by Giuseppina Pieragostini*
Sixty is like the blow of a stone. A sort of lapidation with sixty big stones which go straight to the target. In case you’re a lucky woman, a sharp blow with no warning, while you’re thinking that everything is still to happen, love too, maybe. But, I mean, did you ever take a look at yourself?
Above all, you walk as if you don’t have anything interesting left between your legs; then your forms, they stick with stubbornness to the most inappropriate areas of your body, so you’ll find those hips gone up to the armpits, to say nothing of the knees, which look more and more like stone-posts, your arms enlarged in the wrong part and your cheeks which thrive at their own convenience.
And it wouldn’t be over, but phenomenology has limits, too.
Pushing and clawing, present women in their fifties, gained a place, if not amorous, a bit winky al least, in the collective imagination and gave rise to an army of new Amazons in their shining armour, which look others right in the face.
You spent that period at a steady pace, showing off your mottled mop as if you got back to being that prepuberal girl with her head full of dreams; while Portia, again and again, my lifetime’s best enemy, never got off her spike heels and was changing, each three days, the shape and colour of her hair.
Approaching the end of the decade, a certain anxiety creeps in; if the colonization of the fifties has moved farther nobody’s land’s boundaries, that feeling keeps spreading itself, unknown and relentless and, unless you luckily die earlier, you must deal with it.
It’s useless to hang on to the last bits of age, dig in your heels on the edge of the abyss; once lost their arrogance, women get into the sixties dazed and disbelieving. Just an instant, and age, which was a grace to hide or show depending on the game, becomes an implacable master.
Suddenly, time is no longer infinite and future explodes in your guts as a stinged balloon; maybe that’s the reason why your husband disappeared a little after, trying to put some of those bits together; together with that Sardinian shampooer, his assistant.
It happened to you as well, you who always poured scorn on commonplaces and would never allow obviousness to spread its flower patterned tablecloth on your life.
Better for you to give in: being sixty years old only concerns women and only for them all the bills whose payments have been postponed, return to be settled, while men, they do, pass from a moratorium to another, as tax-dodgers do.
Once burnt out fifties’ excitement, a new spawn comes to life, made of nuns and, even if married, spinsters. The ruthless decease of the dependence hormones re-writes history in reverse and men run off like rabbits, facing women which no longer need to mesmerize them. Well, but how does Susan Sarandon…?
«Ordinariness got into my life» sighed Gualtiero, your husband, while announcing his leaving, without wondering what could get into yours. Dismay was stronger than regret; before he could follow up with anything else, you turned away and went to pick up the leash to walk Groucho.
«Of course, you’ll keep the dog, for companionship» he meowed.
You only said «I had no doubt about that» and got out with the unwilling pet at your feet and the consciousness that the ordinary quadruped was but the first embryo of the disengagement campaign of your husband, the professor, former student of Professor your father.
He left you Groucho, together with your tennis elbow and housemaid’s knee, being yourself already used to facing the worse, anyway.
This can also happen: sixties set you free from reckless addictions that, first, you made any effort to get and then spend a whole lifetime wishing to get rid of them; once you accept that, bang!, you find yourself naked.
Where is the pleasure in being sixty and avoid telling the plain truth? Your father loved his books only, your mother only adored your father, your husband venerated only his career and your father, and you were pretending, with the three of them, that you had no needs. You can finally accept to give things a name, without thinking that because of this you’ll be struck dead by a lightning.
As the vanity of family language wasn’t enough, at the time, to protect you from disillusion, least of all is now able to defend you from the irretrievable changing of your body.
Those bitchy mosquitoes caught that change first: ‘till last summer they were all around me, like bees to the honey, then, suddenly, nothing more. Your scent changed, and smelled as if somebody else was hidden in your armpits. Then you even sniffed your body’s recesses and even there an odour with no message left but disenchantment.
Hair transmigration was the second alert, impossible to ignore: a lifetime spent with the obsession of that uncomfortable presence and, in a while, most of them passed away, don’t know where or with whom.
Your first reaction was wandering whether that phenomenon would concern Portia too; only two months younger than you and she behaves as if she were your daughter: it seems as if she is putting age on your back, same as she did with school tests. She goes on undaunted with her whim, cleavage and curls as you didn’t dare to; in fact she abused of that for both you, shameless. While a lady-killer was in you, despising any feminine vulnerability, encouraged, for more, by a dominant culture where hairdressers and even beauticians where disdained, sunscreen and sunglasses almost forbidden. On the other hand, you could wear mutilating wooden clogs. All this, with appalling consequences, in the long run.
Generated both for need and misunderstanding, that lady-killer has wasted, because of hysteria and pride, that young female you had inside, acting as she was ignoring her friend and competitor, there, beside you.
Together at college too, but Portia saved herself that stupid ’68, no relationship, but also a lot of it maybe, with the topic in question. While you were at the mimeograph, she varnished her nails, while you were raising the crowd with a megaphone, she flirted with the philology teacher, while you were handing out fliers to sleepy and unwilling workers, she was in bed smoothing her skin, when you left to evangelize Sardinian shepherds, she popped out a baby. The first of a long line.
Even if blinded by ideology, you always knew that for Portia the center of the world was exactly where she was, while for you it was always somewhere else, where the long shadow of your unhappiness couldn’t get you.
Behind the closed shutters, the figure of a girl is trapped , and now you are the only one able to discern her; you look into the mirror and the same eyes can see the same girl from back then.
Until you keep your image in view, it doesn’t change, but as you lose its sight,
everybody feel allowed to do whatever they want of it. Outside, in the world blinded by the sun, unfamiliar and unforgiving eyes; you’ll never know why they look at you, and what they see. When you meet a man, maybe a young one, you react as a girl playing a love game made of sudden approaches and unexpected disappearances, then you realize and let that stolen habit down.
Your latest passport picture put you in front of a disturbing situation: the treason was so huge that you thought there was a mistake, a substitution, for sure. The first impulse was to return it to sender, not as if it was not you, but because you really disliked what you became. No, not how it happened, but just the thing you became.
Then, that lateral reflection in a window, and that rancorous side-face of your aunt, the nun, staring at you: same sharped chin, same beaked nose, same duck-face, same mop on the front head white identical white tuft.
Sixties have the peculiarity of giving substance to the worst childhood ghosts, or rather, to give them your body, and the wicked witch hiding herself under peach-chicks and cherry-lips, calls for the cradle’s oath to be honoured.
Far from minding someone else’s business, do the same things happen to Susan Sarandon? For more the other day, (you keep on staring at men as if you were twenty), a man that you nailed down as an old geezer, gave you up his seat on the bus, and you doubt it was for gallantry. You shot him down with a gaze and got off the bus two stops before.
You considered age as a nonessential accident, as we all do, until soul is able to
convince body to climb as a mermaid on a ship’s deck. When a gaze, a breath were enough for you to feel her, shameless and curious, loosening up with a leap, like one of those metal shapes hidden under sumptuous costumes.
For a magic and endless instant of life, the coincidence between what you want to be and what other people see is perfect, then slightly decreases and fades away. Body, once accessory for loving free rides, yours were imaginary, Portia’s real ones, is now unruly; soul, imprisoned in a shell that ignores its serenades, furiously sinks in your gut unwilling to have something to do with that silhouette you saw in that window and rapidly put out of your sight.
I – to be continued
*Questa è la traduzione in inglese del post «Sessant’anni non è un’età, è una sassata», a cura di Luca Bartolommei.
*This is the English translation by Luca Bartolommei, of Giuseppina Pieragostini’s post «Sessant’anni non è un’età, è una sassata»
(a cura di Paola Ciccioli)
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