Aging Gracefully by Ana Consuelo Matiella

Ana Consuelo

Mirror, mirror…

When I look in the mirror I see that my eyes are the same eyes that peered into my soul when I was seventeen and was trying to decide if I was pretty. The depth and color are the same. Is the soul inside the same? Does the soul change over time, grow, become wiser? Does it change its mind? Does it want a cookie?

I take a good look at my skin. ¡Ay, the skin! No bags yet. (Does the soul yearn for youth or is the soul youth-eternal?) There are these tiny bumps under my eyes and when I told my new doctor, who looks 15, he said, “I would refer you to have them removed but they are so close to the eye… are you sure you want to take a chance?”
“I promise I won’t move,” I said.
He looked down on the chart and made a note. Then he said, “I bet that if you lost the ten pounds you’ve been talking to me about, the bumps wouldn’t bother you a bit.”
“True,” I said, not wanting to be in denial about the proverbial ten pounds.

So, am I feeling my age, you ask? Yeah, I’m feeling my age. There are a variety of symptoms that I wish to ignore. (Is that a ringing I hear? What the hell is Dupuytren’s Contracture? And was that my knee that made that noise or my stomach?) I have friends who are still raising children and they’re too busy to have symptoms. Sara was so easy to raise, I had time to worry about palpitations and lower back pain.

I think about my mother and the proletariats who raised her…

I remember realizing that my mother was getting old, just shortly before she died. She was 59, although she claimed 58 until the bitter end. It was the day that I picked her up to go have lunch and one of her eyes had more eye shadow than the other. It was a violet color that made her hazel eyes pop out like a gypsy’s. I remember wrinkles, lots of fine lines like rivulets that she said were for the tears she shed as she suffered, and I remember lots of bright colors and wild prints. She said she had a gypsy’s soul, alma de gitana. And she was a youthful sort, she was. My mother. She loved to tell “off-color” jokes which drove me to hostility, and she was beautiful. Her goal, which I secretly inherited, was to be thin. Above all, thin. (Sobre todo delgada.) She was a Barbie, like a Mad Men character, in gloves and a hat, with a bag that always matched her shoes. She wore a girdle, a corset of sorts, that turned her into an hour glass. She dyed her hair, using the Clairol color wheel as her guide, and she boldly went through most of those colors in her lifetime. She was scary as a platinum blond. With money and an additional 10 years, my mother would have defied the aging process and had “un lifting.”

¿Y mi nana? Judging by my maternal grandmother’s looks and shoes, she didn’t care that much about aging. She was thin, I’ll give her that, but her thinness had more to do with poverty than vanity. Another sign of her not caring that much about aging was that she didn’t seem to mind going deaf, which I myself am dreading. She used to say “El sordo no oye pero compone.” – “The deaf man doesn’t hear but he composes.” In other words, if she couldn’t quite make out what you were saying, she made up the rest. It was an interesting, if somewhat random, dialogue.

So yeah, I’m feeling my age although my eyes and the depth and color are the same. Eye color apparently doesn’t change until you’re ancient which I am not, not yet, but my hair is turning white and not in a good way. And although Clairol served my mother well, it does not agree with my scalp, itching now as a result of chestnut in a tube which Liz so kindly applied on my head in her kitchen. So I will go back to paying a significant premium to get the right mix that does not burn my scalp or kill any animals to hear my hairdresser free associate about his conquests while I “feel my age” sitting captive in his chair.

The audiologist said I’m having a little trouble hearing at low frequencies, damn it, so as it turns out Dan doesn’t mumble as much as I originally thought.

But what choice do I have but to age gracefully?

