I didn’t die at age 40, much to my dismay.
You know how it is — at age 22, 27, even 30 — you think you know so much, you think the world has become so tiresome. You think that you’ve seen it all, experienced everything life has to offer, and that 40 is a good age at which to end it. I used to think that at 40, I would have accomplished a lot. I’d be at the top of the career pile, have a couple of grown kids, done some charity work for the conscience, cultivated lifelong friends. As a know-it-all in my 20s I thought, my god 40 is so old, I don’t want to live through that. How little did I know.
I’ve known all along that grown ups do not have all the answers, that was obvious to me even at a young age. You see the adult mouth agape and lacking the words, the eyes tinged with fear of the unknown. So I didn’t really put that much expectation or anticipation to growing older or wiser.
And age proved me right, today at age 40-something I’ve learned that the more you know, the more you realize there is a whole other lot you don’t.
I’ve passed the big 40 a few years ago, and I’m seeing there is life beyond it. We’ll see how the rest of it goes.
During one of our video calls, the boy suddenly stands up and tells me he has to show me something. He disappears from the frame momentarily, then returns with a big black object. He swivels the thing around in several directions to show me what turns out to be one of those huge duffel bags with a metal frame and wheels.
Boy: I got this from one of the shops down at ISAF. I can use this for check-in luggage. What do you think?
Me: Baby, it’s huge. I can probably fit in there.
Boy (chuckles): Yeah, you certainly can.
Me: I hope you’re not planning to chop me up in pieces and stuff me in that bag.
Boy (nonchalantly): No, no need for that. I can just chop your head off and you’ll easily fit in there.
See, at my age, dating is no longer that complicated. The most you can hope for is that the guy is not a psycho killer. Or maybe a big enough duffel bag.
I go running with a heart on fire
For some time now, I have been dancing the dodgy two-step with this guy — an older man who is by turns charming, irascible, and sometimes, just plain tired. Together we skim the surface of things, unlikely conspirators in a plot to eke out a little happiness.
I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this bit of a dalliance, this little preoccupation. There was that phone call in the middle of the night. He made me laugh and yell at him until about 2 in the morning. I couldn’t make up my mind then if I liked his gruff manner. But the next night he called again, and it was hours before the phones got turned off. We call or Skype each other most everyday now. Sometimes he just grunts at me over the phone, at a loss for words. I kind of like that.
Details began to emerge, photos were swapped, bits and pieces got shuffled around to make room for us. This little preoccupation, it passes the time. It consumes me just enough to make me feed the fire day by day, to tend to it just so to preserve the spark. It is what urban kids nowadays call a ‘skinny love.’ A love that’s not fleshed out enough to be substantial, not solid enough to be defined as a sure thing, or as anything.
I don’t mind it, I mean not too much. There is a connection here that I can appreciate, no matter how tenuous, no matter how brief. But, the both of us, we’re not bothered too much by it. There are no unreasonable demands on time, no shallow arguments, no intrusions into privacy, no intense moments of feeling as though your heart will explode. None of that nonsense.
No, it does not eat us up. It is, after all, just a skinny love.
what does it matter who we sleep with
the tangle of limbs do not discriminate
arms elbows thighs neck back spine
skin on skin is always so sublime
what does it matter
the membrane doesn’t even remember
the blood that escapes the cut
memory is at best, temporary
at worst, untrustworthy
the fragment i choose is the imprint
of your hand on my skin
the bits of hair freckles nails scars
more real than anything by far
that day you drove five hours
so that I could see the Atlantic
grit of sand in every pore
the water cold the sun low the ocean’s roar
what does it matter if we slept together
what matters probably is that we do not do that
I’ve sat at a table and eaten with ‘rough men who stand ready to do violence on my behalf’ — and I am all the better for it.
Some days you sit outside and just look.
The sky can be so blue as to seem elementary. There is snow on the mountains now, but you knew that without having to see it, the sting of cold on the soles of your feet tells you as much when you jump out of bed each morning.
You watch people pass by, walking with their hands jammed into pockets, their bodies bent forward in that curved slouch the spine takes on during winter. You think, my tropical bones will never get used to that shape. You think that, but when you stand up to walk, the curvature reveals itself — how the bones arc inwards, trying to form a shell around the lungs, the ribs about to clutch your heart. The body shields itself, even when one is not aware of it.
Some days though, you see beyond the snow that blankets the rooftops, beneath the thin panes of ice on the ground.
Today, some guy turns in his resignation because he thinks everyone ignores him. He feels unseen. One guy confesses he feels betrayed by the locals, he says they pray several times a day and then send out a truck of explosives to try and blow up a gas station, a guard outpost, a camp full of people. He is tired of saving everybody. Some guys just want to move on to the next high-paying gig, go somewhere warm, where one can earn a decent living and be able to drink Jack-and-Cokes. One guy just paid off the last year of his kid’s college and it’s hasta la vista, see ya. Another left because he’d had enough of the crazy running into the bunkers, all hours of the day. And some guys leave because they want better quality toilet paper.
Five years of doing this, and some days when you sit outside you think you’ve seen it all. Some days.