Love The One You're With

by Jen Groeber
Originally Published: 
Jen Groeber

Aging. No one warned me.

I mean, some parts go without saying. The tiny wrinkle lines around the eyes, the deep crevices across my forehead. I have photos to prove these things were happening. Each year, I leaned in closer towards the mirror to watch the slow progression. None of this was such a great surprise because every Oil of Olay commercial since 1971 has been telling me that my face will age, and also, that a $5 bottle of pink, funky-smelling lotion could do something about it.

But the C-section scar that frowns more and more each year, a huge upper flap of skin sagging over the lower lip of slightly hairy almost private-parts skin? What the what? I didn’t know to love the original gash across my middle — or my knees. No one takes pictures of their knees when they’re young and buoyant. Yesterday I zoomed in on a photo of me crossing some finish line fifteen years ago. No wrinkles. Suddenly I realized my knees didn’t always look like a piece of crepe fabric thrown in the corner of the closet.

There are so many parts of my body that I’m now wondering about. What did you look like before in downward dog, you saggy bloodhound of a midsection? Because I think I would remember if my belly had jowls when I was 20. But oh, wait. I was too busy hating the fact that my stomach looked like a peach. Like a belly that looks like a fresh, juicy peach is a bad thing.

I probably thought collagen was a kind of soap for old people back then. But I’m here to tell you, it’s the beaded necklace of youth that someone snapped the day I turned 42, and on that day I stood and watched the pearl beads of collagen fly from my body to bounce across the floor and hide under the bed or night table. Lost. Forever.

And it’s not that I don’t do my part to hold back the march of time. I do pilates. I run. But now I don’t run so far. Because of tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. Which is weird, because if you look it up on WebMD, you’ll see that plantar fasciitis is the malady of old, heavy people. And don’t get me wrong. I love heavy people. But if I’m going to have osteopenia because I weighed under 120 pounds for most of my life, and I’m also going to have plantar fasciitis? I’d like a do-over.

It’s not that I want that girl back. The girl who hated her peach flesh belly, the twenty-something who had no confidence in the words that came out of that baby face, the woman who would have given anything to get pregnant. Those people are like slightly embarrassing relatives who I feel bad for but would prefer not to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner. I see enough of myself in them to know we’re related, but not so much that we could ever really be friends.

But this new me? This wiser, stronger, kick-assier me? I just wish little pieces of her didn’t keep drooping, sagging, falling off to be shoved in my trunk for the next visit to the mechanic.

Yesterday I had my yearly mammogram. The sweet nurse pinched my slightly saggy boobs between two pieces of glass, wrenching the vice ever tighter. Because apparently she didn’t see the sweat dripping down my back and the white knuckle grip I had on the machine, she asked, “Are you okay?”

I realized these boobs could always be the next thing to go, another offense to this rusty old warehouse that houses my soul. And I thought to myself, well, I’d just figure it out. The broken down feet, the brittle bones, the inexplicably high cholesterol (damn you, genetics), the crepe skin, the injuries and affronts that will accumulate over the years on this body that started as a tiny perfect baby but has slowly lost her luster over time. It’s the way of the world and aging, I guess.

We change people’s lives, win races, raise babies, and love spouses. We have jobs and make art or a home or a fantastic Pinterest-worthy birthday cake for our kids. We do things we could never have imagined. So I guess it makes sense that as our souls grow broader and more blindingly brilliant each year, the shells that contain them get a little more dented and scarred, curved and curled. That old adage about happily settling in love comes to mind. (Thank you, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.)

If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.

I’m only halfway there, I hope, halfway to the point where my whole body sort of caves in on itself and collapses. In coming years there will be oh-so-many insults and injuries to add to the ever-growing list, if I take care and am very lucky.

So then perhaps now is the time to love the one I’m with, to enjoy the strong arms, Bingo wings or not, the ever more saggy boobs I still have, the slightly dimpled thighs that can still run a little, the crepe knees which will soon become whole entire crepe legs. She may not be much to look at, but she’s all mine.

“Are you okay?” the nurse repeated.

“Sure,” I gasped, from between clenched lips. “Sure. I’m okay.”

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