I didn’t think I’d live to be this old.
I wasn’t born with a chancy condition, or into an environment where I was likely to be done in by violence. The only diseases known to run in my family don’t kick in until much later. I was, unlike a cousin whose spent most of his puberty placidly convinced of the eventuality of nuclear destruction, too young to consider the USSR any more than a concept to be studied for history class, and my fascination with hurricanes and tornadoes leaned more toward the scientific than the macabre.
There wasn’t really any reason to think I’d bite the bullet any sooner than anyone else.
But I did.
I thought I had already gotten, emotionally, to where everyone else was trying to get to later. I considered myself above the sweaty contortions of my hormone-crazed peers, filled up as I was with images literary and non- of things both not working out, and things working out stupendously until death. Love was a book already written, as far as I was concerned. I knew diligence, physical and mental, and loyalty, though I was careful to be discrete about it. I had skills I had honed to a point where they pleased me, and where others’ perception of them pleased them, too. I knew what I was good at and enjoyed being good at it. I tried to avoid having to do things I was bad at.
I felt like an old woman. I wrote as much, often, in whatever tome of a journal had last graced the space under the christmas tree. Then I read about progeria and felt guilty for the thought.
In some ways I feel like Merlin, living my life in reverse. I was solemn and quiet and viciously successful as a kid. I quailed at the idea of doing wrong. Of upsetting people. Of causing emotional upheavals to affect my stolid plod toward where I was supposed to be.
I wasn’t particularly good at having fun.
Now, older than I thought I would live to be, still making active decisions when I thought there would be a stepping-back, a withdrawing from the helm of my life to somewhere quiet where I could watch it and not have to get involved all the time, I am very good at having fun. And at burning bridges, when someone threatens that fun. My long-term goals are tenuously fulfilled, though I know their fulfillment could be yanked away at any moment. I have that much solemnity left in me. But those goals tend toward the emotional, now, and away from the towering constructs of orderly, businesslike success that I used to think would prop up the remainder of my time on the planet. I am aware that the tenacity and solemnity was supposed to come later, if not last.
It’s kind of like a bonus round.
But because I never put any coins in in the first place, it’s difficult to say when it will end. Since I stopped limiting what I do to only what I’m good at, it’s not skill that’s piloting me through this anymore. Tenderness is not a skill I’m good at. With animals or books, maybe, but not with people. Neither is patience or forgiveness. I can count on one hand the number of people who could deeply wrong me and retain the sheen of meaning they presently give off. If you were to graph my friendships of recent years it would be lacework, pocked with holes that seemed perfectly suited to the pattern at the time, but which end up too porous to keep anyone warm in the coldest weather.
Of course that sounds written. I am allowed to sound written.
And I am writing, as I do so often here, because someone else has painted their private pain across the blogosphere for all the world to see, and because I do not know them well enough—who does?—to tell them to do what must be done, I worry quietly, out of sight, about what their misery does to others. To the belief that this too can be borne. And the pain the doubt of that creates, in turn, and spreads from the new node, like a flu. To watch people airing as concrete decisions that which has clearly been a tromped-upon hope for some years:
“There was this other house but—”
“I never thought I wanted kids but—”
“it had good schools but—”
“now that I’ve seen what happens—”
“someone else closed on it first.”
“this pretty much sets it in stone.”
I wasn’t careful enough; my eyes widened when he mentioned schools, and I saw her face go flat and guarded.
If that is the game you’re supposed to be playing, I am grateful I got to skip to the bonus round. However long it lasts.