Posted on | March 9, 2013 | 6 Comments
I ordered dinner from a popular chain restaurant in town, pushing open the door and stepping back in time to fifteen years ago. The smells and sounds were the same: the din of conversation, the smells of frying potatoes and corn chips and chicken, the calls of “corner!” and “Need a runner!” and the constant squeak of rubber soles across textured tile. In the late 90s, I would tuck in my red polo shirt and tie my black apron around my waist and fall in line with these fresh-faced twenty-year old kids, greeting tables and delivering food with a pasted on smile and too much enthusiasm. By the end of those long ago nights, my apron would be stained with salsa and ranch and chocolate milk shakes and I’d sink down into one of the booths, counting out tips against the mosaic table tops.
Tonight I stood on the other side of the high-tiled bar and paid for my food while the bartender made idle and disinterested chit-chat. I was handed my wide brown bag and I stepped slowly out into the night air, the smell of grease and french fries heavy in my hair. It took a moment for my heart and mind to adjust to reality, to remember I’m no longer that fresh-faced girl of twenty. In the mornings, when I first open my eyes… I’m still her. I’m still perky in all the best places, still trim and wry and sarcastic and wide-eyed, with my whole life stretching out before me like an open canvas of possibility. It is only when I turn to stretch out the kinks of the day before that reality reminds me that many years have passed since my days waiting tables in Chapel Hill. I’ve lived in four states and graduated from two schools. I’ve gotten married and divorced. I’ve birthed a wonderful child and become a pretty competent attorney.
And all of that should have been enough for me to step through that glass door and leave the past behind me. All of that, all of me, should be enough to embrace my now.
Yet I still found myself shaken on the drive home, my eyes spinning glances of Riverside Drive before me, and the busy four lanes of 15-501 in my memory. It is hard to grow old, even though there is no escaping it. It is hard to watch your body fail you, to feel your body fail you, to watch your hands dry and wrinkle and change before your eyes. I am twenty no longer. At twenty, thirty-five seemed desperately old in general, not to mention to be single, to be starting over.
Yet here I am, thirty-five, waking up to an empty house on a Saturday morning. Here I am, older and tireder and more alone than I thought I would be. Here I am, face to face with my mortality, spending three hours on a Saturday morning hooked up to a heart monitor at the local ER. Here I am, thirty-five and aching for the days when I was twenty; poor and under-employed, blissfully healthy and strong and unaware of all that life held in store for me.
My eyes welled with tears at the lost time, at the aging that will never slow. I drew in a deep breath, to voice the frustration in my heart, to voice the fear and terror and sadness that came with realizing my life is slowly ticking away with every erratic heartbeat. I cried out at the unfairness of it all, at my loneliness, at the angst that hovers just below the surface of my calm… the knowledge that I am responsible for someone else, that I am his everything… that I can not fail him, can not leave him, can not forget to slow this aging the best I can, to be there for him as long as I can be. I choked on the words, forcing them out, needing to hear it said out loud. Yet somehow the words ringing around the car were only three. They bounced and echoed and whispered a truth I’d forgotten in my tear-soaked fear:
“Here I am.”
And that is enough.