I’ve never been detached from the thought of my own mortality. This is the kind of thing that happens when you almost die as a small child, or at least, I’ve been told that I’m not the only one who has experienced this.
When I was perhaps four or five, I nearly drowned. Small child, brave for a moment, wanted to play in the deep end of the pool, wanted to go down the slide and not get stuck because of the arm floaties. Wanted to whoosh! Wanted to race. So off came the floaties. And up she went, fearless and immortal for the only time in her life. The rush of the slide I don’t even remember. I remember only sinking like a stone and bubbles curtaining my face. I remember only one thought in my head: “I am going to die here.” I kept fighting reflexively, but there was a calmness to it. A gentle inevitability. It was my father who dove down under me, pushed me to the surface, my lungs on fire and under the weight of a mountain both. I didn’t know what to do, coughing on the pool deck, water coming up and air only sort of going in. But I never viewed death distantly again. There it always was, reminding me, asking me, “do you want to do this?” And my answer was a pause, a pondering, and more often than not, “yes.”
No, what I failed to consider was aging. Growing old. The thought of dying doesn’t frighten me, but what I know I will experience as I get older terrifies me. There is only some of it bound up in the body: children bounce. Their bones malleable, they are tiny superheroes able to withstand things that could kill an adult because they aren’t set and fused and ossifying. Even teenagers have a level of physical resilience I envy now.
But more than this is the thought of how the elderly are treated, even folk of middle age. I look to my grandmother who is never addressed or helped in a store, who is written off as infirm before she even utters a word. The times she has treated me to dinner, the wait staff ignored her, focusing on me as if I was the one directing it all. Taking care of dear old granny, when dear old granny could likely still beat my ass, even into her eighties. Her weathered pessimism takes this mildly from outsiders. It’s the disrespect she suffers at my mother’s hands that galls her. Talked down to as though she were a child, uncomprehending, stupid. Fussed over as though any one thing she did could destroy her.
Looking in from the outside, this is what I see: “The elderly should just hurry up and die.” “They’re so slow and stupid.” “Let’s shut them away so we don’t have to see them.” It’s this way of thinking that I fear. I can feel it already– the items marketed at me are entirely different than they were just three years ago. I am addressed differently in public when people know my age. It is a progression which ends in my disappearance.
And it frightens me more than death.