I hope that you enjoy reading this selection from my first book,
Spandex & Black Boots
The one-piece bathing suit I bought at Macy’s summer clearance sale lies across my bed. I stare at it for a long minute before picking it up. Finally, I take a deep breath, step into it, coax it up over my hips, poke my arms through the straps and adjust the bodice. Slowly, I raise my head and look into the full-length mirror. Like a sweet Italian sausage, my ample flesh is pushed in place by a casing of black spandex; stomach, hips and buttocks pressed in, breasts up. Forget about a three-way mirror — there’s no way I want to see what’s back there.
As the product of a culture that worships The Young, The Thin, The Beautiful, coming to terms with this shifting middle-aged body is difficult for me. By the time I hit my mid-forties — skin starting to sag, extra pounds padding my hips— I was banished to the realm of other women of my vintage, and became invisible overnight. I had heard of this phenomenon but now I was experiencing it first hand. One day I existed — an attractive woman being acknowledged, admired — and the next day I disappeared. Walking down the street, I had to move aside or be bumped off the sidewalk by oncoming pedestrians. I felt like a ghost, unseen, un-noticed. I even dyed my silver hair a rich shade of reddish brown, but still they couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see me.
Unlike Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep and awakened after a century to a new world, for me a mere decade or two passed in a heartbeat. And the changes I saw were not so much in my surroundings, but in myself. Each birthday reinforced what I was becoming — an older woman — but I didn’t feel like one. In my mind’s eye I am eternally thirty-something and the image in the mirror with the double chin, drooping cheeks and deep furrow across her forehead is a shock.
“Who the hell are you, and what have you done with Kathe?” I demand of the stranger staring back at me.
I began to look at old people with a new understanding, empathy for those who may experience a similar mind-body disconnect, imprisoned in aging bodies, but with minds mired in another time. The mature man lusts after women young enough to be his daughter or granddaughter, but are perfect for the age that he perceives himself to be. The internal image of self resists the ravages of time and I am reluctant to admit that sometimes I am attracted to men young enough to be my sons. Men my age seem stodgy, static, spiritless.
Not that it matters — neither young nor old see me.
I think of the elderly women with their bright red lipstick and too strong perfume. How I used to judge them — ridiculous old biddies — but now I know they are simply trying to combat the terror of being invisible.
Afraid of becoming like them, my girl friends and I made a pact to tell each other if one of us gets too garish with our makeup or too exuberant with our Chanel No. 5 — with the same gentle honesty that we use to tell each other when a slip is showing or a piece of broccoli is stuck in a front tooth. One can quickly pass from invisible to laughingstock.
A group of women are fighting back and have formed the Red Hat Society. These
older women thumb their noses at Father Time and go out to dinner, to the
symphony or the theater wearing flamboyant red hats. I’d like to join them, but
red isn’t my color. Instead, while cocktailing in
After moving to
I soon discovered that Mexican men unabashedly appreciate women regardless of age, size or marital status. Even though I knew that those who openly admire me might fantasize about chaining me to a stove as well as a bed, I basked in the attention. I felt as if I had stepped back into the sunlight after being lost in the shadows.
One afternoon, I walked to Carlos and Charlie’s, a beachfront restaurant, to meet a friend for lunch. An older Mexican man, probably about my age, walking across the parking lot to his car smiled at me and said something about a muñeca, which means doll. It took me a moment to realize that I had been paid a compliment, and I felt my spine elongate, my chin lift and I held my head higher.
After being away for several months, my husband and I returned to a favorite dinner spot. The waiter whom we’ve known for years greeted me with a big hug — not the standoffish, backslapping abrazo that he gave Brian, but a close, belly-to-belly embrace. He inhaled deeply into my hair, stood back to look me up and down, and before letting go of my hand murmured something in Spanish that included the word mango. Sitting at our table, I pretended to read the menu, and thought about what had just happened. I could only assume that he didn’t mean that I looked plump and red like the fruit, but that I was as ripe and juicy a s a luscious mango.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
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Where to Buy my Books and Artwork:
The Troy Book Makers (Troy, New York)
Fruity Keiko Gallery Ixtapa ,
Albany Institute of History and Art
125 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York
At the Albany International Airport (ALB) in:
DEPARTURE is the lovely shop just outside of Security, 2nd Floor across from the Sky Walk to the parking building. Nice and well managed art gallery in ALB, too!!
The Book House (Albany, New York)
475 Western Avenue
Albany, NY 12203
290 River Street
Troy, NY 12180
A Gentle Presence
1 Alton Road (off Western Avenue)
Albany, New York 12203
1714 Route 9
Clifton Park, NY 12065
Clifton Park, NY
Broadway Art Center