For the past year, my husband, Henry, has been humming the Beatles’ song, “When I’m 64.” In a profound state of anxiety, he sings: When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
Of course, I reassure him. Henry has been losing his hair ever since I married him, 25 years ago. Given our difficult and complicated twins, I’m happy he’s only lost his hair, and that what’s underneath—including a great sense of humor—is still intact. I enjoy stroking what’s left of Henry’s salt and pepper hair, now cropped fashionably short.
“Your hair is so soft, it feels like a dachshund.”
Henry sighs. “It used to be my best feature. When I was in college, it was jet black and down to my shoulders. My fraternity brothers called me ‘Wings.’”
I didn’t meet Henry till he was in his late 30s. “I always thought your best feature was your smile.”
He flashes it briefly, before going back to fretting. In the past few years, Henry has had several surgeries on his face and leg to remove skin cancer. It’s too late to undo the sun damage from all those years at the beach, before anyone worried about skin cancer. Now Henry laments all the unexpected bills from the Mohs surgeon and the plastic surgeon.
How bad does his nose look, he wants to know?
It looks fantastic considering the amount of work that was done. Nobody else would notice.
Can I see the scar on the side of his face?
Barely, I reply. And only if I’m looking for it.
It’s not only the physical signs of aging that freak my husband out. For several years, he’s gotten a senior citizen discount at the movies, but he still cringes when saying: “One senior citizen, one adult, please.”
“Think of all the money we’re saving,” I remind him.
“But it makes me feel so old.”
“You’re not so old. You look a lot younger than your age.” Easy for me to say. I’m still in my 50s.
Perhaps Henry’s worst blow is losing his life insurance. Well, not losing it exactly. Last month my husband received a letter from our insurance carrier saying that we could keep the policy, but the premium would increase from $2,300 to $26,900 per year, going up ten thousand percent! Not exactly “Happy 65thBirthday.”
“Maybe I should shoot myself now,” Henry jokes.
Figuring out when to collect social security has also been a depressing prospect. Collect sooner and your check is smaller. Wait longer and get bigger monthly payments, but then you have to live longer to come out ahead. And there’s always the prospect that the system will go bankrupt sooner than expected. Henry crunches the numbers with me and speculates on his mortality. Ever the pessimist, he tentatively decides to collect sooner. I just want to change the subject.
How should we celebrate the beginning of Henry’s “golden years?” Retirement is out of the question. We’re paying for an unanticipated fifth year of college for Sarah, and although Max just graduated, he has no job and lives at home. Young adults can be very expensive to feed and clothe, Henry and I discovering.
For his 65th, Henry doesn’t want a party like he had at 60. He considers Atlantic City or another casino resort, but our kids don’t want to go, and it’s expensive. What my husband really wants is a new watch. But, alas, he’s not retiring in the good old days when it was the custom to honor a valued, long-time employee with a gold watch. In fact, he’s fortunate to be at a law firm without a mandatory retirement age. In today’s challenging economy—forget any parting gifts or mementos—partners at law firms are just happy if they are able to receive their capital investment back without delay. Henry longs for a miracle like a winning lottery ticket or Publisher’s Clearinghouse ringing our doorbell, so we don’t have to pay for his birthday/non-retirement gift. Instead he settles for a 30% discount from a jeweler in North Dakota. We invite a few close friends to join us with Max and Sarah at one of our favorite restaurants.
In the car ride to the restaurant, there’s tension. Unspoken, but simmering in the air, is the fact that last weekend Max lost his wallet, driver’s license and a $40.00 Metro card. It all fell into the ADHD graveyard along with previous cell phones, keys, and broken laptops. Even worse, the past two days his room has smelled as though a large rodent died there, but I’m hoping it’s just mildew from the wet towel on his carpet. In the taxi, Max tells Henry he is going out with friends later and needs a Metro card.“ How much money do you have?” Henry asks.
“You can’t meet your friends in Brooklyn with $3.00.” Henry looks at me, holds out two fingers and I nod. My husband hands our son $20.00.
But I can’t help exploding: “You had nothing to do all day and didn’t go to your ATM? How can you walk out of the house with $3.00 at age 22?”
“Mom, don’t you want to have a pleasant evening?” Max is a deft manipulator.
When we reach the restaurant, my son is still angry. He tries to complain to a family friend who—unbeknownst to Max—already asked his own difficult, adult son to move out… “Your complaints are not falling on sympathetic ears,” I say to Max.
“It’s my birthday,” Henry complains. “Can’t you two stop?”
Using his brilliant lawyerly skill and a little Jewish guilt, Henry negotiates a truce. He smiles at me and Sarah. “You both look beautiful tonight. I’ve got twobeautiful girls.”
Sarah smiles coquettishly. “And you’re a handsome Daddeo.”
“Yes, he is.” I squeeze his hand. After we sit down at the table, I offer to share the roast chicken for two, the dish I know he wants. Max decides to be charming and funny and tells a new stand-up joke, as he happily wolfs down a basket of freshly baked bread. We drink two excellent bottles of wine, and everyone is in good spirits. After we finish the main course, Henry opens his presents and is delighted to receive a tie he doesn’t need to return and a messenger bag he’d wanted, but wouldn’t buy for himself. Everyone compliments Henry on his new watch.
The non-retirement watch gleams on his wrist as he eats a bite of apple tart. “Wear it in good health,” we all tell him.
I can still hear that Beatles’ tune in my mind, but I want to add a few words. Yes, I’ll still need you , yes I’ll still feed you when I’m 64.