59: A Certain Age

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Since sometime last fall, I’ve been struggling to not succumb to a kind of low-level, background malaise that is uncharacteristic for me. I’m usually sunny, or at least resilient and optimistic.

But lately, I find myself close to tears at odd moments, or wrestling with a formless anxiety that seems to come from nowhere. I worry more. I feel insecure about my future. Where I have always been firmly decisive, now I second-guess decisions even after I've made them. Should I really have done that? Would it have been better to… 

Yet when people ask how I’m doing, I say “Fine.” I’m not. I just don’t know how to explain what’s wrong. 

Life’s not always sunny. It’s natural to worry, to feel anxious and out-of-balance at times. But I’m sick of this. I want the old me back. And I can’t seem to will that to happen. 

****

Yesterday, as I was walking along Cherry Creek, headed back to my hotel after helping host a workshop at Denver Botanic Gardens, I suddenly realized what’s wrong.

It’s not me. It’s my age: I’m 59, the same age Richard was when he saw those legions of birds on a hot August morning in 2009. The bird hallucinations that were the only major symptom of something drastically wrong in his brain, the tumor that would eventually kill him.

Richard shoots an "us" selfie, 2009

His 59th year was the beginning of the end of us, though we didn’t understand (or allow ourselves to admit) that reality for a long while. 

So it’s no wonder that beneath the surface of my conscious mind, my subconscious is watchful, looping in a whirl of unease and anxiety. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for some unimaginably horrible thing to carve another hole in my heart. 

The January when Richard was 59, we had our first hint of the parting to come when he stayed in Colorado for his “radiation residency” while I led a writing workshop on Isla Espíritu Santo off Baja in subtropical Mexico. 

I had planned the workshop a year before as a decades-belated honeymoon that would allow us to explore one of our dream destinations, that wild desert island surrounded by the azure blue waters of the Gulf of California. 

And then came the bird hallucinations, the cancerous tumor, and the radiation treatment that couldn’t be delayed. I wanted to cancel the workshop; Richard was adamant that I needed to go. (When he made up his mind, nothing could move that man!)

So I left him in Aurora with Molly the day after Christmas. Going to Mexico without my love was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We had always traveled hand in hand.

 

HIking the shore near camp, Isla Espíritu Santo, Baja California. (Photo: Chris Bradley)

Until that week when he was undergoing radiation treatment in snowy Colorado and I was camped on a beach in balmy Mexico, kayaking with sea turtles, snorkeling with sea lions, seeing the place we had dreamed about—without him. It was a foretaste of a solo existence I never wished for.

The dread of what Richard’s 59th year brought to us has apparently been lurking in my subconscious ever since, awakened once I reached that same age. 

Now that I recognize the cause of my malaise, will it dissipate and lose its power? I don’t know. I do know why I am feeling so out of balance, so alert for the disaster my subconscious is sure is about to happen. 

It’s comforting to remember that magical time on Isla Espíritu Santo, being lulled to sleep by the shushing of the sea and waking to pelican bellies thwacking the water as they stunned fish to eat; a week of canyon wren trills echoing off rocky cliffs above our camp and Pedro, our guide, laughing as he showed us the secret waterfall, the sea lion colony, the petroglyphs in a cave. 

Clamming, "our" bay on Isla Espiritu Santo, Baja California

To remember how Richard’s smile beamed bright as the Baja sunshine when he and Molly spotted me in the crowd at the airport, his joy in hearing my stories of that wondrous place. 

Most of all, it is deeply reassuring to remember the strong and sweet love that flowed between us even as his life headed around that bend to whatever’s next. When I feel the warmth of that love and his smile, I know it is possible to live happily and well, despite the hole his leaving carved in my heart. 

Before... (Photo by Scott Calhoun)