by Ted Gargiulo — I’ve become increasingly skittish around stairs. I first noticed this two years ago while visiting our daughter in Cleveland. Navigating her basement steps unnerved me. They seemed amazingly steep, narrow, oddly precarious, even with the lights on. I envisioned my poor, fragile self, passed out at the bottom, bleeding from a busted head, wife and daughter huddled over me, screaming my name. It was with considerable trepidation, therefore, that I made that descent every day for two months—slowly, deliberately, one leg at a time, taking care not to trip or misjudge distances, which can happen when my eyes haven’t had time to focus.
Of course, I’m probably blowing things way out of proportion.
Nevertheless, that apprehension is always with me, no matter where I am. The steps to our house, for instance, though less intimidating than those leading to our daughter’s basement, seem smaller and less reliable now than they did when we bought the house. (The ground must have shifted when we weren’t looking.) Whatever the reason, easing myself down to the mailbox requires a bit more effort these days, and keener coordination. The trick is to avoid placing too much weight on my knees until I’m confident they can support me, especially on a cold day when they’re stiff and creaky.
More delusional nonsense, I suspect. Perhaps my limbs only SEEM weaker.
Scrunching my slender little body into the driver’s seat of my car is yet another comic spectacle, punctuated with huffs and grunts and assorted grimaces. Well, big whopping deal! Is it my fault the vehicle sinks lower to the ground each time I squeeze in or out of it? Or that the pavement shifts and throws me off balance when I walk? I can only imagine what the neighbors think when they see me.
“Drop the old man routine!” I hear an inner voice, saying. “You’re not on stage anymore!” Routine??? Is that what this is about?
How exquisitely ironic! When I was young and active in theater, I specialized in playing old men. Had them down to a science: the bent posture, the lumbering walk, the gravelly voice, the eccentricities. Spent hours drawing creases on my face, spraying my head white and gluing crepe hair to my chin. Now that I’m several months shy of my 70th birthday, I’m not really sure HOW I’m supposed to act. Or that I’m even “old,” for that matter.
So what if I have difficulty raising myself off the ground when I’m working in the yard? Or if I can’t bound up steps two at a time like I used to? Or if my head spins when I tilt it up, down or sideways? Or if I tire more easily, or get winded pulling up my pants? Or if loud noises terrify me? I simply persuade myself that these problems aren’t real. After all, whether I’m young or old, pretending I’m someone I’m not is what this actor does best.
Thus far, I haven’t morphed into the character I expected to be at this point in my life. I still don’t look or behave like an old person. I keep waiting for that momentous transformation to begin. That is, until I reflect on all the “nonsense” I described above, and realize: maybe, just maybe, it already has.