Translated from the German
One morning Arlene Samsa awoke from a night of fitful sleep to find herself transformed into a middle-aged lady. She lay on her back, which she sensed, without even looking into a mirror, had developed a layer of fat, and lifted her head. She saw, to her surprise, a pasty mound of doughy flesh where her somewhat flat stomach had once resided. From this height, the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place.
“What’s happened to me?” she thought. Her eyes traveled to her arms, the skin of which now displayed a lizard-like appearance; when she raised one arm into the air she was alarmed to see what could only be described as a “jiggling” movement coming from a slab of skin below what was once her right bicep. Quite suddenly, she began to sweat. But not the sweat of exertion, rather an uncontrollable explosion of great heat, almost like a flash of lightning.
“Perhaps it was that second glass of Whole Foods Organic Agave Wine Margarita Cocktail. Perhaps I am still dreaming,” she thought as she soaked the bed. The buzzing of her phone broke through her slowly rising panic — it was Sheila, her friend, texting her. As she turned onto her side to reach for her phone, she noticed a pain in her left hip, a sensation she had never felt before. As she looked at her friend’s text, she could see nothing but a blurry jumble of letters — had Sheila drunk texted her? — until she realized all printed matter appeared doubled and completely unreadable.
In an effort to quell her rising anxiety, she took three deep breaths, just as she had been taught by her Vipassana Yoga instructor. This had a somewhat calming effect. She wanted only to stand up quietly and undisturbed, get dressed, make it to her 9:30 Zumba class, and only then consider further action.
As she rose from the bed, however, she caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror and was immediately thrown back into her previous state of agitation. She was unrecognizable to herself. Her hair, once smooth and a decent shade of brown, was streaked with white wires, sticking out at odd angles. The skin of her face, once firm and rosy, hung down, appearing to drip off the edge of her rapidly disappearing jawline. What was once a cute sprinkling of freckles now appeared to be large, brown, irregularly shaped blotches. And what were those black, whisker-like growths sprouting from her chin and above her upper lip? Good Lord, they were whiskers.
But it was her neck. Oh, her neck! This was quite possibly the most unbearable of all. And how to describe it? She could think only of her mother.
How could she face the world as this… this creature? The thought of crawling to her couch and binge-watching Outlander crossed her mind.
Just then, a gentle pinging noise, like the tinkling of bells, sounded from her phone. It was her Daily Remindful Moment Reminder from her Insight Timer App. She surfaced from her puddle of self-pity and picked up her phone.
As she read, with the help of a magnifying glass, the soothing yet empowering words, a sense of change spread through her like shea butter moisturizing her arid skin, or a good colorist covering the grey with some saucy blonde highlights. She would embrace this transformation. Of course, she would also do what she could to mitigate it. But Arlene Samsa would not hide away from the world, ashamed of this new self, only to be found one day on her living room couch, dead, like some desiccated insect, shriveled and alone.
No, she was, after all, a woman who, at the age of 14, skimmed a copy of The Feminine Mystique at her neighbors’ house while she was babysitting (after, of course, she discovered and read all the sex scenes in Fear of Flying). She was a woman who knocked on doors for Hillary Clinton. A woman who really, really wanted to reject the cultural pressure and crushing expectations for perennial youth and beauty in its women. A woman who could easily recognize the beauty of aging in others and now needed only to see it in herself.
And those words from her Remindful Moment app, the wisdom that now inspires her to face the world as she truly is, what, dear reader, do you suppose they were? “Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
And so she did. Or didn’t. In any case, she made it to her Zumba class.