The Second Puberty That Occurs Between 40 And 41

by Nicki Gilbert
Originally Published: 
Pink, yellow, blue, and brown bras on hangers in an underwear shop

I pulled my sweater off with my back to the mirror. My sunglasses slid off the top of my head, and I threw them on the pile I’d amassed in the corner: jacket, messy handbag, scarf, cell phone.

I didn’t need to look in the mirror. I knew.

I absently scratched a dry patch on my hand as I leaned against the wall. My back hurt. I shifted a little on the balls of my feet. Did I need to pee again? I decided to ignore the muted signals my bladder was misfiring to my brain. It was less than an hour since I’d last gone.

“Alright honey. Let’s take a look!” She was warm and friendly. Her hair fell in beautiful, black tresses around her face. She beamed with her eyes as well as her mouth.

I turned toward her and gave her a tired smile back. I glimpsed my profile in the mirror. Even in my periphery, I could see them drooping. As if they’d given up, and were happy to finally take a break.

She sized me up without judgment or a tape measure. I think that’s the secret. “You are definitely in the wrong size. We are going to get you up!” And with that she left, in a flurry of promise and hope.

Her words made my heart soar, and I turned to the mirror at last. Skeptical, but excited, at the prospect of “up!”

I don’t know when it happened. The aching back. The tired feet. The hands that feel dry no matter how much cream I rub into them. My grandmother’s hands. Long knobbly fingers. Covered in lines.

Was it overnight? A dark, quiet night, sometime between turning 40 last year and 41 next week? I don’t remember that I woke up on any particular morning in the last 12 months feeling and looking different, older, sweatier, grayer. No matter how much I sleep, the eyes that look back at me in the mirror always resemble a wizened raccoon. And my boobs feel heavier and droopier every day.

I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know when I started to smell like a teenager in between showers, or when I decided I needed a bunch of new bras because mine were suddenly way too small. Puberty for fortysomethings? I don’t remember the details from the first time around, but I do know there is little to control and way too much to relinquish! Like my sagging boobs.

“Okay hon, what do you think of these?” Beautiful lace in cream and black, pale pink and purple lay waiting in her outstretched hands. The delicate colors took my breath away, but it was the wide satin straps and underwire that really sealed the deal.

No matter how confidently time marches all over my body, my boobs are not going to be casualties of this hormonal battle.

She unhooked, re-hooked, adjusted, twisted and snapped those bras onto my torso with the efficiency and expertise of a sergeant major deploying her troops. She was also gentle, kind and empathetic and soon we were giggling and gossiping like BFFs from high school.

My hair turns gray when nobody is looking. And every time I sneeze or laugh too hard … well, you know. It’s bewildering and confusing, when and how this happens. As if I’m not present for my own body. It’s scary to feel so out of control of my own physical self.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I can do Kegels (I don’t, but I should), so that I can giggle and sneeze with youthful abandon. I can buy a new, pretty bra from somebody who enthusiastically declares she’s going to get me up, one that fits and feels comfortable all over, even on the underwire part. And I can look down at the dry, wrinkling hands in my lap and smile because I have a vital part of my grandmother literally helping me along.

I looked at myself once more in the mirror. Smiled a real smile, and gave my new friend a big, grateful hug. I gathered up my purchases and strode happily out of the store, head and boobs held high.

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