Sometimes I am worried that I am going to wake up one day with sarcopenia. It’s an age-related muscle wasting apparently awarded at random to elders in their sixth decade. I have always hesitated to waste anything though, and so I’ve been trying to keep a low profile. But I realize it’s only a matter of time before somebody finds me and asks to see my driver’s licence, or maybe accesses my Facebook profile -although I lied about stuff and used a clever avatar to throw everybody off the track.
But I’m not sure why I’m so worried, however. Unlike many my age, I actually leave the house without a walker, and I still own a pair of smelly running shoes. But ultimately, I feel it is my diet that will carry me triumphantly across the finish line. Unlike the apocryphal elder, who reputedly sups on tea and toast then shuffles off his mortal coil too sarcopened to crack the toast in half, I have quietly slathered peanut butter on multigrain bagels each breakfast for years. And there are 4 grams protein for every tbsp too -however much that is… Why they don’t talk about knife-fulls (kfs) is not clear to me. Who uses spoons to spread stuff on their bagels? Sounds sissy.
Anyway, with 4 or 5 kfs per bagel I think I am getting quite enough protein. And I use a thick knife and a big heavy Walmart mug for my coffee -not your la-de-da bone china- so I get quite a workout.
During the day, when I can list all of the healthy things I’ve done, it seems obvious to me that sarcopenia is just one more name on a long list of unpronounceable things on offer if you live long enough; during my regularly scheduled 3 A.M. panic attacks, however, it is a different matter. Despite all the peanut butter protein dashing about patching up weak spots, I keep wondering if it’s missing anything in the darkness. At any rate, I feel I have to keep pinching my arms, and lifting the blankets with my legs to check for any impending penia. I wonder if this happens to other people, or whether they’re just blissfully unaware of what’s actually on their list.
And in one of those cruel ironies that befall those of us sliding down the wrong side of the Bell curve, exercise, in its role as a muscle irritant, nocturnally magnifies any doubts about its benefit. Especially when it hurts to get up to use the fridge, or the other thing.
So, short of elicit steroids, or Photoshopping myself, I’m confused about what else I can do to stay intact. None of the usual stuff they tell you to practice at my age -Sudoku, say, or socialization by dozing in those little seats in the mall- seems to have much effect on my muscles.
It was at a dinner party that I got my first helpful hint. I don’t get invited to very many dinners I have to admit, and they’re never parties, really -there’s never any music and usually everybody just sits around and talks to the person next to them. But the one I do remember, though, was supposed to be an actual party where you also got to eat: my aunt’s birthday dinner at her Retirement Village. I think they invited me because she was continuing to occupy a bed and I was the only other one still alive in her family. It certainly wasn’t because she remembered me or anything.
As it turned out, the party consisted of several identical tables with old folks sitting around talking to their cutlery like leprechauns at a mushroom. There wasn’t much socialization, which suited me just fine. I mean, what do you say to old people who are anxious to get back to their rooms, and have trouble hearing anyway? And my aunt was pretty well asleep at her plate, so I’m not sure I added much to her awareness, to tell the truth.
I tried to resign myself to sitting in silence for the whole evening, but at one stage, perhaps unnerved by the constant pitter-pattering of dentures, I inadvertently used my outside voice to mention my fears of succumbing to the sarcopenic epidemic I saw around me. A heavily cosmeticized woman sitting next to my aunt, risked grievous harm by glancing at me out of the corner of her face while she continued to cut the meat on her plate into smaller and smaller pieces.
“Why are you worried about that?” she asked, finally putting down her knife and attempting to spear one of the little meatlets with her fork.
I have to say, her voice caught me by surprise -apart from the constant grating of her knife on the faux porcelain plate, and a few whispered curses, she had not said a word out loud all evening. I had to think about the question, as well. I mean, why wouldn’t somebody my age worry about muscle wasting?
“Uhmm, well I like to walk a lot,” I finally blurted out, then immediately regretted what sounded for all the world like a brag.
A little smile managed to elbow its way through her wrinkles as the be-forked meat arrived at her mouth. Then, of course, she had to chew it for a while. “I think you’re approaching it the wrong way,” she said when her teeth had finished their tiny dance on the meat.
I smiled back at her and waited for her to swallow.
“When you finish one play, you get to audition for another, you know,” she added when she was sure that the meat was safely stored in the vault below.
“I… ahh…” Actually, I wasn’t at all sure whether she was just confused, or making a gallant attempt at profundity. “I’m already in the role I always wanted for my retirement…”
Her eyes surfaced from behind the wall of makeup for a moment, then quickly retreated into their redoubt. “Same role, different costume, I think.” And she turned her attention back to her plate -this time to slicing up her beans into short little rods.
“But…” I didn’t want her to lose her train of thought. “…But how would changing my role help me to stop worrying about muscular decline?”
She stopped the post-mortem on the inhabitants of her plate and turned to me again. “Romeo worried about Juliet’s family… Would Hamlet?”
I just stared at her for a moment, smiled politely, and then decided it was time for me to pretend I was still eating. Who was this woman?
But maybe she was on to something. Maybe sometimes you’re allowed to peek through the veil of someone else’s years to see a different world.