Sweet 16 Has Turned 51

I woke up this morning thinking about my life.  Being a tiny child, and my grandmother’s presence.  She would come stay at our house fairly frequently.  I’d get into bed with her and we’d have long conversations.  The bulk of her, the slight smell of her, her toothless mouth, her accent.  When we would visit her in the city, she would take me to the playground.  “Gon play” and she’d sit on a bench and watch me.  A black coat, a black hat with sequins on it, ever watchful.  The playground was all concrete.  There was a big concrete turtle, or maybe it wasn’t so big; with footholds molded out of it, so you could climb on top.  There were walls of concrete with footholds, handholds.  And the usual swings and stuff.

I remember being out of school, first job, first apartment, we were starting adult life but we were just children.  I was very much still being formed.  Margaret was always there.  Back then people talked on the phone, even me.  Hours, hanging on the phone, receivers tucked under our ears while we moved about, long phone cords so we could carry the phone around.  Me in Tarrytown, she in Brooklyn.  Yet we couldn’t keep apart.  I’d go down, in my cheap little white Mazda 323, sometimes stay the night, not always.  One night I headed back home in the rain and spun my car around on a BQE on-ramp.  I remember going into the turn and the car just kept turning, until I was facing exactly the wrong way.  I quickly and tremblingly did a K-turn and got back in the right direction and drove home slow and chastened and how in the world was it that nobody was speeding up that on-ramp right behind me?

Then I was living in Manhattan.  Hot, stinking Chinatown streets in the middle of summer; and in the dead of winter, the vast concrete in front of City Hall & the court buildings, making me feel the cold piece of rock that we live on hurtling through space.

Then things happened so quickly.  I met Xopher at the end of 93, he in Ithaca, my in NY, for over a year.  Then he was in NY for a year.  Then we were in VT, first it was just a vacation, then I was leaving everything, the job I loved & the city where I was happy, for the new life I’d been dreaming of since I was a teen, to strike out somewhere new, somewhere not NYC, somewhere clean where things were smaller and where I could maybe could be normal.  Then we were renting, but then 6 months later we bought this house, and a year later we married.  We had no idea what we were doing, couldn’t have known.

Sometimes lately I startle myself all of a sudden with the thought, “But I’m just a kid!”  Once recently I was walking through the mudroom and my eyes fell on some dirt, and I looked around at the mess and dirt and thought, “We are just kids!  We don’t know what we’re doing!  Living in this house making a damn mess of everything…”  And then the other night, I guess I was thinking of how I’d been touching or pulling up some weeds or something, and wondering if I’d washed my hands, and whether I’d touched food, and thought, “I’m just a kid!  How is it that I have not poisoned myself yet?  Or electrocuted myself?”

I am still the kid I ever was.  I play silly games in my head, sometimes in real life.  I hope no one realizes.  All the dumb things I do.  I’m the little girl with the older brother, bigger, smarter, snottier, but she wants his attention.  Wants him to think she’s smart, wants him to think she’s worth hanging around with.  Wants his love.  Except now that’s my husband over there.

How is it that I’m still here?  Because I’m in the universe where I happened to make it for 51 years.  I guess there is another universe where I got smacked into on that BQE on-ramp and was snuffed out at 22.  I suppose plenty of universes where I did poison myself, or electrocute myself.  The universe where I stayed in NYC and X drifted away.  The one where I married the HS bf and moved to Wichita.  The universe where we elected Donald Trump president and all got a new novel coronavirus.  Damn!  I end up in that one, seriously!?  But it’s also the one where we elect Biden in 2020 and end up shaking our heads like it was all a bad dream, and we swear we’re sorry and will never do it again…


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