This person, she is wishing for my life right now, and suddenly that makes me wish for my life too.

When the train doors open, an elderly woman hobbles on with the help of a stranger. Scarf around her head, straight out of a scene from an old novel. A man gets up to give her his seat; she sits, perched across from me. She folds her hands in her lap, with a far-off look in her eye, keeping her lips on the verge of a smile. And I feel sad for her: feeble, frail, living in a world that she has outgrown.
Then I catch myself; I’ve done this before. Looking at someone older as if that person is a different breed. As if she lives in a box, on an island that I’ll never know. Like she is the other, existing in a place I can’t identify with, a place where I’ll never be. Not realizing that she and I are the same, two women on the same continuum, just at different parts. Parts that seem so disconnected, sometimes we mistake them for being on separate lines completely.

What does she see when she looks back at me? She must see what I see when I look at Nevaeh, or Tiara, my students who think I’m old and removed and chuckle when I tell them we used to use pagers instead of cell phones, because only one girl in a huge group of friends owned a cell phone, and it wasn’t even hers, it was her mother’s, and if she were to let us use her minutes, the bill would be enormous and the friend would be grounded for two weekends. Minutes? They ask, confused. What are minutes?

One day, you will be me, I tell them. You will be me, and some young girl will think you are old, and you will still feel young, like sixteen was yesterday. They look at each other and roll their eyes. I am naive in thinking they will be able to place themselves ahead on the same continuum from which I have removed myself while looking at that old woman on the train. I tell them: I was you. I had that same mother who I could have sworn just didn’t understand me. I had that same boy who made my world stop when he hugged the pretty girl in the hallway. I looked in the mirror on a rainy day in the girls’ bathroom and the kink in my hair by my bangs made me want to run out the side door of the school and go all the way home. They look back at me and smile, enjoying the glimpse I am giving them of my old, removed life, but in no way believing that we are the same. I am a VHS tape, something they have only heard of, but never held. I am someone different.

There is nothing stranger than time. Nothing more omnipotent. Nothing more apathetic. Nothing else that can make us sit in silence and awe, in disbelief that the years have swallowed so many moments and turned them into dust. I am 35, but I’m still 24, and searching for a man who I could love and not scare away. I’m 35, but still age nine and sprinting up the hill of my childhood home, with an extra credit assignment on Why We Can’t Dig a Hole To China in my backpack. You are your age, and all the ages that came before, too. An 18 year-old sobbing in the backseat of your parents’ minivan, terrified of going to college in a small southern town and leaving the only people you’ve ever known. Thirteen, and burning red as a substitute teacher reads an intercepted note about your period that you passed to your best friend. You are five, feet dangling beneath the front seat of a yellow bus. Fourteen, drunk from two Coors Lights, and covered in saliva from a sloppy first kiss.

I am all of these people, beneath who I am now, spun in a cocoon of my own memories.

Is it strange that we are only able to see ourselves in those behind us, while those in front of us still seem like people of a different species altogether? Those with fewer years are younger versions of ourselves, plotted further back on the same line; those older than us are plotted elsewhere, outliers, a place we don’t believe we will ever be. Maybe it’s because the time behind seems circular, curling into a tinier and tinier path all the way back to the day we were born. The time ahead bounds endlessly and feels limitless, vast, yet impossible, millions of butterflies that have not yet been snatched and pinned down by the wings.

I never thought I would be the woman yelling for her children to clear their places. Put your dishes in the sink! I say, and feel the strange sense of coming full circle, thinking of the person I once was being chastised by the person I am now. Or lying on the couch at 8:30 pm, clutching a baby monitor and remote control, relieved, no place I’d rather be. Sometimes I wish my daughters could understand that if they were to shave off just the tiniest layer of who I’ve become, their eyes would sting. Uncovering a crystallized picture so focused and clear, that they wouldn’t understand how it ever faded away. The bartender in the short skirt and polka dot leggings, eyed by a cluster of men while mixing margaritas. The angry, combative girl who cursed out the cat-callers on the 1 Train platform. The brand new wife, holding fast to her last scraps of freedom, driving across the GW bridge in a Mini Cooper with the top down, wedding veil blowing in the wind.

I don’t know when that person disappeared; the only way to describe how it happened is slowly, slowly, and slowly, until the day they placed a baby in her arms in a cold, sterile, operating room. With one more pair of inquisitive brown eyes, the girl was gone. The world had changed; it didn’t fast-forward, but skipped chapters, leaving her stunned, looking out a hospital window at pedestrians who suddenly seemed to be walking their dogs on a strange new planet.

Sometimes, time has me feeling like I’m standing between two mirrors. A pager? My mom once said. What could you need that for? When we were old enough to be free, and young enough to feel invincible. And now: A pager? Tiara asks. What would you need that for? Now that I am old enough to feel invincible, and still young enough to be free.

So today, I look back at the old woman on the train, swallowed beneath a scarf of another generation, and I try to only see her eyes. Those are my eyes, I realize. I will be her one day, staring at the girl across the subway car, a shadow of my former self. I will remember what it’s like to move freely and quickly, to finish miles of a jogging path, to sprint up a flight of stairs. I will see all of myself all around me, in people who think I’ve never been them, that I’ve only existed somewhere else.

And one afternoon, I’ll be pushing a walker slowly down a sidewalk, peering into a little Bronx apartment window. I’ll see a 35-year-old mother racing back and forth, serving tortellinis and blotting spilled water, frantic and exhausted, grumbling about a mess of dolls and trains. I will smile and think, Wow, to be young again. What I wouldn’t do, to be in a house that full, with problems that small: spilled water, sleepless nights.

This person, she is wishing for my life right now, and suddenly that makes me wish for my life too.

Boom, I breathe, and my wish is granted.


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One thought on “Older

  1. A great revelation was prompted by wonderful therapist who was trying to help me and my mom heal our relationship. She said, “Remember, before she had you, your mom lived an entire lifetime”. Eureka, my mom isn’t just my mom, she is a person. Exactly as you have broken through the viewing lens to see a woman not as old or young, but same, so we are all called to such compassionate viewing. Thanks for this reminder ❤

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