Mentioning my wife’s age is verboten. Especially now that the square root of her age is more than the years our kid has lived on earth. So, even though today is her birthday, I can’t say her age. Be it here, there, in pixel or print – the surest way for me to wind up mummified in her precious Coyuchi sheets is to spell it out. Suffice to say, her age ends in a zero. It’s always the ages that end in zero that cause the most anxiety. What’s odd is that the first two times this happens – 10 and 20 – it's exciting. Graduating into double digits and later cresting adulthood is the whole goal of childhood, right? Thereafter the zeroes absorb youth and dreams with the voracity of a black hole.
Of course, this all changes when you acquire a second zero and turn 100. Then you’re some kind of hero. Perhaps more so if you drank and smoked the whole way there. When it comes to longevity, some find bucking conventional wisdom assuring, even forgiving. Others just like to drink and smoke. Be assured, centenarians who’ve avoided being killed by their vices haven’t reached a truce with them, they’re just dying of something else.
Also, they’re all single. That’s the part that no one talks about. One of the secrets of living a long life might be to go it alone. Drink, smoke, be single and live forever? Tempting isn’t it? Let us assume it’s lonely at the top of the longevity ladder lest we go mad with envy.
There must be dividends to growing old with someone, like, you know, always having someone with whom to marvel at the increasingly rapid passage of time. Ask any pair of octogenarians what it’s like to grow old together and they’ll just stare at you. Their enfeebled minds aren’t groping for an answer, but rather, their perception of time looks like “Koyaanisqatsi,” the time-lapse flick with day and night flicking off and on like a strobe light. You’re hardly a blip in their experience, a speck of dust on a single frame of film, which is whooshing by like so many clouds. How could they possibly stop that kind of ride?
That said, any old person will tell you that their self-image isn’t old at all – that they feel young on the inside and are often mystified by their wizened reflections in the mirror. In a recent kitchen conversation with my wife, a gaggle of her friends and at least one sister, the notion of one’s “internal age” came up. Mine is 19, my wife’s was somewhere in her 20s. This is good since one of us should at least be able to buy alcohol, if only metaphysically speaking.
Some of the other women claimed their internal age was actually older than their present age. This is the type of chatter that once led to our received notions of “old souls” and those who are “young at heart.” Sometimes there are variations – I once knew a guy who was “old at heart” as well as a “young soul.” Consequently, he didn’t date much, which means he’ll probably live to be 100, as long as he takes up drinking and smoking.
This is not the first time my wife has acquired a zero on her ever-increasing dance through the digits, though it is the first time I’ve been around to witness it. So, that’s something – the square root of her age is less than the years we’ve been married, which just means we got married relatively recently, or really late. I proposed to her in my column because I’m clever like that. Since then, I’ve published sundry valentines and sappy whatnots, but not until today, when the run date and my wife’s birthday coincided, have I penned her a birthday wish in the paper. So here goes:
Happy Birthday, April. I know you hate the number you’ve just reached but the fact of the matter is you’ve merely acquired a zero, which can neither add nor subtract from the awesome, beguiling totality of you. I’d rather watch clouds with you than ever see 100. With love, DH.