking around because one has sentimental value to family members? My bio-mother had lost prolonged lucidity long before I got there. My mother-in-law had been a vegetable with a brief waking spell every day for years. Most of the time she was not aware you are even there, let alone able to hold a discussion. Her life was a series of pain meds, lurid dreams and harsh realities, incapable of getting out of bed without an aid and a wheelchair. My adoptive mother died by inhaling her own vomit after years of cancer treatments.
It is a life I am unwilling to lead. Hopefully, there will be many years, even decades yet to enjoy life. But when the time comes, I don’t fear dying. Death is still an old friend of mine, even if she is jealous of the loves in my life. She knows she has me in the end.
And I mustn’t let the future spoil the present. I’m not getting any more of it, so why let the future be the enemy of the now?
The temptation for an older person is to live in the past. There is a concept known as euphoric recall. We block out memories of all the pain and bad stuff. The stuff we like is glued in place. Nobody wants to forget that winning touchdown or scoring with Betty Sue (or Billy Bob) after the prom. Even the people who didn’t score either way (most of us) remember things a bit rosier than we really experienced at the time.
Once the outside world has no more use for you, I suppose that is a winning strategy. Seriously. You are too old to matter. If it staves off depression and suicide, who cares? But a lot of people who still have a lot of time yet to run fall into this pattern and blow off their lives talking about their glory days while there are still yet adventures to be had.
OTOH, there are those of us who had youth so bad the pain overwhelmed the good stuff. There had to be dribs and drabs of the good stuff or we’d all be dead. You can’t forget the bad but the good can start to percolate up. We are naturally primed to focus on the bad. The bad can kill us, so to survive we remember it in HD resolution.
Memories of the fear of discovery and the pain of not being “normal” overwrite memories of doing that which is joyful. Anybody who has lived in a closet understands this. In this case, euphoric recall can offer us a truer version of our selves.
When I was in my teens and 20s, I would have described my childhood has one long unrelenting hell with the potential of suicide being a regular attraction. Hell, I even had the Angel of Death as a childhood imaginary friend. She was always my age with red hair and freckles. Somewhere around puberty I even lost this companion. But I fantasized about death and it always ended up looking like something out of All That Jazz.
Now I’m an old man. Not so old as to be in an old-folks home but old enough. I think I was 30 before I recollected anything good about growing up and maybe 50 before understanding that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. At the time it happened I was so deeply into depression I think that winning the lotto would have hurt. But now?
There were things – like the very first day I ever modeled for an art class – that felt painfully embarrassing or frightening at the time but are downright funny today. Or at least I think it is funny and that’s what counts. A bad experience has morphed into a funny memory because I now love that boy who once loathed himself. I recontextualize it to how I could have felt at the time.
I had friends that I didn’t appreciate. Friendly acquaintances, really. They didn’t treat me cruelly but the pain from everyone else blocked me from enjoying them. There was one boy who fancied himself a 1960’s free love, drugs, and rock-and-roll revolutionary. In private I could talk to him about bisexuality, about being uncircumcised and being teased in the locker room for it, about not being able to compete in sports, about being disliked for being smartest, about feeling like a Stranger in a Strange Land, about nudity and how much it meant to me.
In public, he was one of my worst hecklers but it was never about anything on those marathon phone calls. He razzed me, played nasty tricks on me joined in wholeheartedly with the teasing. For a revolutionary, he needed to fit in and that was the easiest way but he never betrayed me.
I think he believed I was as radical a revolutionary as he was and wouldn’t rat out a fellow traveler – even if he did make my life miserable otherwise. He told me that all this pain would make me incredibly strong. He was wrong. It turned a socially disadvantaged boy into an emotional cripple that took decades to recover. I’m still not strong. I cry for a silly anime. I mourn the loss of a pet for months. When I encounter anger in other people I withdraw instead of trying to deal with it. I’m still an alien and purely social activities are often still miserable.
