Yesterday I sat with a ninety-two year old client and remarked on the incredible condition of her skin. We have seventy year old (ha! probably even fifty year old) clients with more wrinkles, more spots. I even assumed she had been getting botox, or using a moisturizer only the very affluent could access. She simply laughed, her eyes warm and vibrant, and said, “Soap and water, my dear!”
Those blue eyes were lined carefully with liquid black eyeliner, but the rest of her face looked untouched, except for maybe a pinch on her cheeks and lips. We talked about her financial affairs for maybe ten minutes together, then it became story after story about the people in her past for about an hour.
I noticed she ended every exchange of information with an expressively sad and almost wistful gaze. We wouldn’t say anything in the moment she would sit and reflect; maybe the silence should’ve been awkward, but it wasn’t. I was thankful my boss (all too eager to fill up air with chatter) honored her moment.
I selfishly thought about myself in those lulls of dialogue. When would be the time in my life when I would tell stories, only to end them with a lump in my throat? I felt scared and hollow for her, how fragile she seemed, and how alone she was in her big home. No more husband, no more brothers or sisters (she was one of five), but plenty of photographs to share, and memories to reflect on.
When we left she squeezed my shoulder and then looked at it for a long moment. I thought about what she felt and how connected I felt to her. I soon learned her parents were originally from Rome before they came to New York. It was at that point I learned we were similar in three ways; I can trace family back to Rome, our use of liquid eyeliner, and our long, pointed noses.
I adored her, and I would have squeezed her shoulder back had I not felt like I could break it.