Frantic to keep her parents safe, my 58-year-old friend clicked the link. “How to Protect Older People from the Coronavirus,” it read.
Well, she got an education, all right. “People over 60, and especially over 80, are particularly vulnerable to severe or fatal infection,” the article said.
Over 60? “I’ve got less than two years until I’m old,” she cried out.
In The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually, and then suddenly.” Turning old can feel like that, too. There’s the slow slide — then, often in an otherwise innocuous moment, the harsh realization.
I turned old on December 15, 2019. A friend and I had long joked that some day we’d be old ladies together, retired in Florida, playing cards, and walking in a mall. Hahaha (as the youngsters say). It always seemed so absurd. So distant!
On that windy Sunday in 2019, the chill almost made us skip our weekly walk, until I said, “You know where we could go?”
Soon, we were circling the second floor of The Shops at Chestnut Hill. And that’s when it hit me: “Oh my God, it’s happening,” I said, as we rounded Bloomingdale’s. “Today’s the day. We’re officially old.”
Do I even need to tell you that she was carrying a crumpled tissue in her hand, like her elderly aunt had when my friend was a child? “I never understood why she needed that tissue,” my friend said, dabbing her nose.
Like the devil, insta-old takes various forms. The cashier who gives you the senior discount, when you most definitely did not ask for it. The kitten heels that feel like stilettos. The formerly adorable child who chirps “Whose grandma are you?”
Lauren Beckham Falcone, a cohost of The ROR Morning Show, knew old had come for her, she tells me, “when my diet went from ‘look good in a bathing suit’ to ‘I don’t want to have to take blood pressure meds.’”
Jane Ann Fulton, a biotech consultant, learned she was old “when I was thinking about adopting a puppy and had to calculate whether I am too old to take care of him through a natural life span for the breed.” (She adopted a golden retriever — 10 to 12 years.)
Hair is often the bearer of bad news. “I knew I was old when I first began carrying tweezers and plucking my chin hairs in the car,” a writer in Arlington tells me.
The Red Sox made another writer realize he was old. “The 1978 Bucky Dent game was more than a decade before [my co-workers] were born,” he says. “I may as well be talking about Ted Williams.”
Sometimes you discover you’re old when you hear yourself speaking. Communications strategist Julie Gladu Hall knew she’d crossed the line when she saw a young mom with an infant on a plane and couldn’t help but offer wisdom. “Enjoy it because it goes fast!”
“LOL” taught Boston publicist Joanne DiFrancesco that she wasn’t as young as she thought. “I thought it meant ‘lots of love,’” she says.
Sometimes a person doesn’t age herself; others do it to her. My mall walking friend’s mom, a retiree who looks, feels, and acts very youthful, says what aged her was this revelation: That she is old enough to have a child who is a mall walker.
Meanwhile, in Portland, the realization comes as a relief for one writer. “Lately I’ve gotten fat and actually feel it’s an accomplishment,” she says. “I’ve been looking forward to finally not giving a damn what anyone thinks about my body. I guess that’s the moment I knew I was old.”
For those not so evolved, Bob Dylan has encouraging news. Turning old isn’t irreversible. “Ah, but I was so much older then,” he sings. “I’m younger than that now.”