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Jessica #16 - Reaching the 'Sell-By' Date

Jessica #16 - Reaching the 'Sell-By' Date

Age is a thing to be beaten, not savored, announces the sisterhood. And Jessica doesn't quite understand why.

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Harris was very nice and surprised me by showing up at my apartment with what looked like half a stationary store -- welcome signs, streamers, banners, balloons.

"We should make sure your sister feels that her arrival is appropriately feted," he said seriously, "that way she'll be too distracted by the royal treatment to be depressed."

I nodded, distracted by his use of a plural, first-person pronoun.

My sister was flying in for a few days of respite to recover from the blow of the news of an ex's impending nuptials.

We spent the evening making increasingly more ridiculous-looking "Welcome Beth!" signs. Surveying our handiwork -- twisted streamers everywhere, badly inflated balloons tacked precariously on walls -- I announced that I didn't think either of us would be going into party planning anytime soon.

The next day I drove to the airport and couldn't wait to see Beth. It had been five months -- the longest time we'd gone without seeing each other.

As befits someone of her life skills, she'd managed to get all her stuff into one carry-on and walked into the terminal looking completely fresh. Only Beth can travel in a linen suit and emerge from the plane unwrinkled.

"Jessie!" she screeched, seeing me. We cooed and giggled and hugged.

"I'm hungry," she said, tucking her arm in mine. "Let's get something very caloric."

Only Beth can travel in a linen suit and emerge from the plane unwrinkled.

We opted for a semi-liquid lunch -- ice cream -- and leisurely strolled around a chic shopping plaza in north Scottsdale.

The topic of Jeff -- the engaged ex -- hadn't come up. I figured I could handle shopping and people-watching while waiting for her to bring up the topic when she was ready.

She chose to -- loudly -- while standing in front of a 3-way mirror in the middle of an elegant boutique. I was sitting off to the side, glancing through magazines as she progressed through outfits.

"Can you imagine if I decided to marry a 24-year-old?" she queried, seemingly to no one in particular, although in a voice loud enough to be heard throughout the store. (Throughout the shopping plaza, actually. Maybe throughout the state.)

Beth was staring at herself in the mirror critically, peering so intensely at her face that I was sure lines would be grooved into her forehead like an Etch-A-Sketch. She was turning sideways and back, sideways and back...

"Um, why would you want to marry a 24-year-old?" I asked, trying to catch up in the footrace of her thoughts.

"Jeff is marrying someone that age," she responded.

Ah, got it!

"My ex is marrying someone more than 10 years younger than him," she turned and announced to the battle-ax salesladies hovering behind me. So much for me thinking she needed some quiet, weepy time. She was testifying! Amen, sister!

So much for quiet, weepy time. She was testifying! Amen, sister!

"He's pushing 40, and his bride graduated from college a year and a half ago," she explained with a bitter smile. I wasn't sure why the age difference bothered her so much.

The saleswomen, an attractive 50-something, exploded with sympathy: "During a mediation session during my divorce, one of the paralegals said it's not surprising that my husband found himself someone younger -- since it was obvious that 'I'd let myself go.'"

Her super-suctioned, obviously surgically-sculpted face betrayed the pain she was still feeling years later.

My eyes widened. I am not used to the public airing of such private pain. Out of embarrassment, I looked down at the magazine I'd been flipping through.

Photos of Goldie Hawn, Michele Pfeiffer and Rene Russo stared up at me from the page. "Women over 40 make a comeback!" trumpeted the headline. Comeback? Did being 40 go in and out of fashion like slingbacks?

Come to think of it, I don't know any 25-year-olds who look like Goldie Hawn.

No 40-year-olds I know look like them, I thought. Come to think of it, I don't know any 25-year-olds who do, either.

"The stupid thing is that I did take care of myself," the saleswoman continued, acidly. "What did he think a 50-something woman should look like?"

She was telling my sister how she'd decided to get a surgical head-to-toe makeover. It was painful and expensive and she'd suffered two major infections.

"But, look at me now," she said, in a strange tone. "I bet my husband's sorry every time he sees me."

Who would want that kind of husband, I wondered, if a few nips and tucks changed the way he felt about the woman who'd raised his children?

My cellphone rang and I answered, eager for distraction.

"How's it going?" It was Harris.

Turning away from the cluster at the counter, I told him about the discussion I was witnessing and how baffling I found it. "It's like she thinks that she was given power by a face-lift," I said of the first wives' club member. "Why on earth would the smoothing out of a few wrinkles make her feel more in control?"

I remembered the argument I'd had with my friend Dan weeks ago, about whether or not magazines like the one I work for exploit women. I suddenly understood one of his points: we use teenage girls to model clothing sold to adult women, who judge themselves entirely by how they measure up to that standard of beauty.

But still, I said aloud, "I just don't understand why Beth is wallowing in this with them."

"Probably because they're making her feel young, reassuring her that she hasn't yet reached her sell-by date," he said.

She hasn't yet reached her sell-by date.

"What?" I squawked. "Her sell-by date?!"

"Well, she's got some time yet, but the pressure's on. She better get moving," he said.

"Harris! You and she are the same age!"

"Yeah, but I'm a guy."

"You chauvinist" I hooted. "I can't believe you just said that!"

But then I looked over at the coffee klatch of women.

"Don't worry sweetie, you've got a few more good years," one of the woman was saying reassuringly to Beth.

Well, at least I know where Harris got the idea, I thought. Should I march over and call her chauvinistic, too?

Published: June 10, 2000

Article 16 of 66 in the series Jessica's Journal


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