Thursday, May 17, 2012

These Days

Somewhere along the Trail of 100 Giants last weekend, I walked atop a fallen sequoia until I came to the place where its trunk was severed. A few moments earlier, Dustin had leapt across the divide, landing safely on the other side of the tree. I looked down into the carpet of dead leaves that separated the tree's two halves. In the distance, I heard my friends alternately calling "Jump!" and "Don't jump!" I felt unsafe, and before I could ask, John was at my side, his arms outstretched, offering to help me down from the tree. I let him place his hands on my hips as I dismounted.

Adriana followed, and when she came to the split, she jumped high and then plummeted, disappearing behind the great trunk, onto the forest floor. Stupidly, I asked our friends, "Is she OK?" From our vantage point, no one could see where or how she'd landed. "I don't know," said Liam, and he went running in her direction. Before he could make it, we heard her disembodied voice call out, defeated, "I'm fine."

When I was a kid, I was always mistaken for much younger. Skinny and comically short, I was in the front row for every class photo and never allowed to ride the rides at amusement parks with my friends. I'd stare up at the wooden clown with his extended arm, the word bubble blown from his lips announcing, "You must be this tall to ride," and scowl. When my stepmother tried to register me for summer camp, the counselor asked, "What are you -- 8, 9, 10?" I was 12 -- a few months from 13 -- and livid. Adults tried to reassure me, "Don't worry -- you'll appreciate it when you get older," but I couldn't imagine such a time.

I remember being 21 and trying to get into a club in Seattle. The bouncer denied me entrance, emphatic that my ID was phony. It wasn't.

This sort of thing didn't happen so much once I hit my nebulous mid- to late-20s, but lately I've noticed an uptick. Having a chest x-ray last week for a cough I can't seem to shake, the technician did a double take at the sight of my chart. "Thirty-three?" he said. "I thought you were 23."


"I'm not kidding," he said, looking puzzled.

On the phone with my mother recently, she inquired about John's age.

"He's 34, about to turn 35."

"He ain't no kid," she pronounced.

"Mom," I had to remind her, "I'm 33."

I don't think I look so young, and if you study me, there are signs. Like the inside of a tree trunk, the rings around my neck tell a story.

Walking all over New York City last month in inappropriate footwear gave me a case of tendinitis I've been trying to ignore (tendinitis: common affliction of the older athlete).  Years of derby conditioned me to defy pain, but I can no longer pretend that I'm not limping in the aftermath of the thrice-weekly runs through my neighborhood, past all the blooming flowers I can't name because I've never bothered to find out what they're called.

After years of clinging to some romantic need for the wind in my hair, I have finally acquiesced and started wearing a bicycle helmet.

Ed's father died last month, his mother the previous year.

"I don't know if you heard," he texted me, "but I'm an orphan."

I had heard -- news of one's exes has its way of getting back to you -- but I hadn't been in touch. A phone call seemed intrusive, but a text too impersonal. I thought of sending a card, but I no longer knew his address, and to ask for it would have revealed my intent. The obvious choice, email, didn't occur to me until too late. So I did nothing and felt bad about it, contemplating our summers in Maine with his family and the funny bond between exes.

Studying the wedding photos on the blog of another ex, Tony, I was struck by the conspicuous absence of his father.

Ed's relationship with his parents bewildered me when we were a couple. He had a barely restrained hostility toward them for which I could never determine the root. His home was unbroken, they supported him through college and grad school and into his first years of screenwriting until he saw some success. They weren't conservative. What was the problem? I'd often wonder.

In his grief, or perhaps the years following our breakup, the old anger must have evaporated because his texts had contained an unexpected sense of loss.

"I just want my dad back," he wrote.

It surprised me even though we all should know better.


Crystal Lee said...

It’s nice to hear that you’re slowing down a little and taking some time to reflect. I too have been reflecting as we near age 35 - the baby cut off date. I still am not quite sure if I want kids or not, and having new babies around me all the time is not helping me to make an informed decision. Or is it? ????

Poor Ed. I am reminded me of an old song by Fiddlin John Carson - “You will never miss your mother til she’s gone.”

See ya at the Fiddle Fest!

Anonymous said...

OK, now I've read several of your posts. You are a brilliant writer. I hope you're working on your novel or at least some short stories/essays. Don't be a perfectionist about it - just write!