She is tall and thin and very blond, hair falling well below her shoulders. As she moves, the occasional wisp catches on her cheek and she seems girlish, though I doubt she realizes it.
I wonder if she was a model once, watching her as she crosses the room and seems to glide.
She sits nearby and I steal a closer look. I put her at 50, maybe 55. I see a little silver mixed in with the blonde, and I think about recent discussions over whether or not to give up and gray.
She is well-heeled and well-maintained. Ready-to-rock-n-roll at midlife.
We begin to chat – one of those encounters where you find yourself in a confined space with a stranger, stuck – and happy for any distraction.
She’s chic. Very chic. Next to her I feel like the scruffy step-sister. I’ve slept little the past few nights and it shows. Besides, I’m small, round, and these days, a bit disheveled.
“Your hair is beautiful,” I say.
She raises her eyebrows and turns in my direction. I wonder how she sees me, if she sees me, as I concentrate on her.
“My grandchildren tell me I should let it gray and cut it shorter. You know. Old lady hair. They say I don’t look like a granny. And I say that’s too bad.”
I can’t help grinning.
“You have grandchildren?” I ask, quickly doing the math and realizing that I, too, am old enough for grandchildren. Hell, plenty of women 10 years younger have grandchildren. They started their families early, and I started late.
Then she mentions that her daughter is 45. That knocks my estimate of her age right off the table, and you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
“You’re doing something right,” I say.
“I’ve been through my share,” she responds with a sort of calm that I can’t help but admire.
I contemplate the importance of maintenance. She looks like she has bucks I’ll never have. Then again, does it really take that much?
I’m increasingly feeling my invisibility, not to mention more frequent age rage. I’m glad I took three minutes to line my eyes and put on some gloss, and that dab of Chanel between my breasts.
Next thing I know we’re talking about divorce and raising children alone. No details, only the fact of it.
“Been there,” she says. “It isn’t easy.”
Then we move on to sex. Oh, nothing juicy. Again, only the fact of it – what some refer to as “old lady sex.” But in this conversation we’re discussing the reality of female sexuality over 50, the desire for sex, and assumptions that we’re past all that – disinterested, or discarded.
The former is certainly untrue for many of us. The latter? Discarded? Sex with a new partner is a tougher sell if you’re a single woman over 50, though that scenario is less likely if you look like her.
Then again, I wonder how many women and men no longer have a shot at a sex life, even if they’re married.
I close my eyes and imagine my future. Aches and pains? Sure. I have them already, some days in abundance. But if I have my way I’ll be the one in funky glasses, a mischievous smile, and ample cleavage.
Now we’re talking about physicians who don’t ask about sexual health when dealing with a woman of a certain age. We have to raise the subject – in order to request tests that ought to be routine, in order to ask questions about our changing bodies, and – too often – those very questions are received with surprise or discomfort or dismissal.
In some instances, with ignorance.
“This is why I only go to women doctors now,” she says.
She leans back in her chair and I squirm a little in mine. I look more closely at her skin – observing its softness, its fine lines, the deeper furrows in her forehead, beneath the fringe of bangs she has pushed aside.
There is a touch of age in her neck, as there is in mine. Nothing dramatic – yet. But it’s coming.
There are no signs of cosmetic surgery, but there are traces of a life well lived with all its ups and downs – and an attitude of more to come.
She wants to contribute.
I like her vantage point, her advantage point – her wisdom, her apparent ease with herself, her insistence on femininity, her strength which is undeniable, her style which she has no intention of relinquishing whatever her daughter or grandchildren may think, or the whatever the “world” may think.
I wonder what her mornings are like in the quiet, facing the mirror. Her expression discloses little.
I prefer to imagine her out and about, defying the unwritten rules that persist – aging women, fading women, women falling through the cracks. Because this woman is a babe. And I suspect, a whole more.