I turned 80 this summer. The week before my birthday, that eight zero number was on my mind when I went to sleep and again when I woke up. Every morning, I kept my eyes closed, wondering what day it was and what jobs I had to do.
Only ten years ago (maybe it was twenty) I used to wake up, stretch my limbs, throw back the covers, and leap out of bed, ready for whatever came next. Now I stay in bed thinking about my life and all that has happened in the last eighty years. Sometimes it overwhelms me and it seems that I’ve lived more lives than one. I was born during the Depression, grew up during WWII, married young, and had a family. Those kids have had families and their families are having families. Where did the time go? How can I be 80 so soon?
With eyes still closed, I was trying to sort it out when one of my two alter egos enlightened me. She’s the wise and practical Betty, four inches in heels and lives on my right shoulder. My deceased husband left her behind to keep me out of trouble. Sometimes it works. With fists planted on her tiny waist, she dishes out warnings such as, “Don’t buy that. It’s too expensive.”
The little Betty on my left shoulder is only three and one-half inches high because she never tries to be taller than she really is. She’s relaxed but spontaneous, which feels like a good mix to her. That Betty draws pictures and writes. When she’s anxious, she sucks her left thumb even though she’s 80. It’s pathetic. She obsesses about how many years she has left. It’s unhealthy. That’s when the right-shoulder alter yells, “Snap out of it!”
Shorty takes her thumb out of her mouth and says, “Out of what?”
“Your fear of growing old too soon.” Tall Betty acts like she knows everything. She says, “I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering where you’re going and afraid of what’s ahead.”
Left-shoulder Betty removes her thumb and says, “No; you’re wrong. I’m afraid of what’s NOT ahead: TIME. There’s so much to do yet.”
While my two sides hash it out, I just stay put, waiting for them to get my head together. The wiser, taller, more organized Betty says, “You’ve done so much already. You should be satisfied with that. You’ve used your time well.”
The whiner says, “I’ve done a little bit of everything, with no plan. I make it up as I go along. I’ve done it with my drawings, my stories, and my life. It feels like a jumbled mess without order or discipline. I keep saying that I’m going to get organized.”
That morning, the bossy right side had a plan. “Sort your accomplishments by seeing your life in big chunks. Let’s call those chunks “acts.” Act 1 was our first nineteen years with Mom, Dad, Bobby, and Patty. Act 2 was the next 49 years that included marriage to Denny, our family of four children, teaching art, and more bizarre adventures than anyone could possibly imagine.”
“I know,” said creative, fearful Betty. “I’ll never get it all written before I…you know.”
Bold Betty ignored that wimpy comment and moved on to Act 3. “The last act started when Denny died and we became writers.” She hesitated a moment before continuing. “Now pay attention because I’m telling you something important. You’ll live to be 100…but only if you walk a mile before breakfast. Now get up and put on your Adidas.”
So I did. Maybe I’ll live long enough for my two selves to get on the same page. They’ve been arguing with each other and nagging me since I started writing at 68. Sixty-eight? My God, that sounds young.
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illustrated by Betty Auchard