Ma’am I Am
“You look really good for your age, ma’am,” the cashier drawled as she handed me my driver’s license and the wine I’d just purchased.
The young woman meant it as a compliment, and it’s flattering to be told you’re holding up well by a person whose first crow’s foot has another twenty years to fly free. I’m just happy that cashiers still (sometimes) ask for my ID. I couldn’t let it get to me; otherwise, I might have to stop drinking.
Throughout most of my adult life, getting “ma’am-ed” never bothered me. I’m from the South, where such courtesies are as much a part of our culture as humidity and chicken-fried-everything. But my feelings on the subject are by no means universal.
I once watched a girlfriend’s face contort into an angry red mask at the Estee Lauder counter when a dewy salesclerk repeatedly addressed her by “The M Word.” An otherwise reasonable woman, by the time the transaction was complete she looked like something that busted up through the floorboards on season two of Stranger Things.
I’ve been called ma’am by grown men and small children alike since I was old enough to wear lip gloss and never gave it a second thought. But now, at fifty-three, I’ve begun to prickle at it a bit.
With summer comes the arrival of interns at my office. Once upon a time, we were all about the same age. Now they call me “Ms. Wright” and I can’t make them stop. The irrefutable truth is I’m old enough to have birthed every last one of them.
I am Ma’am.
I don’t feel like a Ma’am. Inside I still feel like the Hot Chick of my youth, the lithe, leggy creature with a gravity-defying bosom. The Hot Chick could drink tequila all night and greet the dawn looking like she floated off the cover of Cosmo. If Ma’am gets less than six hours of sober, uninterrupted sleep she looks like Nick Nolte’s mug shot.
The Hot Chick spent money as fast as she earned it on high heels, short skirts, and enough cosmetics to open her own Sephora outlet. Ma’am worries about how much the new roof is going to cost and and whether or not the mole on her neck is changing shape.
When I was about 25 my mother told me “You know what happens when you turn 40, don’t you? You have to get bifocals and your ass drops off.” I didn’t believe her, but it happened, albeit a little later than expected. I can’t read small print without glasses, and my ass would look fat in those old size-six “thinspiration” Levi’s hidden away on the top shelf of my closet. Or at least it would if I could pull them up past my knees.
We’re told that with age comes wisdom, as if that’s some sort of consolation prize, the karmic equivalent of the Rice-A-Roni and Turtle Wax on a 1970’s game show. I’ll admit there are some very satisfying tradeoffs: at fifty-three I have financial security, a spacious home, and I’ve traveled the world. At twenty-two, it was a struggle to find my car keys and make it to work without a dryer sheet stuck to my back.
So even if the crow’s feet have landed and my bosom needs a little help defying gravity these days, I can take solace in the unsullied perfection of my credit scores.
Yes, they are real. And they are spectacular.