I make my way over to Lila. The conversation she was having with our co-workers has ended, and everyone is dispersing. Lila has turned away and is heading back to her desk. I almost think I’m going to miss my chance to talk to her, to find out why even though we’re the same age she seems to look and feel so much younger and healthier.
But I’m not going to let that happen.
I reach out and touch her elbow. “Lila?”
She turns to me, offers me that winning smile.
“Hi Claire. Can I help you with something?”
I realize I’m not quite sure how to say this, not without it sounding a little weird. But it’s too late for planning, so I just go for it.
“Listen, I wanted to talk to you about something not work-related. Something more personal.”
Her brow furrows. Yes, this is definitely sounding weird. We don’t know each other well enough for this. I can almost hear the alarm bells going off in her head. I scramble to recover.
“It’s just– I’m looking for some health advice.”
Her face relaxes. Suddenly I’ve gone from deviant psycho co-worker to poor soul in need of her help. That’s way more accurate. “Sure thing, Claire.”
We decide to meet up at the local bookstore/coffee shop after work. I text my son Alex to let him know I’ll be late. There are leftovers in the fridge.
Lila is already ordering a complicated-sounding iced coffee from the 20-something hipster behind the counter. I think he’s flirting with her. When I walk up, he asks me what I want, and I branch out and order a chai tea. When we settle in at the mosaic table and chairs under the canopy outside, Lila looks me straight in the eye.
“I think I know what this is about,” she says.
I don’t say anything. I really want to hear what she has to say. Am I that obvious?
“When I turned 46,” she goes on, “I went to see my doctor. I told him I couldn’t sleep, I had put on 15 pounds that I couldn’t get rid of. I felt bloated and tired and cranky. My sex drive was practically nonexistent. Plus my skin was looking lax and wrinkled, and my hair was stringy. Not to mention the hot flashes.”
She takes a long sip, watching me over the straw. My face tells her everything she needs to know: she’s hit the nail on the head.
“He told me it was the so-called change of life. It was menopause. It was a natural part of aging for women and you’re just going to have to live with it! What does that even mean she wondered, live with what? What he was saying, basically, was face it, lady, you’re getting old. I did not like that answer.”
Her eyes flick to the right, and I follow her gaze. There is a man who has just sat down with his drink and a book. He looks like he’s our age, with a nicely-trimmed beard and shiny shoes. He’s wearing a straw-colored driving cap that gives him an old-fashioned look. He glances over his book at us.
Lila, her straw in her mouth, widens her eyes at me. I don’t know what’s going on here. “Do you know him?” I ask her.
“He’s cute, isn’t he?” she says, like we’re college kids at the university library.
I shake my head and smile. “My cute-meter is a little rusty,” I tell her.
“Well mine works just fine, and he is cute.”
I have to admit, he has a sophisticated handsomeness about him. A Harrison Ford-type quality. I look at Lila’s left hand and see a ring there.
“Aren’t you married?” I ask her.
“I am, but you’re not,” she replies. “And from the look of it, neither is he.”
“I’m not looking,” I say quickly. But in the same breath I steal another glance in Harrison’s direction. He’s engrossed in his book, his coffee cup pressed to his bearded chin. I wonder if he likes breathing in the hot steam.
Something stirs inside me. Memories of my younger years. Nostalgia of what it was like to feel the thrill of dating, of new love. I enjoy the moment, but that’s all it is. A moment. I turn back to Lila. “Did your doctor give you anything for your symptoms?”
Lila takes my cue, bringing her full attention back to me. “No,” she says. “He didn’t. But I wasn’t ready to just plant my butt in a rocking chair and get old. I started doing my own research. Here, I want to show you something.”
She reaches into her pink purse and pulls out her phone. Her long, fuchsia fingernails click on the screen as she scrolls through her gallery. Finally, she stops and holds the screen out where I can see it.
“That’s me three years ago,” Lila says. The picture is of her sitting outside on a patio. Her hair looks dry and brittle. She’s not smiling, and her face looks jowly and dry. She’s at least 20 pounds heavier.
“Wow,” I say, then choose my words carefully because, after all, I am trying to build a friendship with her. “That doesn’t look like you at all.”
“That is me,” she says emphatically. “That’s me before I started my therapy.”
(Stay tuned for part 3)
*If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
* To read part 3, click here.