I didn’t realize I was doing it until recently: Before I sit down in church, I reach back to the pew to check the distance and steady the descent, then I slowly lower myself into my seat. It’s such a “Lolo” move. Something I remember my grandfather doing. Time was when at the barked command “Take seats!” I could instantly drop into a chair or onto the ground with all the other cadets. But my days as a Bro and even as a Tito are long gone. Waiters and cashiers everywhere routinely (perversely!) ask for the senior citizens’ card that I am not entitled to, yet. Something to do with my phenotypic age. My students, born in 1997 when I was already deep into my second career, respond with blank stares when my jokes require some knowledge of 80’s pop culture. I’m old. No doubt about it. And my life is now dominated by little aches and pains, and by the memory of pain past and the anticipation of pain to come. Sitting down slowly is just one of the ways that I cope.
Going up any staircase, even the one at home, I deliberately test each step, making sure my ankle, shin and knee are aligned, lest some sharp spike of pain cause my leg to buckle and give way. I hold on to the railing just in case. A mall escalator that isn’t working? It might as well be Mt. Pulag—I will not climb it.
On and off I suffer from longganiza-induced back pain. I guess I had failed to stretch and warm up before breakfast some months ago. Thus, as I twisted to reach across the table for the fatty garlicky Baguio sausages, I irredeemably hurt my back. Now if I bend over a little too much or pick something up that’s a little too heavy or stay seated in traffic on EDSA a little too long, my back locks up and I begin to crave drugs again. My loving wife who practices medicine without a license recommends Ponstan. I, on the other hand, like the graphics in the Alaxan FR TV commercial.
Peanuts cause gout. Sugar gives me headaches. My eyes hurt when the lights are bright and water when they’re too dim. Lack of water makes my kidneys throw stones. Excess water challenges my prostate five times a night. There is no rest for the weary. Everything has to be just right.
My strangest affliction, though, is stenosing tenosynovytis also known as trigger finger. It can affect any finger, but I’ve got it in the middle fingers of both hands. First of all, it’s painful, more often in the mornings and especially when it’s cold. I cannot bend the fingers in question beyond a certain point without increasing the pain, and if I do bend the fingers, they lock themselves in that bent position until I pop them out with the help of the other hand. None of this is debilitating, fortunately. I can still tap on a keyboard. I can still play a saxophone, if I ever learn to play the saxophone. I cannot, however, grip a badminton, squash or tennis racket properly; and for this reason, I have grown fat and seeing myself in glass walls and other mirror-like surfaces has become yet another painful experience.
My youngest brother, the surgeon, says he can slice into my hands and release the tendons. I have this nagging suspicion, however, that if I bring a common cold to a surgeon, he will recommend cutting into something to remove the phlegm. Surgeons and their scalpels. Thanks, but no thanks. As I said, I am not invalided by it and will get used to it eventually. It only really hurts badly when I use my hands to, say, suddenly catch something or shake hands or grip a steering wheel. Oh, by the way, if you think you see me give you the dirty finger when you cut in front of me in traffic, please don’t be too offended because I’m really only trying to shake my fist at you but my middle digit won’t fold.
When I wake up after each fitful night of dreaming dreams that will never come true because the scenes are from the past and the actors have long passed away, I shuffle to the bathroom like a prisoner wearing leg irons. I have classmates who still run marathons and I salute them. As for me, I count my steps and each one has to take me somewhere I need to go because my breath tends to sprint ahead and catching it is, well, a pain.
In nursery school, I sang, “My toes, my knees, my shoulders, my head.” Little did I know that I was being taught the names of my body parts so that I would know what to whine about in old age. They’re all very minor issues, to be sure. It’s just that everything hurts.
These are the ravages of time, I am told. But it’s not the relentless ticking of the clock or the inexorable passage of the days that brings the pain. It’s the walking we’ve done, the food we’ve eaten, and the loads we’ve carried. It’s the stands we took, the seats at the table we struggled to get, and the stress that went with all that. It’s the twisting and turning of the life we lived. And the fun we had while living it.
As I mark another birthday, I have no regrets. As for the pain still to come – I guess I’m OK with that, too. Something to talk about over lunch.