Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

A Meditation on Old Age, Shame, and Sexual Assault

Dawn Downey
3 min readSep 8, 2023


Happy Golden Years Senior Living (Friends! Fun! Full Service!) is evicting V’s mom, because she needs full-time care, instead of fun. They won’t do her laundry any more; residual fecal matter violates health department codes.

They deliver an ultimatum. Move her or they’ll check her in to the emergency room.

There’s a catch in my throat, which I’d like to attribute to compassion. How can they throw her away? The constriction in my throat insists its origin lies elsewhere, because compassion feels expansive, like fresh air in my lungs.

Who am I kidding?

I’m choking on the fear that someday someone will toss me in the trash, too.

V found a nursing home for $4,00.00 a month, half the cost of most.

I’m terrified. There’s pressure behind my eyes.

$4,000.00 a month is our mortgage payment, quadrupled.

Tears well.

I stop the tears and start the thinking. Figure this out, Dawn. Let’s see. Mortgage. Of course. There’s the solution. No need to search for a nursing home. It will be less expensive to hire a nurse to care for my husband and me in our house. Lucky you, my analysis says. You own a house; you’re safe.

Tears still threaten.

Fecal matter. My parents took care of my grandmother for a while. When she tried to wipe herself, fecal matter stuck under her nails. My parents reduced my fashion forward grandmother to baggy sweats, which made it easy to put her back together after wiping her clean, easy to throw fecal-influenced sweats into the laundry.

I will not cry.

Fecal matter. My sister and I both single, roommates. She answered the land line. “Hold on,” she said to the man calling to ask me out. “She’s in the bathroom.” Horrified, I refused to talk to him. I could not bear the idea he pictured me sitting there, going.

Going is necessary, I guess, but it’s nobody’s business.

I rush into the QuikTrip restroom. While I’m in the stall, other women come in to wait their turns. I suck back the urge, pull up my undies, and rush home to complete the transaction in private.

Fecal matter in the laundry. Sometimes after a belly laugh, there’s a twinge. I worry. Was that a leak? I sneak off to check for dampness, for stain. I check again on laundry day.

Fecal matter in the laundry. My laundry. My fecal matter.

I picture someone wiping my bottom. Undies down around my ankles. Did the someone match my panties to my bra? Were they told my outfit must coordinate from the skin out?

Here in my seventies, this is the age of disintegrating body parts. I’m comfortable being an old used car, held together with duct tape. After all, duct tape comes in colors that match my clothes.

Good, Dawn. Let the humor protect you from the feelings. What does it feel like to worry about who will wipe your bottom?

I will not feel this.

There’s a power differential between the wiper and the wipe-ee. In my imagination, I’m tilted forward off the stool, unable to see the wiper’s face. They lean over me, towering, anonymous. Spreading things apart back there to make sure everything’s clean. No fecal matter for the laundry.

I cringe. Fecal matter fertilizes existential shame.

I’m ashamed to witness myself being handled in an imaginary bathroom in an imaginary future. And did I grant permission to the future anonymous handler to touch the parts under the bathing suit?

Power differential. No permission.

Alarms blast: violation: violation, violation.

I will not cry.

I’ve been handled. Hands have reached, groped, and invaded. As a high school girl, I felt illicit pleasure from uninvited fingers — experienced fingers that knew my body would betray me. As an adult, I felt a hand graze right there, followed close on by doubt — surely not; I must be imagining things. As an adult, I stumbled into the shower, a man’s voice poisoning the air behind me: what’s the matter did I cum behind my best friend? As an elder, I had trusted a man whose hand had often held mine; his hand cool with the confidence that we shared a gesture of love, but the trust had been unearned. I was groomed.

Fecal matter in the laundry. My laundry. My fecal matter.

I will not …