When the Reality of Growing Old Alone Knocks on Your Door

Her tiny, diminutive form slipped out the door of her apartment and into the hallway. In the prime of bone density, she might have claimed the height of 5 foot (in shoes). Time and osteoporosis (or something of that ilk) whittled her away to a size that put her, uh, well, approximately at eye level with my breasts. This, combined with the worry that even abysmal upper body strength could crush her, made the hug she gave me the first day I was back especially awkward. 

Her Cinderella-sized feet padded down the carpeted hallway, coming to a stop just outside my parents’ door. One hand clutched into a bony fist, poised to knock, the other hand wrapped tightly around a jar. A new jar every night. A jar for every day of the week. Today perhaps of tomato sauce, tomorrow perhaps of apple sauce, maybe Wednesday would be olives. 

She knocked on the door and waited. Could she sense the feeling of annoyance from those of us behind the door? Could she hear the audible sigh from my father who had just finished making dinner? Who had only a minute before finally sat down to enjoy a meal with his family? No, no, of course she couldn’t, I tell myself, hoping beyond hope that’s the truth. 

Growing up, we always ignored calls that came in at dinner time. “Dad-burned telemarketers!” my father would say, censoring his language and making no motion to answer the imploring rings of the telephone. A call left unanswered is easy, a door, not so much. My father muttered and stood up from the table.

The door of the apartment opened. “Hi Marilyn,” my father’s gruff voice addressed the little old lady standing in the hallway. “So sorry to bother you, I just can’t get this open.” She held up the jar. My father opened it with a swift turn of the wrist. “Here you go, have a good night.” A profuse expression of gratitude and she turned to go back down the hall. He shut the door.

This scene took place, as if by wrote, nearly every night of the two weeks I home for the holidays. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve felt about it a lot, in an all the feels sort of way. I find it heartbreaking and terrifying, but also kinda amusing and uplifting at the same time. See? All the feels.  I’m also left with a lot of questions.

Was this really about opening jars? Or was the whole “jar” thing simple a ruse, a way to satisfy a craving for human contact? Does she not know the trick of breaking the suction with a can opener? Were all the jars previously unopened? Or at that age is it a struggle to even re-open jars? Was there some vague hope of a dinner invitation? Would another family have invited her in?

And then the big one- is this what my future holds? “Marilyn” is awfully close to “Mary Lane”… 

I admit it, that scares me. It’s January. I turn 30 in exactly 6 months. I’m single as fuck, in a string of bad dates, and I admit thoughts of I’m going to die alone swarm my mind when his kiss is like a dementor’s.

Does it scare me so much that this will this be a story I tell my grandchildren?

“And that’s when I decided I had to settle: settle down, get married, and have kids. I couldn’t bare the thought of growing old alone and not being able to open my own jars.”

Or will this be an ad I post to Craigslist in the year 2060 or so?

“WANTED: Jar Opener [Manhattan]

Looking to hire individual with above average upper body strength to open jars for elderly, eccentric AF woman. Must be comfortable with all kinds of jam, sauces, salsa, pickles, and peaches. Mason and Bell experience preferred. In-person demonstration of skills required.”

I couldn’t help but wonder: what would my neighbors do if I knocked on their door with the same request in NYC? Is it just me, or would all New Yorkers rather break a jar open and risk consuming glass before admitting to those down the hall that they need help?

And while typing that, I just realized something. While I would prefer not to grow old alone, should it come to that, as long as I’m in New York City this won’t be a problem. Because door men. There are thousands of door man buildings in this town and as long as I live in one, there will always be someone to open my jars (and ya know, discover my body before Pip eats my face off). I feel so much better now. And also super motivated to do arm exercises.

About New York Cliche

NYC lifestyle blog by Mary Lane. Events, adventures, epic mistakes, dating, life, humor. A 20-something trying to make it (and make out) in the city of dreams.

4 thoughts on “When the Reality of Growing Old Alone Knocks on Your Door

  1. Things like that do make you think but then getting married is no guarantee of having your jars opened for life. You may be left a widow, your children if you have them may move away. Don’t settle for someone who is only good enough to open jars. You can do better than that. In the meantime better persevere with those arm exercises.

  2. Ha! So true! No guarantees in life, and jars are insanely hard. I stand by the “whack it all the way around the lid with a heavy object to break the air seal” method. Turns a tough jar into putty. Interesting wondering about the future, but you never know! Make sure to keep a heavy can opener or pair of scissors around to whack that jar!
    Meghan Sara recently posted…2015 Best Nine InstagramsMy Profile

  3. This was your best written post ever. Funny and poignant. Very touching. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. 30 is just another birthday. It doesn’t mean anything about you. Would you rather have an unsatisfying 40 year marriage because you settled, or would you rather have 35 years of euphoric marital bliss because you took the time to get it right? Open your own jars, enjoy your life and stop waiting for something to happen.

  4. This is hilarious, and also hauntingly true. However, I DON’T WANT TO SETTLE! At 32 a lot of my friends are married, but my besties that chose a city life are not, which makes me feel better. -And- also wonder what this says about city life. Why do so few people “settle down,” and why in NYC is it so difficult to do so? I feel like people in big cities have a different outlook on life. In my home state and the “burbs,” people get married, have kids, and buy homes as soon as they get a good job/start a career. I just find that so horribly boring, that’s probably why I prefer NYC. However, having said that, the question remains… How can you cultivate an interesting life AND eventually cultivate a family? Must we give up one or the other? I should’ve tried to meet a lovely local family and settled down with one of their cute sons!
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