Carl and June are the oldest couple at our church. They’ve been married for sixty-eight years. He is ninety, and she just turned eighty-nine. She can’t hear, and has trouble moving around on her own; he drives her around town and links their arms when they need to get from place to place.
They met in 1945, when they were both in eighth grade. Their last names were one letter apart, so she sat behind him. “I never would have graduated if it wasn’t for her,” he said.
I wonder what it’s like to know someone in that many ways.
My New Jersey purse:
A cassette containing hits by Expose, Miami Sound Machine, Enya, and that boy on the couch who smoked
My Indiana purse:
North Dining Hall card
Matchbook containing the embryo of a drinking problem
My New York purse:
Pack of Marlboro Lights and a Zippo
Matte brown lipstick
An invitation to loneliness, printed in charcoal Art Deco font on cream card stock
My Illinois purse:
Two face masks
Burger King coupons
My daughter’s high school track meet schedule
A Chinese take-out fortune: “Look how far you’ve come.”
There is a woman in my yoga class
Who some might say is too old for tank tops.
Her silver hair, a cloud of jasmine, springs from her forehead
Rebellious and shining.
(I’ve never seen someone so beautiful.)
I can just imagine what that raven crown,
A shock of strict and serious black,
Must have looked like at forty, at twenty-seven, at twelve.
(How is someone so beautiful here?)
Her body responds, breathes, folds over,
Bends, becomes round, luminous, and transforms
Into a pillar topped by a waterfall,
Torso spilling over ground.
(You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.)
My family began a “Things We Are Grateful For!” list, and stuck it to the refrigerator. We add to it anything we wish, without judgment or questions.
The entries are what you’d expect: our (now deceased) dog, the friendly woman, Valerie, who works at Taco Bell, cream horns from Stan’s Bakery, and the authors who’ve written our favorite books.
I’ve got my own gratitude list that I won’t hang up. On it is solitude. Sleeping alone. Single-serve wine bottles in a handy carrying case. On it is kissing. Singing harmony to the radio. My body, though changing, still feels bliss.
The woman is asked if there is a part of her she has lost.
In a moment, it’s defined: a cartwheel.
She’d been a gymnast in her childhood and early teens. She filled every moment with cartwheels, handstands, leaps; there was always some climbing, flipping, or tumbling to be done. She was comfortable upside down. Muscles did what she demanded, and ankles and wrists could be depended upon. Her body had made shapes that felt beautiful.
The woman, who is me, looks down at her calf, her thigh, her shoulder. She traces her skin, recalling the backbend that lived underneath.
My aunt’s memory is failing. We first noticed this two years ago, when she got lost on the way to the grocery store; these days, she can hardly be left alone.
My dad, her impatient and controlling younger brother, is having a hard time with it.
Most recently, they fought when she told him she just returned from Africa. He reminded her, loudly and with considerable frustration, that she’d not left their neighborhood in years.
I’m truly disappointed in him. What sense does it make to argue? She will be gone soon. I want to know what happened in Africa.
Gladys looks forward to laundry day. She likes the fresh-startness of it, the sunny smell of detergent, the bag of clothespins clink-clunking against her hip as she walks to the clothesline.
She hums to herself as she fishes her secret happiness out of the hamper. It’s Tom’s blue button-up shirt, mixed in with the sheets and day-dresses. She pins it to the line by the shoulders, then runs her hand over the breast pocket, where he kept his peppermints. As she watches, the sleeves billow and fill with wind, rising as if to embrace her, coming alive with his ghost.
One of my favorite things to do is drive grandmothers around.
They’re not my grandmothers, of course, who are both long gone. But they are someone’s.
I open the passenger door for them, though they fuss at me not to. I turn on the heated seats and I help with the seatbelt, which can be cranky. I drive slowly, giving us room.
Questions I’d like to ask are: Who loved you most? Who did you love most? Who did you wish to love that you couldn’t?
I don’t ask, of course. But somewhere, lodged underneath their words, are the answers.
I dreamed this mirror was a portal
To the all-girls dormitory bathroom on the second floor.
I could see the before-me,
Watch her with her shower slippers and plastic toiletry basket,
A portable drugstore shelf of cheap lotions
That smelled like mint or apple.
Mirror to trace, mirror to face.
Before-me would step out onto a square of rules
And rationales, and absolving religion.
She could not see fifty-me,
Could not conceive of living through the scheme.
Mirror to allow, mirror to choose.
Reflect the shine of your gloss, the fur of a false eyelash.
Mirror to promise.