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Alice Carey

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Am I Not Still That Girl?

Posted: 10/28/11 04:24 PM ET

There I am standing waiting for the cross-town bus, my arms full of late summer vegetables and flowers from the Green Market, when I see him. Twelve feet or so away from me, fiddling with his Blackberry, is the boy who took me to the Senior Prom. He looks old. I turn and run away.

I reckon he's on his way to his fiercely held-onto Rent Stabilized apartment further down on 14th Street. And though he no longer lives there, I can tell it's still his because the windows haven't changed in years.

As I dash down the street, I figure if he is indeed on the bus and happens to be looking out the window, he might see me, get off and want to chat. You see I'm still easy to recognize.

While I no longer look like what I used to call a 'VOGUE hippie' -- dash of Twiggy here, smear of Jeanne Moreau's mascara there -- I look pretty much the same as I did when I was young. Same weight, same height, same hennaed hair. It's the hennaed head that's the gives me away.

Turning down 5th Avenue, I must stop and get my bearings. Why should seeing him rattle me so? "Hello" wouldn't have killed me. But I couldn't say it because he looks old and I like to think I do not. Worse, his looking old frightened me, for if he is old so am I.

His hair is grey. And though he's stayed thin, youthful thinness has now become gaunt. He is wearing an ironed dark blue Oxford shirt, chinos and loafers just like he always did. And he still has a moustache. A Marlboro Man's '70s moustache he grew to make him look older. It's now grey too.

My high school friend may think he looks fine, and he does were you not me -- the girl he took to the Senior Prom at the Cococabaña no less, where we listened to Bobby Darin sing.

I know I'm unfair in judging his appearance by using it as my own age barometer. I'm also angry with myself for deeming him old -- old what a damningly, frightening word, at least it is for me.

Back home I make a cup of tea, and call my husband to tell him whom I saw. He says it's Ok that I did what I did. Running over and saying "Hi" to Ernest, might have proved embarrassing to both of us. All that parroting of what we're doing and what we've done might throw a bolt of reality into the mix where it's possible we might see our hopeful/ dashing younger selves and cry.

In James Joyce's ULYSSES, Stephen Dedalus looks ruefully at an unkempt young lad in his class and thinks: "My childhood bends before me." I've always loved that line. For don't we all have our childhoods bending before us all the time?

Well, maybe not 'all the time' if one has moved around a lot and one's childhood stays frozen in time in South Dakota. But I've stayed here in Manhattan, where every day I walk past the building of my first apartment that mournfully bends to me from the third floor.

My childhood, my young adulthood really, still sits on that front stoop with my Siamese cat, and sometimes with Ernest, who in time became a boyfriend.

VOGUE hippie and chinos, dreaming dreams while biding their time on the stoop before yet another walk around the Village, maybe a bowl of cheap chop suey in Chinatown and a revival movie (Fred Astaire, always Fred Astaire) at the Thalia.

Am I not still that girl, and he that boy? We are of course. Yet here I am firmly hanging on to youth by swimming five times a week, walking wherever I can, face creams and lipstick - always-red lipstick. Nothing wrong with that, it's nice when a waiter or a bus driver calls me "Miss." Yet the friend of my youth has slipped into (or stepped into) old.

My not saying hello was the me wanting to avoid the inevitable I keep staunchly at bay every day: The me that never, ever contemplated being in the far, far future, 60. Yet so I am and so is he. But today at least, I feel fine. And I suspect he does too.