At Eighty

Phil and I moved here in March 1984. Two years later we married—an afterthought. As if we were man and wife, we signed a dozen 1984 documents promising to buy this house in thirty years. In Colorado, that’s binding—for mortgage and marriage. I was about to turn forty, forty years ago.

The average age of death in the U.S. is 77.2. I’m on borrowed time and delighted to be here. However cruel and disappointing people are, they wax adorable often enough to keep me loving this dear damaged world.

March 1984
Photo by David Guerrero

Phil and I age together like birds of a feather. In bed at nine, we read until ten, rise between six and seven, share meals, discuss books, watch movies, see friends, spend hours at work in our separate studios. If I want to fall in love with him again, we visit the art museum, where he tells me about the way light falls in a painting and how the artist uses it to direct our gaze. He says, “the light behind them pushes those boulders toward us.”

I retired from Denver School of the Arts at sixty-six, taught part-time there a couple years more and then at DU’s University College, where I’m teaching till the end of this month. Eighty feels like the right time to let teaching go, that career I came to late and loved, because teenagers—those miraculous creatures of despair and hope, cynicism and wonder. They are exhausting. I learned from them.

Recent birthdays passed in a blink. This one haunts. You can’t disregard eighty, a number that exclaims, “no getting around it—you’re old!” How much more time could you have? What do you want to do with it? At eighty, I can no longer ignore a decrease in energy, how sun highlights the wrinkle-web of my face, how my joints rust shut overnight.

The ravenous ambitions of youth have almost ceased their gnawing. They never totally lose their teeth. Not until my last breath will I stop desiring adoring readers who buy my books but never invade my privacy. At eighty, I acknowledge that lingering and my failure to work to attract those readers. I never did the required pitching, networking, and marketing consistently. Never wrote consistently either. You do have to write to get published.

There was a moment in 1967 when if I’d continued writing in the feminist vein, I would have had a book; a moment in 1981 when if I’d kept the Spanish surname from my failed marriage… At eighty, missed opportunities are obvious to me, but not to the young woman who had them. “That name’s not mine,” she retorted to those who urged her to keep it. She made the beds she made. I shrug, let her lie, wonder what I’ll have for lunch.

In some ways, my mind is clearer than it has ever been. I forget what I came into the room for or someone’s name: whatever. The kind of clear I mean is a benefit of the long view. Surviving seven decades renders you unshockable, brings life into perspective. People can change, for example. Most people don’t. That no longer disappoints me. Decisions are a snap: it’s easier to reject many offers. Does it involve a crowd? No thanks. Been there.

The world is always going to hell in a handbasket. I translate Ukrainian soldier stories, send money to Gaza, vote, volunteer English tutoring for immigrant students. I still want to throttle MAGA fools, but mostly I do what I can and let go. Lunch. Maybe a sandwich?

This clarity is also a benefit of slowing down, having the precious gift of time to think things through. Second cup of coffee at breakfast. Whole days with no place I must go. Leisure to read. It’s amazing what you can learn by reading.

Twelve years ago, I began a blog just as blogs were losing their trendiness and have posted brief essays monthly. At this writing, 386 essays reside there. The world is not impressed. The blog makes no money. I don’t care. I’m too old to care about things that don’t matter. I’ve learned cold-eyed editing, cut this piece in half. Those essays are proof of discipline achieved at last, the writing I came to when I could.

At eighty I’m able to enjoy an hour walk, a good meal, sleep well, take few medications, find pleasure in common beauties—finch and chickadee in the crabapple outside my window as I sit here. I’m blessed. I’ve started a poetry Substack for fun. Perhaps I enjoy life more because I’m in the final fourth. At eighty I’m grateful for this house, tranquility, a few dear people and this man who is my true companion.

Ah! Leftover meatloaf. A meatloaf sandwich for lunch. Then cut another fifty words. This essay has at least that many nobody will miss.

This entry was posted in Memoir, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to At Eighty

  1. This lovely essay puts me in mind of Freya Manfred’s lovely book LOON IN LATE NOVEMBER WATER, which has a number of poems about aging, its terrors and its pleasures. Here’s one I like a lot:


    I write “April” in October, and 6 instead of 26.
    I drop the “f” when I write “for” or “fun,”
    lose track of who just phoned, and why,
    and leave my purse on top of our car
    or on our friendly garbage can.
    My best pair of glasses are at the grocery,
    and I’ve slept soundly on the second pair.
    The faces of Amy Adams and Douglas Crowe—
    no, RUSSELL Crowe!—are burned into my brain,
    but I can’t always recall their names.
    Meryl Streep! I’ve got her down pat.
    And I know Shirley MacLaine and her brother
    (what’s his name?) are talented, too.
    Take half of me and you’ve got an okay person,
    but the rest of me is traveling downstream.
    Where? There! That place I’m pointing to—
    where willows bend over clear water,
    bleeding the sweet smell of wild green,
    and weeping with grief and gratitude.
    I lie in our old gray boat beneath them
    and hold out my arms to whatever I’ve loved
    and never want to forget,
    no matter what day, or what place,
    and no matter what its name.

