Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com
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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

English composition classes exhort students to write about what they know, so I thought I’d write about aging, a subject I wish I knew less about but which I’ve been reluctantly forced to observe over the past few decades – don’t ask how many, I get my decades mixed up these days, not to mention the years.

Starting from the top, there is the deterioration of brain cells, which you first notice when you confuse the names of your two daughters and your two dachshunds, then get to the point where you dare not address anyone by name because they all start looking alike and everyone under 70 seems to be 11 years old.

Why did I come into this room? And lordy, I left the pot on the burner again, and I know you told me that (was it a minute ago? a year?) but I can’t quite … and did I just say that to you two sentences ago and you’re too polite to mention it, or was it someone else? Or did I not say it at all? You have to watch your words. Welcome to the blur.

The first thing I noticed was my shins. I used to have some flesh on my shins – not much, nobody has much – but when my shin covering turned into the thickness of Saran wrap, barking it wasn’t a “yike” anymore, it was a scream.

I am 74, not all that old by today’s standards. As the saying goes, if I’d known I was going to live this long I’d have taken better care of myself. I didn’t know that the time would come that I couldn’t open a jar, even with the trick of using an oversized rubberband on the lid. I didn’t know I’d have to sit like a black widow spider, waiting for a visitor to come by to open a jar or the child-proof top of a pill bottle. It wouldn’t happen to me.

When I was in my mid-40s I was caravanning to the canyon lands with friends. As it got dark, I felt that I was driving into a kaleidoscope, with lights from Grand Junction traffic exploding like fireworks – that was the end of my night-driving and the beginning of a host of other vision problems.

Your hair thins, your ovaries (if you have them) die, the soles of your feet turn to hooves, your knees won’t bend, your teeth fall out, but it won’t happen to you, you say, because you are fit, you are invulnerable, but I can’t hear you because I left my hearing aids in the other room – maybe that’s what I went in that room for.

I’d love to have a personal assistant to help me keep track of my pills and my health insurance papers.

I can’t go as far up the mountain as most people, so I need oxygen here at base camp. “That’s the price you pay for living in paradise,” my doctor told me. I know I’m living in paradise, so I’m not complaining, but it would be easier to carry my air if my lower back weren’t a mess of bad discs and a shifting sand of degeneration. You know you’re in trouble when your back surgeon breaks up with you, sadly shaking his head.

You know you’re creaky when the number of stairs it takes to get there begins to determine your destination. You can always go to the bank tomorrow, or the next day.

Did I mention the heart attack and the hammer-toe? The older you get the more things there are that can happen to you, one often leading to another. I never think it couldn’t be worse because it can always be worse and in many ways I am very lucky. I don’t have a fatal disease, I don’t have to drink my meals with a straw or depend on Depends. With a nap or two, I can still drive to work and to the grocery store and the library and enjoy the smell of the upcoming spring.


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