Tertulia: Dear John

The Situation

There are things that we surrender, and then there are things that are taken away from us.

It is hard to know the difference when the leaving, or the theft, takes place a little at a time. Years of surrender, years of theft – though really things just slip away, misplaced like old jewelry; or like clothes that don’t fit anymore yet somehow still had a home in the back of the closet even after the spring purge; or the books we’ve read that we hoard because we think we might want to read them once more, someday, to live that story again. Like snapshots of when we were so young and unaware: pictures that never made it into a photo album and though we don’t have a clear desire for a specific image we were comforted to think those mementos of vitality were close enough to recover if we needed them.

It’s true we hadn’t really looked for most of those things in a long time.  We just assumed they were still with us. We anticipated that part of our identity remained as those relics remained. We are shocked to find them gone.  That is where the sense of theft intrudes. Those things are gone and we never gave them away, never set them in a box under the carport labeled “Goodwill.”  Did we?


The memory of what we were offers no comfort; it is a hole that the mind probes, larger than a lost tooth and just as impossible to leave alone. Where did we go?  Who are we now?

There is evidence:  the stiff joints and rough skin; the gray hair, above and below; the thicker midsection; the sag that attends gravity’s tenacious tug; the reality that we are heading to a new wardrobe.

There are symptoms, some overt: the flush, the rush of heat, and the perspiration at the temples, the armpits, inside the elbows and behind the knees. The erratic bleeding – then, the absence of blood signaling a lack of viability – and the loss of identity concurrent with that red, messy signal. We are so used to expelling a monthly reminder we forget there was a time when we never bled.

These are markers for women, the closing brackets on the parenthetical portion of our lives as potential life-givers, signaled at beginning and end in blood. The emotions are similar:  fear, confusion, the sense of the body’s betrayal in our helpless inability to hide what is happening; curiosity as we consider this new identity; pride at our inclusion in a new social status complicated by insecurity over our ability to do what we had previously done with ease, or at least without forethought.

Some emotions are distinctly different: there is a sense of liberation – from precautions and pills and the monthly countdown to relief. And frustration as exercise and diet yield less prominent results. Censure now, in what we might wear but less it seems in what we will say.  An awareness, and anger, that diminishment in biological purpose extends to social relevance and sexual appeal even as sexual appetite becomes aligned with big cats (but not the truly wild kind – have we ever been seen as dangerous?)

A commercial glimpsed on TV makes the crude point:  our peers considering new physical realities and status.  One woman arches an eyebrow and sarcastically observes, “Dryness, yeah, that’s sexy.”  We wince and laugh in recognition.

Cures are offered:  pills and patches and plastic surgery. Expensive face creams and spa treatments.

Fight it, fight it, we are urged, as if this were just one more purchasing power decision.

But there are things we surrender and things that are taken from us.

What grace exists that extends us the dignity to discern a choice?

 – Kellie Salome