A great mind is a terrible thing to waste. I know as much as I have been holding onto mine for grim life for the past three years. I’m seventy-four years old and hurtling towards the twilight years with no sign of slowing down. Increasingly over that time I have begun to exhibit the early signs of dementia and nowadays have to write instructions to myself before bed each night so that I wake with a vague idea as to how the next day is proposed to play out. Unfortunately I also wake aching from head to toe; the body loves nothing more than to remind you that your faculties are beginning to slip away one by one. It was all going swimmingly until my early fifties then everything started to change. Wounds started taking longer to heal, erections became more difficult to maintain, and hair commenced sprouting from the least convenient locales. I was known for my lustrous eyebrows; whereas now they have amalgamated. Moreover, their growth has become rather erratic.
One expects hair in their ears if they are a hamster but nothing can prepare you for the sudden spurt of white hair that fills your lobes or your nostrils come to think of it. Most disconcerting is the fact that my testicles, once content to sit pretty beneath my member have decided to droop. I always double-bag my shopping as handles have been known to break in the most inhospitable of locales and chasing a tangerine down the high street is far easier when you’re in your thirties. If I’d have known that my balls would become so overbearing then I would’ve doubled up on sack tissue. Nowadays they hang closer to my kneecaps and that’s not a pleasant sight to wake to each morning. My teeth no longer reside within my face and, instead, lurk in a glass of water at my bedside. When I remove them last thing at night, my whole face appears to collapse in on itself and I’m assured that, had I kept up regular appointments with my orthodontist, then they would never have rotted away so badly. Dental hygiene was never at the top of my priority list and in 2003 it became even less necessitated.
My wife of forty-seven years, Maude, passed away after a seven month battle with pancreatic cancer. We had been inseparable ever since we were first introduced at a cocktail party and eloped several months later against our parents’ better judgement to become man and wife. Back then it was different. Nowadays it has been made far too easy to betray your nuptials and annul your marriage should things begin to turn awry. We had our problems like any other couple but never once did it occur to us that we would be better off flying solo. On one hand, I think we both wanted to prove the doubters wrong. They predicted it would all end in tears and we had no intention of throwing in the towel and giving them the satisfaction of saying I told you so. However, we were also madly in love. Some couples grow apart over time but we just became closer; a problem shared is a problem halved as my father used to tell me and nothing was too much to cope with when we pulled in the same direction and tackled it united. You could say we were the model couple. Funnily enough, although her skin had clearly aged by the time death visited, her eyes still had exactly the same sparkle.
When Maude passed I was utterly devastated and many people likely assumed I would follow her months later as is often the case when lovers are separated against their will. I had no desire to remarry and the likelihood of such occurring was faint to say the least as I no longer resembled a young buck, more of an ailing donkey. But neither did I wish to move on; I had shared the great love of my life and nobody, Alzheimer’s aside, could ever take that memory away. It took me a good year before I could clear her dresser and even now her reading glasses have pride of place and I often wear them for old time’s sake, even though I can’t see a blind thing through the thick lenses. It helps me to feel that she is still here; maybe not in a physical sense but at least spiritually. I also draw great comfort from the fact that, when my tired body can take no more, we will be reunited on the other side. I’m banking on that. But I’m in no rush to join her either. My grandchildren alone keep me chipper; witnessing the world through their wide eyes gives me all the incentive I need to wake up every morning.
The world has changed so much since I was a boy. Growing up I was seldom bored; I could amuse myself with a bag of jacks and did so regularly. There were no computer games or smart phones and, although we were fortunate enough to possess a black and white television, I didn’t really see the appeal like other lads my age. Even now, I rarely turn on my tube and prefer to sit in my conservatory listening to my wireless. I was always a keen gardener but since the hip operation in ’97 the fastidiously kept garden has gone to pot. Still, I enjoy watching the squirrels scuttle across my lawn and gather their nuts. The simplest pleasures are still the most rewarding even after all these years. My neighbors call in on me from time-to-time as they know I can’t get about like I used to. But, Jehovah’s witnesses and electricity board aside, there is hardly a knock on my door anymore. Being self-sufficient for the most part helps stave off boredom but I must admit that sometimes I get a little down.
I think that one of the most depressing facts of senior life is that you suddenly don’t show up on folk’s radars. I used to turn heads and enjoyed the attention from the fairer sex but now it is as though I don’t exist. As I mentioned already, I have no intention of meeting somebody to see out my twilight years. However, just knowing that you’ve still got it is something of a boost and I know that I’ll never get that back. In many ways it is as though I am already being fitted up for my casket; when people do notice my presence, their sympathetic eyes tell a story which I don’t wish to hear. Look at him, poor fellow. I give him six months tops. Meanwhile the ankle-biters are beside themselves with uncontrollable laughter as they contemplate skipping rope with my ear lobes. I may be on the final run-in but I still have feelings. Somehow they just feel less important to others now. Old folk often bring bad press on themselves by growing bitter and twisted; taking exception with the most menial of things. I am rarely observed without a smile and simply don’t fit the criteria when it comes to being crabby. Yet I am still regarded little more than a dead man walking to the masses.
