• Kate Frick Sheridan

A "Person of Age" is Born

Kicking and screaming, of course

The cashier pauses, a turquoise fingernail hovering over the register, before totaling the sale. I take in her artfully messy upswept hair, enormous hoop earrings, some sort of nose jewelry I don’t care to consider. Gen X? Gen Z? Millennial? I get them mixed up. Young. She’s young.

“Are you a…” Hesitating. “Person… of age?” Her tone respectful.

Of age? What does that mean? I consider myself for a moment. I’m a person, certainly, but hadn’t imagined myself a member of a protected class or special interest group. How can I be “of” age? I have age, but so does she. I look at her more closely. Round cheeks, plump lips, bright eyes. Twenty-ish? I’ve got about three times as much age as she does. I supposed that makes me “aged.” But what’s with the euphemism? What’s wrong with “old?”

I’m sixty-three, and I look every day of it. I’m not ashamed. Having gotten breast cancer twenty years ago, I’m actually kind of proud to have made it this far. I’m glad to be here, and even more, relieved I’m no longer young. I was a mess when I was her age.

Words are powerful, and when weaponized, hurtful. I understand why “person of color” is nicer that “colored person.” I just hadn’t been aware that “old” had become a slur.

“Do you mean, am I old?” I ask sweetly. The cashier looks stricken. “Because it’s okay. I don’t mind.” Her eyes meet mine for the first time. She’s mortified. A nice person, I can tell.

“It’s just…if you’re over sixty-five…” she trails off, too embarrassed to finish her sentence.

“Oh. A discount.” So that’s what all this double speak is for. “Nope, I’m not there yet.” By now she’s writhing with shame, grimacing as she apologizes. I feel sorry for the poor girl. Or woman. Under thirty-five, they all look the same to me.

“I didn’t mean you looked old, it’s just you get 10% off if…” I want to give her a hug.

“It’s okay,” I soothe. And it is. The shame is hers, not mine.

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