There’s a column in The Guardian’s Saturday magazine called ‘What I’m Really Thinking’. It’s always anonymous, and it does just what its headline suggests: allows someone to tell their secrets without letting on who they are.
I was going to write for it tonight. I counted the words of this week’s column, to see how many I’d be allowed. I noted the email address.
It was that, or posting here. But, I thought, too many people who might just still come here, over a year since I last posted, know who I am. Do I really want them to know what I’m really thinking?
Do I? Do I care? Don’t my best friends know anyway?
I’m not sure, is the answer to that one. I don’t think I talk about this very often. I don’t know how to.
So I won’t be emailing in an edited-down piece of 250 words. I will write here, I've decided, and let the thoughts flow: my 'Really Thoughts', that won’t let me rest, or sit peaceably with myself, until sitting on a page:
I’m fifty. I don’t tell people that very often. When the local journalist who interviewed me last year asked me, I declined to tell him on principle. People start to put you in boxes, and decide things about you, and I’d much rather it came out, as it sometimes does once I have got to know someone, as a point of surprise.
Though there is slightly less surprise these days than there used to be, I’ve noticed. It has long been a source of pleasure that there was always such a very long gap between what people guessed my age to be, and what it really is. Recently I’ve found myself staring into my face, trying to map the infinitesimal changes which, compounded, ring in the extra years in a stranger’s perception of my age.
I’m a woman at 50 – actually I turned fifty last year, amid a series of gloriously planned, theatrical moments designed to make 2012 one of my best years yet. It is really only now, ten months later, that the turning of the decade seems to have hit home.
Let’s look at the facts. There are two ways of looking, I’ve discovered, depending on the day, say, or the weather, or my mood.
The first goes like this: I’m fifty and I have a stunning child of whom I’m inordinately proud and in 2010 I started a business doing something I have never done before, and at the end of last year, with a fairytale-like flourish to round off my special year, I won two awards for it.
The second, and the one currently playing at the cinema, runs as follows: I’m fifty, I’m an older mother, my extraordinarily unsuccessful marriage (which is not officially over yet because I can’t afford to get divorced) left me with literally nothing, having been forced to sell the only asset in which I had a large stake, my house, in order to pay off mounting debts; my business, though a runaway critical success, is a dismal financial failure and, more importantly than anything else at 9.15pm on a Saturday night, I am no one’s person. I am alone.
The fifty thing. I know I keep going on about it. But something is happening over which I have little control, and I need to get an attitude before it obsesses me further. Slowly, with perhaps one or two more people being thrown into the mix every day, slowly, slowly I am becoming invisible. It is happening.
I have heard of this phenomenon from women, and their differing reactions. Some love the fact that how they look no longer bothers their lives. They can move through their lives unnoticed, reaching their destinations faster, unhampered by having to deal with the attentions and the judgements of men.
Others, like myself, feel bereft. Now let’s face it, it’s not like I was ever heavily burdened by the attentions of men in the first place – being someone who grows on you with the knowing, and not one who makes an instant visual hit. But there were, of course, always moments as I moved through the years. To be honest, there are occasionally moments now – of admiration, of appreciation. But now that the years are accelerating and the chances of finding a unique individual who would wish to share my thoughts, my life and my bed diminish, I feel the apparent, albeit unconfirmed, loss of such things just - dreadful.
Having finally recovered enough of myself from the wreckage of my marriage to the Bim, I find the lack of physical contact in my life heartbreaking. It’s like missing a limb, not sharing myself physically with another. And I have discovered that it is getting harder and harder to maintain a healthy sense of myself as a younger-rather-than older person without that kind of intimate physical affirmation. Will I ever, ever, I realise I am wondering, find someone who will embrace all of me again: my lived-in body, my stretchmarked stomach (once so astonishingly flat!); my less than perfect body lines?
These things, then, worry at me these days. I am so busy with the day-to-day buffeting of life, ricocheting as I do from home to school to meeting, to the odd dinner with a friend, that I can’t often articulate this creeping fear, to myself, or to another. I want to document it here so that I may know, one future day, what I was really thinking, at fifty, a woman, and alone.