Older Women by Caroline Kim

Older Women

When Carol went to the doctor and explained her symptoms, the doctor, a much younger woman with a friendly face and distant eyes, told her she was in peri-menopause. Immediately, Carol thought premoistened towelettes though that had nothing to do with anything. Then she thought periwinkle and perinatal and peripatetic. That last one had to do with walking around, she thought, with being itinerant. Who knew that going to the gynecologist could bring on a bout of vocabulary?

Carol didn’t have night sweats and heart palpitations, foggy brain or slow metabolism. The rollercoaster ride of fluctuating hormones. Not yet, anyway. The doctor told her about all the wonderful things awaiting Carol with the rueful, sympathetic smile of someone who was light years away from it ever happening to her, someone who had hope that in the meantime new drugs or new therapies would be discovered so that a similar fate wouldn’t befall her. Carol thought, I need a new gynecologist, an older one.

But where were all the older women?

While Carol was driving home on the highway, she looked around at the drivers going in her same direction and did not see any women over the age of sixty. Carol was forty-nine. She realized with a pounding heart (was it already happening?) that she might be the oldest woman in her office. After all, Barbara had moved to Palm Springs with her new silver fox last year, and Monique, the Haitian woman in accounting, had retired to take care of her grandchildren full-time. There were still many men Carol’s age and older, but even they were outnumbered by younger workers, which, if Carol really thought about it, made sense.

But Carol realized that she didn’t see older women on a daily basis. Not when she got her morning coffee or went out to lunch with co-workers or shopping at the outdoor mall with her husband or even, she now realized with a trembling anxiety, at her children’s school. Most of the teachers Carol had had in her life were women middle-aged or older, kindly, tired-looking women with soft, wrinkled hands and lipstick bleeding into the creases around their lips. Carol had always found that comforting.

Where were the older women?

Carol turned the heat up in the car as she pondered this question, wishing she had her cashmere cardigan with her. She ought to remember to keep one in the car. Lately, she was always feeling a breeze blow past her, a chill coming up through the ground, her toes perennially cold. She flicked the switch to turn on the car seat warmers too.

The reason Carol had gone to see the doctor was that she had started to feel blue. Not all the time. Just a couple of days each month, the week before her period. It was like pms, but worse. She was used to the annoyance of hormones making her feel irritable and restless for no good reason, but not the hopelessness and joy-sucking darkness that fell down like a curtain over her. Even knowing intellectually that she was feeling the way she was feeling because of chemical compositions and not any real problems in her life did nothing to alleviate the tenor or depth of her depression on those two days. She understood then why people committed suicide. If you could not give or get joy out of life, with your family, with a job you liked and a community you felt comfortable in, what was the point of living? It wasn’t even living at all. It was existing, that’s all.

Where were all the old women?

Could Carol find them if she joined a book club? A cooking class? Trips to exotic locales organized by universities she had attended? What about women without money? Where were they hiding? In the aisles of grocery stores? At home, in front of the TV?

Carol remembered her Aunt Maryanne who never married and lived with Carol’s grandmother her whole life. She remembered the two of them eating Hungry Man dinners on TV trays in the living room while they watched Dallas and Falcon’s Crest. Fork to mouth without their eyes moving away from the screen.

But Aunt Maryanne had a PhD and a published textbook on literature from the south. She could list every story Flannery O’Connor had ever written. And Carol’s grandmother had worked two jobs during WWII and even afterward, when her husband came back crippled and heartsick and died by his own hand several years after returning home from Germany. They had a lot to offer, these women, but nobody was interested.

Carol drove to the pharmacy in order to pick up the pills her doctor had ordered for her. They were for those two days when she felt the worst but she would have to take them every day. Carol meant to ask the pharmacist whether it wouldn’t be okay if she took them only around the two days when she felt the worst but when she looked into his young, friendly looking face, his hair delightfully curly like a puppy, she just said, thank you. The previous pharmacist was an older woman with a brusque manner who never smiled but you could ask her anything without feeling embarrassed.

“Where’s Annabelle?” Carol asked suddenly. “The old pharmacist?”

The young man nodded affably. “She’s gone,” he said. “To Florida? Georgia?” He shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t know.”


Older Women


Caroline Kim was born in Busan, South Korea, but moved to America at a young age. Her poetry and fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in MANOA, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Spinning Jenny, Meridian, Faultline, The Hunger, and elsewhere. She currently lives with her family in northern California. Find her at carolinekim.net and @carolinewriting.

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