I reach out nonexistent fingers to catch your arm, the hem of your shirt. You, there. Sitting on the edge of the bed, head bowed, dripping with sorrow. Your hair is thinning, shiny scalp peeking through the gray-streaked brown at the top of your head, and I wonder if you even know. You flick your fingers near your temples, a self-soothing behavior that, by now, you’ve mostly learned to control. It makes you look much younger, those fluttering fingers. It makes me forget where we are, when we are. Even now, you flicker, grow transparent; the room changes furnishings, becomes an open field swaying with grasses, is plunged underneath the sea. I reach out nonexistent fingers to catch your arm, the hem of your shirt. It’s pointless, but I can’t help myself.
For most people, breath travels unnoticed. I am not most people. I think about every breath. It is hard to think about anything else. I pull each one in with difficulty, then push it out through the same narrow passage. There is never, ever enough of it.
You catch glimpses of her between the shifting, swaying commuters: a pilled fleece jacket draped over a candy cane spine. White skin, white hair. Even her clothes are faded with age. You think at first that you recognize her – something in her expression, the set of her mouth, the pattern of lines on her face – but she’s just an old woman riding the subway, as familiar as an archetype. She could be anybody’s grandmother, anybody’s widow. She could be anyone.
Creative Nonfiction/Personal Essays
Ribbon barrettes. Tube socks. Flip-flops, which a girl in your bunk calls zoris for some reason; you’ve never heard that before, but she’s from a small town at the very western edge of the state and maybe things are different there. Small tins of lip gloss that will liquify in the heat. Round brushes and hairspray. Bain de Soleil for the San Tropez tan, which you’ll regret years later. Gimp for friendship bracelets. In a few years you’ll have to bring sanitary napkins, but right now you’re still young enough to be fascinated by the tampons that older girls, in previous summers, wet in the sink and then threw at the rafters. They are still stuck there, and when you crane your head up to see them, you wonder how exactly you fit them inside you, and how exactly you get them out.
I fall asleep, and I lose you. This time Dad and I have driven to the city for a show, and I've forgotten that you're being dropped off at home after a night out with friends. We're hours away, and you're standing outside the locked house, in the cold midnight air, with no way to get in, no way to reach us. I wake up in a panic. Even when I realize I've been dreaming, there's no rush of relief. My heart is pounding too hard for me to fall back asleep.
It was the morning of my very first 5K. I was lingering close to the starting line with my husband and two children, watching the other runners prepare. Many of them were warming up by jogging down to the end of the block and back. Some of them were even running sprints, dashing like gazelles to the corner and then loping back to the starting line. I cowered by my family, incredulous. Why were they using up all of their energy now? Wouldn't it take every ounce of their strength just to cross the finish line? Or - and now it dawned on me - was I hopelessly, completely out of my league?