  2. Linda says:

    A stunning essay. Your words capture the physical and mental changes that come with age. That photo of you and Phil is priceless.

    • dubrava says:

      Thanks, Linda. David Guerrero is a great photog we used to see a lot during my CHAC years. That was, I think, our first week in the house.

  3. PRISCILLA Tucker says:

    Pat—I have also been thinking about turning 80–will happen in October. My mind tends to put it in terms of arthritis, total joint replacements, loss of range of motion and strength and decrease in functional activities. I love your thoughts. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Michael Stipek says:

    Thank you, sweet Pat! You have captured the happiness of the acceptance of our lives and inevitability of the future that draws ever nigh.
    I will be 80 in November. My mind is full of ideas, series, subjects to photograph but, I have to sigh and realize there really isn’t time for all that, so just sit back, have another cup of tea and smile at the antics of our kitten chasing invisible beings around the floor.
    My grandmothers lived to 90 and 95 respectively, one on her own, visited often by the many dozens of her grand- and great grandchildren; the other still working on a novel that had eluded her final sentences for years. My mother lived to 96, singing soprano solos in her church until she stopped herself, not wanting to let her ego harm her abilities (and the ears of her parishioners!) when she got to 88.
    When a young man asked his dying father if he had any regrets in his final days, the man replied, “Hell no, I can’t wait for my next adventure!”

  5. Bob Jaeger says:

    This is so right on. Thanks, Pat. I just started reading a book titled “Why We Remember” by an Indian man, a scientist, whose name I cannot now remember, and I’m not going to get up to look. One of the things that struck me was his statement that “We are designed to forget”—a somewhat comforting idea. It’s a very readable book with some great insights about the brain and how memory works.

    • dubrava says:

      Bob, sounds interesting. Our memories are certainly faulty, sometimes act more like defences, protecting us. I’ll be interested in what you think of the book when you’re done.

  6. JEFF NEUMAN-LEE says:

    Well I’m only 71. But then I know how fast things have already accelerated, and I anticipate it getting faster. Your leadership into the next decade is helpful. Blessings.

  7. Judith J. Weaver says:

    You capture 80 beautifully and … although a bit wobbly … 80’s continue to be an adventure. My 80th arrived in the midst of a big blizzard. Predicted again for this one. I chose to take that to mean my life after 80 will still have its wild side although I might forget what to call it.

    • dubrava says:

      Happy Birthday, Judy! And yes, I’d call taking ownership of an art gallery after 80 quite a new adventure! You are my role model!

  8. Michael Stipek says:

    Whenever I’m with my students (high school) and one of them, at the end of a rigorous class, says, “How am I supposed to learn all of this stuff? I think my brain is full!”, I just say something to the effect, that you will learn so much stuff in your life that your brain will always seem full, but know that it can hold the universe in it. And that some of it, mostly unimportant “stuff,” will just go away. Of course, the student will look at me and think I’ve slipped a wheel off of my wagon. And maybe I have. But the wagon will continue to rattle on.
    And there is always the sunrise.

  9. Sylvia Montero says:

    Oh, Pat how lovely! It is happy and sad for me as I have known you since I was 24 years old. Here I am 66 and you 80. I remember interviewing for you and Carlos Martinez back in 1984 for the CHAC position. You were the best female boss I ever had. Honest and true.

    I would have never met my husband had it not been for my time at CHAC. I can recall the day you told me ‘I am taking the plunge, Phil and I are buying a house together”.
    I remember when Carlos and I went to see the house, it needed much repair.
    You and Phil now have constructed a house of beauty. And then of course there is Mr. Phil, I remember how polite and formal he was addressing me. He would come and take you to lunch. You, always writing grants and me typing them for you.
    I was making a whole $4.25 an hour with a studio. You are the same as when I first met you glowing with energy and brilliance!

    • dubrava says:

      Sylvia, and every time I drive by that big Victorian house now a fancy spa I remember our times there. So much fun and laughter amid the work, and you were a bundle of energy too and never ever cut Carlos any slack. I was so proud of you. I remember Carlos declaring, “if La Pat can buy a house, anyone can buy a house.” He knew how pitiful my allegedly half-time salary was, after all. Wait, we paid you $4.25/hr? And gave you a studio? You made out like a bandit.

  10. Pat: I’m reading your blog in our tiny room overlooking the Bou Regreg River on its way to the Atlantic in Rabat, Morocco. I loved your thoughtful tale of “80!” Never sweating the big stuff gets easier to do when you just don’t have the energy or desire to deal with it. Sightseeing is uber exhausting and we just began six weeks of it here. We are slowing it down from previous travels, tending to go about in shorter stints, hanging in our hotel by late afternoon–too tired to even venture out for dinner. Will let you know if the injection of exotic culture and new experience is worth it when I return. Keep on writing, I love the essays!

    • dubrava says:

      Deb, wow! Morocco. Phil & I have decided our traveling—if indeed we do more of it—will be to one place to stay for a week or two, no moving around. But i’ll want to hear all about this when you return!

Comments are closed.