Lupe & Ruth by Ana Consuelo Matiella: INSTALLMENT #2


Lupe – 1 …continued…

“Come on, it’s a beautiful day and they’re drumming under the cottonwoods!” Ruth was practically begging her to go to the damned drumming party.
Lupe thought about it. Get out in the sun and take in the Santa Fe scene – that might be good. But then came the second thought: Oh, what’s the use? She could just as well stay home, rent an old movie and take the smashed up chocolates out of the trash can.
“Don’t do it Lupita!” She heard the voices of her three little white mice cry out in unison. The three little mice were her personal guides “actualized” in the creative visualization course that Ruth had recommended. The idea of using them as her personal guides came to her when she took her niece to see Babe, the story about an intelligent pig. “Why not?” She asked herself. Why couldn’t she use them as her guides instead of dialoguing with the bearded wizard or the goddess in the flowing golden gown. One cliché was as good as another, besides the wizard and the goddess almost always had something entirely too stupid to advise and the three little mice were cute and white and best of all they could sing.
Ruth insisted, “You’ll get into it once you’re there. You’ll see…”
“Okay,” Lupe said reluctantly.
The party was to start at four and they made arrangements to meet at four thirty. Lupe looked around her messy bedroom. One of her walls was painted crimson because Ruth had told her red attracted romance. Looking at it now, she felt depressed. The red bedroom made her feel like a high school wallflower. She wanted it to be pristine white like she had it before Ruth’s tutorial on how to attract the right man without really trying. She got out of bed to take a shower. As she undressed and looked at her body in the mirror, she thought of the chocolates she had already eaten and was filled with disdain. She took a deep breath and heard the little white mice say, “You look terrific, kid!”
She smiled a halfhearted smile and called Ruth back. “Ruthie, I have a headache.”
“I think I’ll stay home and paint.”
“You feel like painting again? That’s a good sign!”
Lupe didn’t have the heart to tell her friend that she wanted to paint the bedroom white, like it was before Ruth’s series of inspirationals.
“Well, I’m going alone then,” Ruth asserted. “If you change your mind, it’s on Santa Ana Street.”
“Pancho Ortega’s neighborhood?”
“Who’s Pancho Ortega?” Ruth inquired.
“He’s the guy the Santa Fe cops shot four times when he got drunk and threatened them with a kitchen knife.”
“God, Lupe, are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”


