Instead I parried. "It doesn't have to be like that. You can recast your lot. Be grateful for what you do have, the love of family, your ability to walk on your own two feet, your wisdom, however hard-won."
She snorted, unconvinced, as I had known she would be. Later she died, still uncompromising in her belief that life had failed her, never considering that she might have failed it.
And now here I am, cleaning my own reading glasses, running my tongue over ever more fragile teeth. Older now I think than when she instructed me on how awful it is, this growing old business.
Facing my own mortality as she faced hers. But no, not at all as she faced hers. My poor mother.
History is wasted on the young, they say, although not on my sixteen-year-old son, who inhales it as he does the promise of food. But that is another story.
At night my husband and I clasp hands and watch The Roosevelts on PBS. It is not anything close to a fast-paced show, but we are riveted, more by the photos than by the commentary. All those frank faces, unsoftened by color, staring out at the unknown, at us.
Yes, he and I clasp hands and wonder about the biopsy results that are forthcoming and in what ways our narrative will be directed by those results. What will our history show, the black and white of us? What will my cellular history show, the black and white of me?
I try to memorize Eleanor Roosevelt's gaze, her strength and candor all bound up in her eyes, and the way she holds her neck, proud and defiant and strong. If I mimic her posture and her direct, even challenging, look, perhaps I can too feel proud, defiant, strong.
Because I am certain of this: I want to be Eleanor, shaping history instead of letting it shape me.
My bloodline be damned. Eleanor can be my guide. Under her tutelage I will take nothing for granted, disparage nothing, neither my aging teeth nor my aging eyes nor any damn part of this beautiful life.