How Aging Begins

If you knew me in high school or college, you’ll see I’m different now. I’ve been changing all this time. I’m a little shorter than I was when I ran into a basketball player at the movies a couple of years after high school graduation. We were both surprised to find me the taller one. In my prime, I could slam dunk a tennis ball. I played basketball daily in college and was average, better than some, worse than others, but I remember realizing that, because I went to a big school, most of the people I was competing against had played on their high school teams, which I had lacked the confidence to even try out for. My main skill was hustling and never giving up on a play. I once dove to save a ball from going out of bounds and slid and thudded into the wall. I got looks from guys waiting to play that said, “Dude, what are you doing? It’s a pick-up game.” But looking back, it isn’t the drained three-pointers or the double-clutch layups or the blocked shots I remember, it’s expending every ounce of energy from my youthful body. I used to play for three hours and then jog home and sprint up the nineteen flights of stairs to my dorm room.

You shorten after you stop growing, slightly, at first, but it’s a battle gravity is slowly winning. I finished on the plus side of six feet, but I’ll finish on the minus side if I’m fortunate to live that long. I’m also on my way to having a dome, again if I’m lucky. This was a surprise. I glimpsed the back of my head in a gas station security camera and the bald attendant caught me wondering how that drastically thinning spot of hair could possibly be mine. He laughed and said, “Don’t look at that.” You do, though. You track that progression. It stopped bothering me when I started cutting my hair with an electric shaver instead of having it done. I haven’t used a comb or shampoo in years.

Strangers are spared that progression. We perceive each other in a distinct present. You won’t be spared that and I won’t be either. You’ll see my face and it will look the same but indescribably different, altered by that mysterious, inexorable process that will, one day, present me with the face of an old man. Again, hopefully. You’ll be different too, indescribably so. Your differences are less of a shock to you, but you’ll know they’re shocking to me, just as I know mine are to you. We won’t talk about it. Our bodies and faces are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, what bodies and faces have been doing for every human fortunate to be around long enough to age. We won’t say, “It’s been over twenty years, I’m glad you’re still alive,” either of us. We’ll say, “How long has it been? Good to see you again.”

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