I never saw diabetes coming; back when I had a tooth in my face it was a decidedly sweet one. The family business was in confectionary and I made the most of that twist of good fortune. I must have sucked ten thousand Murray mints in my lifetime but that all changed when the prognosis came through. I don’t adhere strictly to any recommendations as my mother used to swear by everything in moderation being okay and she lived to a ripe old age of ninety-six. But I am hamstrung and that’s just another of life’s little frustrations I have become accustomed to. As for my sexual organ; well that hasn’t played a tune in years. Occasionally I will wake with an erection and, when I do, I milk the gland for all it is worth as I have no indication when the next one will pop up. For the most part, and increasingly the past few months, it remains flaccid. I guess it’s a muscle like any other and one which has been largely ignored since Maude and I mutually decided that it seemed obscene to act on our urges any longer. We had a good run I suppose and back in the day it wasn’t unheard of for us to spend entire weekends in bed together. Needless to say sleeping played a rather poor second to engaging in long sweaty sessions of coitus. Nobody likes to consider a pair of geriatrics going at it and we decided that hugs would suffice after her prolapse.
I regularly ponder what it would be like to be young again just for a day. The world we live in now is leagues apart from the one I grew up in but I still reckon I would give the rapscallions a run for their money. While they sit indoors transfixed by their Nintendo DS I would be shaking a tail feather or three at the local dance hall and drinking any pretenders under the table. I may well be somewhat antiquated but I’m no dinosaur either; my mind never aged in synchronicity to the rest of me. I still possess an almost photographic long-term memory although short-term loss has continually plagued me the past few years. I actually quite enjoyed turning forty; fifty too. It was the wisdom which made it such a smooth transition; in my head I was still twenty-something and, coupled with the knowledge I gained as I matured, it seemed like a formidable pairing. Sixty wasn’t so upbeat as, by that time, my body had remembered exactly how old it was growing. By seventy I just thought fuck it; I’m clearly not getting any younger but I may as well embrace the inevitable. I never imagined I would make it past sixty-five so anything else just seemed like a bonus. It’s that mindset which has kept the wolves from the door.
The winters seem so much colder nowadays. Ten minutes outside in December and my angina begins to play up; twenty and I’m breathless for an hour afterwards. My central heating packed up last year and I ended up swaddled in blankets for three days while I waited for a replacement. I haven’t been past the front doorstep for three weeks as it’s just too bitter to contemplate. Judy from number 43 has been getting any groceries for me bless her. She comes in for a cup of earl grey and a slice of Battenberg but doesn’t stay long as I have a tendency to drop off unannounced. I think that has been the most distressing thing; the constant fatigue. I swear I have become narcoleptic as I could fall asleep standing. Mercifully that hasn’t been the case and I grab my slumber mostly in my comfy armchair but it is getting that much harder to get around the place. What has long felt familiar now feels more akin to an obstacle course and it feels like the goalposts have been callously repositioned. My bowel has become so weak and my movement so labored that I am no longer assured of warm ebony against my buttocks by the time I excavate. It’s the moment that you waddle back to your boudoir with pajamas bulging with feces that the penny well and truly drops.
I would say that I have led a good life; with kindness and humility for the most part. There have been plentiful peaks and troughs and the moment I deduced that life doesn’t always play fair was definitely a baptism in fire but I made it through relatively unscathed I believe. I’ve watched the world change dramatically over the past decade or so especially and I don’t always like what is reported back. However, I still believe in the warmth of spirit and, while there are countless rotten crops every harvest, there are also those who habitually blossom and bear fruit. Sure there’s technology and it plays such a pivotal role in modern life but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Old values still have a place if we remind ourselves of the benefits. I do so habitually as they have seen me good through all manner of hardships and altercation. This old dog may be frail but he has never given up chasing the stick. Right now, I don’t feel like the exercise. I just feel sleepy. Please excuse my frankness but I think it is time you be heading off. I would see you out but my sciatica is giving me hell and I don’t think I would make it back to my chair. Thank you for stopping by; I’m truly thankful for your company. Same time next week perhaps? You’ve got a key now so just let yourself in. Cheerio for now.
Albert James Massey (April 17th 1940-December 12th 2014)