Irene stood in the parking lot scanning the rows for her car. She just stopped in for a birthday card, a quick trip, and now this. Months ago she had to put a tennis ball on her antennae so that she could find her brown hatchback in the sea of colors and shapes the parking lot held. But it was not there. She could feel the fear creeping up her shoulders, and tears begin to sting her eyes. She looked at her watch, it was almost 12:30 and she was going to be late. She was taking her granddaughter out to lunch for her birthday. Chinese at the little dive she loves-the same place every time. Sitting together in the big booth they order the same thing-chicken with broccoli and shrimp with lobster sauce-every time. Don’t forget the Shirley Temple! It was her routine with them, all of her ‘grands’. And now this one would be ruined!
She sighed and started to walk without looking and the blaring horn coming from her left shook her up even more. The driver, clearly exasperated with the old woman, waved her forward and let her go. She weaved her way, up one row, and down the other becoming more disheartened with each aisle. She knew she was getting older, dammit, but did it have to be so cruel? Did it have to tease you and taunt you like this? Did it have to play hide and seek with your memories? Your things? The Golden Years…
“Yeah, right, “ she muttered.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” the young man asked her. He had been just about to get in his own car, and she hadn’t realized she was standing so close to it. Truth be told, she hadn’t realized she had spoken out loud.
“Oh, nothing, “ she said angrily. “I just…I can’t find my car.”
The young man looked around vaguely at the near full parking lot. Then back at her.
“What does it look like? “ he asked a hint of sadness and pity in his voice.
The two of them walked together in between the cars and white lines for what seemed like an eternity. Irene was desperate to find her car, to sit in the vinyl seat that was molded to her body, to smell the stale carpet and the ashes in the ashtray, to be wrapped in the heat it would no doubt hold after so much time in the sun. She was scared she was going to have to tell her daughter she lost the car again. And have the argument, again, about whether or not she should be driving at all. A growl deep in her belly reminded her that she was hungry and that her granddaughter must be so upset by now, and she almost started to cry.
Then she saw the tennis ball. Or rather, the young man saw it and pointed it out to her. He walked her to her car; she was sure at this point he thought she was batty, and made sure her key turned in the lock. Once her door was open, she placed a folded five-dollar bill in his hand and slid inside. She closed the door behind her and sighed.
For God’s sake, I’m only 68, she thought.
“68, “ she said out loud.
It sounded so old once it was out there. Where had the time gone? She looked in the rearview mirror and though she knew it did not just grow there over night, her wild grey hair startled her. The lines around her eyes and on her brow seemed like valleys. Her lips, in their signature red lipstick seem so thin. When did this all happen?? She looked into her eyes and saw the years flicker through them like a newsreel. Dancing with Donald, her love of 45 years as teenagers-he was so handsome. Her wedding in Long Island and their first apartment in Brooklyn-with that cranky old woman across the hall! Bringing Elizabeth home from the hospital. She saw their first home, a mile from the beach, where they would spend the summer days laughing and swimming. Elizabeth’s wedding and then the babies…all the birthdays and Christmas’, trips to the beach and out on the boat. They seemed like just yesterday…..
The Golden Years, she thought again. The irony of the moniker struck her slowly. Golden: like a sunset, a bittersweet ending to a perfect day. Funny, she had always thought they said ‘golden’ because they were the best years, the shiny happy days of your life. Jokes on you Irene! She thought. With Donald gone, and Elizabeth with a full life of her own, the grandkids so busy she was lucky to see them on birthdays and holidays, and her memories starting to leave her, the full weight of her ‘golden years’ settled in around her.
Irene touched up her lipstick in the mirror and blinked away one last tear. She turned the key in the ignition slowly, and drove away.