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.

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