Saturday, March 07, 2009

the lady in the street

i saw her on broadway, on the upper west side, somewhere in the eighties. we were headed in opposite directions and i only glimpsed her because as usual, i was moving fast, but i recognized her immediately. she was very pale with watery blue eyes and she had not-too-short hair and she wore simple jewelry and no makeup. she was well dressed, and in spite of the shift towards better weather, she was warmly dressed, with a light tweedy overcoat and a small scarf over a nice dress and low comfortable heels. she looked like the older women in my family, the ones who coordinate their purses and shoes, who still wear hats and gloves and scarves in this really appropriate way, those who are tasteful and for the most part unadorned. she was a lady, a southern lady. she looked elegant and graceful. and she was alone.

she was moving so slowly, it was almost painful to watch her as she made her way down the street, because i remembered how spry she used to be. but she was moving. and she seemed fine. i had to stop myself from turning around and following her and saying hello. but like i said, i was moving fast in the other direction, as usual. and in those moments, i always think that i'm going to see that person again. which is a part of the reason why it hurts so badly when i don't.

she was a retired elementary schoolteacher from virginia. i remember how much i loved to hear her talk because she had the loveliest accent ever. it was lilting and sure, like it had a song inside of it. talking to her made me miss the south, very much. when i lived in the sro, we were always cordial to each other. one day when we were walking in the same direction, we had this wonderful conversation about the city and why we liked it here so much.

she told me that she was so happy to be single in the city, to go to museums and eat delicious exotic food and stroll down so many historically important thoroughfares. she had family down south, but they didn't know what they were missing. she said this with a wave of her hand and a tilt of her head, like we were our own little club. the energy of the city seemed to revitalize her, give her a spark that any other place else never could. she loved the opera, and the theater scene, and never missed shakespeare in the park.

the longer she talked, the more she sounded like me.

she was positively giddy about some show she'd seen recently, some performance that really moved her. as she described it, beaming and expressive with that lilty singsongy voice, i could see the glee on her face. and all of a sudden, she was no longer an old lady retiree.

i never forgot that conversation. would that be me, someday -- happily waxing poetic about art that moved me? what would my life be like if i ever get to be an old lady? could i really pull off old age in this town? or will i be on an island off the coast of georgia or south carolina, growing my own vegetables? either way, i think it's going to be a good life. as it turns out, the time-honored stereotype of the sad old lady in a big old house with no real money and cats everywhere isn't necessarily true anymore. single older women in this country are legion -- and apparently, they are having the time of their lives.

of the 57 million american women over 45, roughly half of them are single. that outnumbers the entire population of australia! there's a lot that can explain this. american women marry later, their divorce rate is high and they usually outlive their mates. so it's bloody likely that you'll end up single, anywayeven if you marry or have kids,. and single life is good. many women take this time in their lives to reinvent themselves and do things they've always dreamed of -- like leaving some small town in virginia in your supposed twilight years to live alone in big bad new york city.

longevity runs in my family. if it's true that i could live to be 90, when i turn 65, it really will be the beginning of everything else.

i'm starting to really hope i see that little old lady again.

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