Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years
For fiction, cultivate a character. Through your imagination, pinpoint a common theme in his or her life, and show us how your character’s perspective changes as he or she grows older.
In my dreams, I’m always young. I rush about, juggling work, parenting, and the slim expectation of having a personal life. When I lived through that time it was exhausting and not very pleasant, and yet, it’s where I go every night.
Some mornings when I wake up, I’m still back there, and start to throw off the covers to get out of bed and start breakfast for the kids. I realize it was a dream as soon as I see my hands on the covers. They are age-spotted with ropy blue veins clearly visible through the thin, dry skin. My fingers are gnarled with large knuckles and yellowed, seamed nails. These are not the hands of a young woman.
I am old: older than I ever expected to be. My kids are grown up. Even my grandchildren are off on their own and forging ahead in life.
I slowly swing my legs out of bed and onto the floor, and concentrate on the challenge of walking to the bathroom. Movement of any kind is fraught with danger for me. Broken hips are no laughing matter; I’ve lost friends to them.
When I was young, I viewed time as a commodity that existed independently, able to be saved or spent at will. I raced from work to pick up the kids, raced home to create some semblance of dinner, raced to music lessons and scout meetings and sports practices. I tried to extract additional time by using thinner pasta, or driving a little over the speed limit; anything to save 10 minutes. I bargained with the clock, trying to find a few minutes in one place to use in another. Although I could never balance a checkbook, I was able to maintain a far more complex set of books in my head. I knew which Saturdays I could sleep in and deliberately stayed up later those weeks, believing I could catch up. I raced through so much of my life then, positive that I was storing time for later use.
I was wrong. Time is inextricably linked to space, and all my maneuvers were meaningless. I couldn’t “save” time any more that I could “waste” it. It simply was, and regardless of what I did it continued to pass, and I continued to age.
My kids graduated high school and moved out, and suddenly I was inundated with more time than I knew what to do with. Now that my evenings were long and empty, I would have loved to have read them books or just sat and talked, but there was no way to realign the time I now had with the space that was past.
I was time-rich, but it didn’t matter because there was nothing on which to spend it. I added other things to my life: classes, work, going out with friends. I dated, even remarried, took vacations, read books. Nothing I did had any effect on time. I still moved through space, the clock still ticked, and the years still passed. I didn’t age any more slowly because I had less to do.
I get, now, that bargaining with time is futile. A minute when you are busy may seem like less time than a minute spent waiting, but it is the exact same amount of your life. The key, I’ve learned, is to stop looking at the clock so much and start looking at the people you are standing next to.