I refuse to embrace the title of elderly. Nope.
I am in that age range which I have labeled “twelderly”; like “tween” is to teen. Tween is the cultural-lingual evolution of the word preteen, those precious years between childhood (8 years old) and teenage. With the “pre” removed and replaced with “tw” (like in twisted), I usurped “tween” to create my present age category. I hereby will give proof that the said category should exist in our vernacular.
Before I start, I humbly thank the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, for having the foresight to offer me and my generation a membership card at 50 years old. I knew that retirement and old age would inevitably arrive, but so fast? I was in denial. AARP wasn’t. It took me a couple of years and keen advertising to get my card. Actually, menopause at 52 convinced me to invest in my new future.
Now that I have passed 50-something, along with 60, I have become aware of what being twelderly means. I have slowed down, though I’m in no rush. Also, I have slowed down not by choice; I became disabled, which doesn’t have to be an indicator of being twelderly, but my disability intersects with my age. There are layers to being twelderly. Thus, Twelderly Intersectionality, TI.
Don’t go away. Hear me out:
The signs were subtle, like a bad lover trying to wrap their control around you. When I slid into 50-something, I realized there were probably more years behind than ahead of me. After practicing whatever coping skills I had for 20 years before, I started culling those “Not Any More” (NAM) people, places, and things out of my life. I have seen, heard, smelled, and tasted enough, and I knew enough to get out of the way or get the hell out.
All of a sudden, I was old enough to get a senior MetroCard or movie ticket, but not eligible for Social Security. (And I forgot if eligibility is 65 or 67.) Another sign of being twelderly: forgetting. It isn’t cute. It’s the beginning of the conspiracy theories you conjure on how you got to 60-something.
There are twelderlies all over the spectrum. We are widowed, divorced, single, with a tribe of siblings, children, grands, and elderly parents, or we could be flying solo. Some twelderlies are worn down, body beaten, mind melted; some are nowhere near retirement or still need to work.
And there are always twelderlies who had to or wanted to completely readjust their life path. You get twelderlies who are in perfect health, 60-somethings going on 40; there are people who are superfood-charged, jellyfish and vitamin-supplemented, and the ones who are just plain lucky. They consider themselves high on the twelderly spectrum. What they all have in common, they want to live with some joy. That’s being twelderly.
You can’t take in the experience of “twelderdom” without full immersion. It’s like a contact sport. It’s the age where shit happens. It’s like making it to the next level, but scary. It’s not as gratifying as that next level in Candy Crush or Tour of Duty. Sometimes you can appreciate the sandwich you are in: between adult children and elderly parents. You can enjoy an empty nest.
The twelderlies let you know if you are ready for being elderly. Are you going gracefully? Or like a maniac, standing among high explosives, yelling: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” (Google the quote, you’ll appreciate the visual.)
Where do I land in the bio-socio-ecospheres? Will I become an octogenarian? Make it to a centenarian? I only hope. I’m not sure with the life I have led. Not exactly pristine (don’t you dare judge me). Breathing late-20th-century air, eating processed foods, cigarettes, not to mention. . . . We all have strikes against us.
Think of this famous phrase: “Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for . . .” You fill in the blank.
Growing old is not for the superficial, let alone the faint of heart. Growing old. Yes, you grow into it. Or maybe it grows on you. I’ll let you know. But for now — I am not elderly, I’m twelderly.
Lora René Tucker is the poetry editor of African Voices magazine and the author of “Writes of Passage.” A leader of anti-racism and cultural empowerment workshops and a facilitator of poetry therapy for Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, she lives in Sag Harbor.