Final Act

February 1, 2024
3 mins read

I’ve become increasingly skittish around stairs. I first noticed this eight years ago while we were staying with our daughter in Cleveland. Navigating her basement steps so unnerved me. They were amazingly steep, narrow, oddly precarious even with the lights on. I kept envisioning 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. Thankfully, there were no mishaps.

Okay, I’m probably blowing the situation way out of proportion. Seems I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

Nevertheless, the fear of falling follows me everywhere, no matter where I am. Take the steps to our house, for instance. Though less intimidating than the ones leading to our daughter’s basement, they’ve begun to look smaller and less reliable now than they did when we bought the house. I’m thinking the ground may have buckled when we weren’t looking, and gradually altered the angle of those steps. Whatever the reason, easing myself down to the mailbox requires a bit more effort nowadays, 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 cold winter mornings when they’re stiff and out of sync with the rest of me.

Again, I tend to make things sound more dire than they actually are. Blame the writer in me. Scrunching my not-so-slender body into the driver’s seat of my car is another comic spectacle neighbors and passersby must enjoy. Hey, is it MY fault that my vehicle sinks lower to the ground every time I climb in or out of it? Or that the pavement keeps shifting and throwing me off balance when I walk? I can only imagine what I look like on a surveillance monitor! “Drop the old man routine!” I could hear a still small voice saying. “You’re not on stage anymore!” Routine??? Is that what this is all about? How exquisitely ironic! Years ago, when I was young and active in theater, I specialized in portraying old men. Had that “routine,” if you will, 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 silver and gluing crepe hair to my chin. Now that I’m in my mid-70’s and sporting my own facial foliage, I’m not really sure HOW I’m supposed to act—not without a script or a director to guide me— 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 the steps two at a time like I used to? Or if my head spins when I tilt it up, or down, or sideways? Or if loud noises terrify me? Or if I huff and grunt like a hog every time I lower myself onto the sofa? So what if I get winded pulling up my drawers before I exit the bathroom? These manifestations don’t prove anything. According to that small voice I keep hearing, they may be nothing more than a routine I inadvertently created—an emulation of what the world typically expects of a man my age. Call it a suspension of disbelief. Yes, I believe that’s what it is! After all, no matter what my age, assuming the symptoms and mannerisms of a person unlike myself is what this method actor does best. It does NOT make me that person… although my wife and daughter would beg to differ.

So far, the reality of who am, or what I’m destined to become, has not kicked in. Theatrics aside, I have not yet morphed into the character I expected to be at this point in life. I’m strong, I’m lucid, I still have all my marbles. I don’t feel or behave like an “old” man—leastways, not like any old men I knew when I was younger. Can you believe, I’ve been holding my breath this whole time, waiting for some momentous transformation to overtake me?

That is, until I reread this demented crap I just wrote and realized that maybe, just maybe, it already has.

Ted has been a regular contributor to FT since 2010. His pieces have also appeared in The San Jose Mercury News, The Monterey County Herald, Wilde Times, The Gamut and The Fringe. Born in New York City, the former stage actor and retired postal worker lives with his wife in Seaside, California. So far, he has authored two volumes of fiction and a collection of essays, which are available on Amazon. Copies of his works have been flying off the shelf! Unfortunately, they all landed on the floor and had to be picked up.

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