I forgot for many years the sense of pleasure from being alone in the wild as a child. Or living naked 24/7 when my parents left for 2 weeks in the summer to take my mother to a cancer clinic in NY. How much I’d loved my dogs and horses. Or the dreams I had of being a scientist someday. They didn’t work out but it was a wonderful fantasy at the time. Launching model rockets and a little temporary popularity from introducing my 5th-grade class to the hobby. Walking the quarter-mile to and from the school bus stop or even the 3/4 mile to Sunday school and skipping church.
Even all-day masturbation marathons accrue the patina of nostalgia with enough time. I’d love to be able to do that today.
There was a girl in 9th grade that I admired. I asked how I could become more popular.
She suggested some basic grooming steps that I’d never even thought of. Parents had never instructed me and I was enough of an alien I wouldn’t have figured it out for myself. This was also a girl who was one of my worst headaches at school. But get her one-on-one in a science lab project and she wasn’t so horrid.
The first time I got high was also the first time I had sex – with another lonely boy. Led Zeppelin was playing in the background. I was so high my body felt like it was tingling from electricity and the room was pulsing orange and green. He’d morphed from an average dumpy kid into the most beautiful creature on Earth. He never showed any interest again and I lacked the courage to pursue the matter.
A girl in high school, the girl of my dreams, cared enough to try to cheer me up once when I was really down and wanting to be gone and buried. She recited some poetry to me once:
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
She even laughed when she saw the newspaper clippings in my locker reporting my streaking activities. (Not a lot goes on in small-town Michigan. I was notorious, if unidentified.)
I was too wrapped up in my pain to cherish that simple gesture of friendship and I was too frightened to try to advance the relationship. Decades later I can appreciate it and smile. There were a couple of teachers and a high school counselor who treated me with respect. You can’t fix clinical depression with good things happening. Even a million bucks would only be a temporary respite. But – they helped.
Finally off to college and a “hetero-normative” sex life. I did get within literal inches of death but I also met my first great love. Lady Death became jealous and didn’t visit like she used to.
My childhood was not one vast desert of despair – but only upon looking back. It sure seemed like it at the time.
There was an archipelago of water sources that would often dry up soon after I arrived so I had to move on. At the time only the heat and endless sand drew my attention. There was only the next gulf to be crossed without any ability to navigate nor any confidence that was anything else out there. Like a plane flying over the desert at a great height, I can today see those little oases were randomly distributed everywhere and in all directions. To that boy crawling across that desert, none were visible until he happened close by. For all I knew, the next one could have been an infinity away.
Perhaps I was too young to have learned faith yet. I certainly had nothing but disdain for any “higher power” that left me in this situation. I still disdain higher power but I do have some faith born of experience.
What I have now that I didn’t is a philosophy. I suppose perspective is the only benefit from aging and I doubt if some people manage even that. In my case “euphoric recall” helped give me a better view of what was had gone on. I was so surrounded by weeds at the time I could not see the field. Many choose to live full time in euphoric recall.
The past is dead. You may have a memory and it may or may not be accurate. But it is still dead. It can neither change nor grow. If you were unfairly treated as a child, you will always have been mistreated as a child. Accept it, neutralize any emotional content and move on. Laugh at it if you can. Don’t let history ruin your enjoyment of right now.
Don’t let an imagined future ruin it either. Fear of something yet to pass ruining the now is giving it more power than a nightmare ought to have. It doesn’t matter if you are going to sicken and die. Except for doing those things which are reasonable and prudent to prepare for the future, pay the future no heed. Fear of the future won’t change the future. It just ruins the now.
I have wandered. Back to the original theme. Perspective is a change that inevitably comes as one rides the arrow of time to one’s final destination. It is something you should strive for. Yesterday cannot be changed but, with perspective, perhaps you can have an accurate account of it and not one filled with the pain of the time that excludes the good spots. Celebrate that good and emotionally neutralize the bad. You will be happier for it.