Ruth – 2

When Ruth hung up the phone, she went to the kitchen drawer to find a rubber band and put it around her wrist. A woman in one of her Alanon meetings had suggested it as a tool to help with “minding your own business.” Every time you caught yourself “doing someone else’s inventory” you were to tug at it and repeat, “MYOB.”
Ruth tried it and snapped the rubber band too hard against her skin. “Ouch!” she said aloud and took it off. “Well, that’s just plain silly,” she said, tossing the rubber band back in the drawer. And it was not that she didn’t need to mind her own business, because she did. Ruth needed to let go of Lupe. She had her own worries, what, with Larry’s high blood pressure, Allison’s potentially problematic adolescence and her own stomach troubles. Did she need to add one more thing?
And what could Ruth do about Lupe anyway? Nothing. But she still had ideas, useful ideas on how Lupe could be happier, more fulfilled, and just a teensy bit more at peace with herself. For example, right now, she knew that if she could get Lupe out of the house, she wouldn’t eat all those chocolate truffles. When Lupe ate chocolate by herself, it brought about self-loathing. For Lupe, the act of eating chocolate in isolation was the ultimate “mind killer.” But as much as Ruth knew she could help, she also knew that she needed to reframe the situation and see it as another opportunity for her to “Let go and let Lupe.”
But darn it! What was wrong with giving a few suggestions, easy things that she knew would help her friend? A few suggestions would be okay. She could hear Larry reminding her not to meddle. “Let her find out for herself, Ruth. You’re not her mother.” And then there was Alanon. That’s what it was all about: minding your own business. Oh well, she still had feelings. She still had thoughts. She just wouldn’t let those thoughts turn into action, so no more telling Lupe what to do! But oh God, if Lupe only knew how beautiful she was, how sexy her dark hair was, how men looked at her when she walked down the street.
More than a few women, Ruth included, wished they had those hips and that tiny waist, but Lupe was blind to it. She just didn’t get it. Once when Ruth told Lupe that she looked like Jennifer Lopez, Lupe took offense and said, “Thanks a lot. I always wanted a caboose like Jennifer Nalgona Lopez.
“Nalgona?” Ruth asked. “What’s nalgona?”
“Nalgona means big-ass.”
“I didn’t say that, Lupe.”
“Whatever,” Lupe said but Ruth knew she was hurt.
“You’re gorgeous, Lupe. You know that.”
“Thanks, Ruthie.”
Ruth could tell that Lupe didn’t accept the compliment. It was too late. She had already hurt Lupe’s feelings by uttering what Ruth thought was a flattering remark. Lupe was sensitive like that, and especially about any comments regarding her body.
So Ruth worried about Lupe. She knew about Lupe’s eating problem or body image problem or whatever it was. For as long as Ruth could remember Lupe thought she was fat. And she wasn’t. It was all in her mind. By anyone’s standards, Lupe was of normal build, and Ruth knew a thing or two about plump. And so what? She thought herself cute. She had nice legs, and a bosom that any one of her great aunts from the Ukraine would’ve been proud of. But one thing she must never forget to be thankful for was that Larry loved her and all of her “assets.” She had to admit that the fact that Larry couldn’t keep his hands off her helped a whole lot.
As she thought about Lupe’s body issues, she thought about how she felt after Allison was born, when she got to what Larry affectionately called her ‘optimum weight,’ and the size of her breasts were out of control. She worried. It was not nothing that she went from a snug size 10 to a snug size 16. She remembered that she couldn’t fit into her pre-baby bras and she and Lupe went shopping so Ruth could get fitted for a new size. The attendant at Dillard’s said she needed a G cup.
“Jesus,” Lupe said, “I didn’t even know they had that.”
“Me neither,” Ruth said in equal shock. “I thought they just went into the high D’s.”
“What do you suppose G stands for?” Lupe said, “Gargantuan?”
They both had a good laugh at the time but when she reported to Larry that she now wore a Gargantuan cup, Larry took her in his arms and said, “Ah, Ruthie, don’t go there. I think G stands for Great,” and kissed her all over and took her to bed.
But the Gargantuan breast experience took Ruth back to Isabelle. And she learned to eat mindfully, and as per Isabelle’s instructions, chewed each bite of food twenty-seven times. And she added more vegetables and put a “5 a Day Fruits and Vegetables” poster on her refrigerator and came to accept that no woman in her family looked like Julia Roberts and more than likely, she wouldn’t either.
Just like Ruth was grateful for Larry every day, she never stopped appreciating Isabelle. All those years of therapy with Isabelle transformed Ruth. And why couldn’t Lupe see the good that it had done? For years Ruth tried to get Lupe to see Isabelle, but Lupe would hear nothing of it.
“Therapy is not for me,” she said.
Well if not for her, then for whom? Is what Ruth wanted to ask, but better to keep her mouth shut.
So now there was Lupe in Galisteo, living among retired white people, alone with a box of chocolates feeling sorry for herself, 3 ½ years after Simon left her for a younger woman. Ruth felt a stab in her heart. How she loved Lupe! No one deserved to be left like Simon left Lupe. Simon, as Larry put it was a Nogoodnik. That much was clear, but why was it taking so long for Lupe to know this? Lupe, who was smart and fun to be with, not to mention lovely to look at, did not know that the fact that Simon didn’t appreciate her had nothing to do with her. The marriage was doomed from the beginning and Graciela, Lupe’s mother, knew it. Maybe that’s why Lupe hung on to Simon like a barnacle – just to spite Graciela.
“Ay vey, whatever. I can’t worry about this.” Ruth said as she opened up her closet to find something to wear to the party. She would go to the party by herself and make some contacts. You never know who might need a caterer…

Writing Prompt from Ana Matiella

This is one of my favorite writing prompts because it is a bit wild. It was created by Ana Consuelo Matiella when she was teaching fiction at SFCC.

Her book of short stories is THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICIA (U of Arizona Press).

By the looks of Elena’s bottle of pills, Larry knew that she had stopped taking her medication.  He also knew, and told her so, that if she left the cat on the roof-top terrace, the cat would jump. The cat died when he hit the top of Dr. Varela’s car below. Larry now had to dispose of the cat, clean Dr. Varela’s car and wait for Elena to get home from work to give her the bad news.  Elena was beside herself and blamed Larry for the cat’s inevitable demise.  Larry told her that if she didn’t stay on her medication, they would have to break up.