The Fragmented Musings of Aging With Age
I have survived being abused as a child. Physically by my father in the form of discipline because that was all he knew and called it love and sexually by a teenage cousin exploring the surge of testosterone while taking advantage of a younger cousin who was sensitive and “ different.” I don’t feel mentally or emotionally burdened by either situation.
Most of my life was lived as a heterohomonormative male. The word is made up, but that’s how I describe me. I was married to a woman for 23 years. She knew I liked men. Before marriage, I explored the possibility of same-gender relationships without success. The times were not as tolerant, and that made things complicated.
I have lived with HIV since 1986, and I am still here. This is largely thanks to the tough love my ex-wife gave me, my discipline with my med regiment , and faithful quarterly visits to my doctors.
I have survived an ex-lover throwing a chair at me insisting that I stay with him and looking down the barrel of a gun twice. Once, by a crazed neighbor (white) irritated by the youthful me in platform shoes in the unit above him as I readied myself for a night of disco. The second, by some “Wild Bills” in the street looking for prey, the possible cohorts of a fellow SGL man who suggested we stop at a certain spot on the South Side of Chicago. I’ll never know for sure. I just know I still get to be here among the living.
These things were just a few of the major milestones in my life. I am 73 years old, but I don’t feel it. My mind agrees with me, but my body is conflicted. This youth biased culture we live in reminds me every day that the young and beautiful rule and anyone over 55 and potentially less symmetrical should take a walk. This is major to me!
Hanging out in public spaces, I am reminded of aging. I find public transportation appealing, being one who hates Atlanta’s traffic. There, young men under fifty will often call me “Unc,” recently one called me “Pop.” In my head, I went: what the fuck? I wanted to scream out loud “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” Meanwhile, another part of me embraced the terms as a form of reverence rather than a dismissal. Quiet as kept, I would’ve preferred Mr. or Sir, honorific terms apparently now sadly out of fashion.
I am retired. Had I mentioned that? Recently, I was asked if I missed work by a friend in his fifties. My truth is “no.” I am pleased with my accomplishments from my work-life. I don’t miss the stress that came with it. I read in my AARP magazine--at least I think that was where I saw it; aging is a bitch! Anyway, the gist of the article was there is a devaluing phase that comes with aging. If you don’t have a job title, society, family, friends, and even you will question your relevance here on Earth. Grappling with not wearing some job title and not getting the entree and respect that people once gave is challenging. I know I am more than a title and work. But, for so long, I allowed my work to consume me. Truthfully, I invested money in those I loved but not time. I felt good about myself and my work, but I did not nurture me in terms of pursuing a healthy intimate personal relationship. My lifelong friends tell me if I am not in a relationship by now, I should forget it. How’s that for a kicker?
My physical health is in better condition than some of my peers. I have lived longer than expected for a black man. Still, I wonder what impact the HIV drugs I have taken throughout the years will have on my aging body. There is a discomfort that comes to me in seeing some of my peer’s on oxygen tanks and using walkers. I think about who will take care of me if or when I become dependent? What will I do if my savings run out? What type of quality of life will I have? Who will remember me? These are the kinds of questions one doesn’t always take the time to grapple with when the skin is taut and the possibilities endless. But, you should.
I do try to share what I’ve learned to-date and convey what early warnings I can to those who have time to make some changes in their life, to have answers to some of the unanswered questions that can dog some of my darker days. I like connecting with younger people when they are open to receiving. I am happy to share what knowledge I have. The irony of that is that I now know that I know nothing and will be learning until the day I die. So, there is also the joy I have in just listening to them, being around them, and, of course, hoping they can learn a thing or two from my experiences.
‘When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground’ Is a quote, used as a byline on emails of a younger colleague. It is a modified version of an old African proverb. In the Broadway musical “Hamilton” there is a song that sticks in my mind: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story…?” Being a single same-gender aging man, I wonder about that too.
Aging is not for sissies is my mantra. No disrespect to the queer community; I grew up in the fifties. Sissy was a term used if anybody was afraid to take on a dare. Age can be like a dare, unavoidably it comes with living and dying. I am not a sissy. I embrace the dare and look forward to tomorrow.
Young Hughley is a native Atlanta. He has worked in the non profit sector and professional theater. In his retired life he enjoys writing. Recently he published a book of poetry, essays and short stories; IMAGES FINALLY FOCUSED. Social equity, affordable housing, inclusive community development, LGBT issues are important to him. He finds time to serve on the Boards of organizations and public entities addressing these concerns.