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It's Nelly's World

Where I'm Getting To

alec vanderboom

I spent today looking at people and trying to figure out how old they were. Ten or twenty years older than I am now seems a mere little hop over a drainpipe trickle, not the rolling wide Mississippi that it was a little while ago. Time collapses like an umbrella all of a sudden. Today becomes tomorrow morning before I can adequately grasp that it's afternoon.

That man with the cart ahead of mine--he moves very slowly and deliberately, fully enmeshed in his task, which is trying to lift his groceries onto the belt. He is having some trouble. But given his intense concentration, at least he is living in the moment.

The twelve-pack of individual bottles of spring water is challenging him (and me, too, because I don't understand why such things exist). It slips askew; he tries to regrip. His fingers don't seem to want to work the way they were meant to when they were given to him. They're like something not quite connected, not quite flexible, and he ends up holding the package somewhere off to the side, with his palms.

Is this me in fifteen years? I think with what feels like a startling, and very mean, smack upside the head. Shock of white hair, inability to focus on anything but the job at hand? Certainly, then, unable to swing a leg over a motorcycle, much less guide it safely (or at anything above 15 mph) down the road?

Then I'd better get busy.

A lot of living to do, quick. Suddenly, I want to throw my head back and gulp, the whole tall, sweaty glass of physicality: hike up to High Point, rocks underfoot; dance to exhaustion at a friend's party in a hillside art studio, luminaria glittering below on the path to home; hammer in the tent pegs and gather the night's tinder; dress for dinner on the patio of a restaurant with a view; touch the place where the brown hairs fleck the white ones and then join the black ones, the tenderest place on Nelly's lovely face; sway on the chairlift in a bitter wind, knowing that soon warm speed will wash me downhill; wear the gold sandals; unfurl three contiguous maps and look at them for a long time, make lists of what goes into the saddlebags, then early one morning put the key in and go; ride. Do a lot of riding. If all this is a midlife crisis, I don't care. I call it coming back to life.

Recently one of my friends on a social networking site that shall remain nameless mused on how ("at my age!") he was starting to feel the urge for a motorcycle. He was soliciting opinions; wanted to hear from anyone who'd ever crashed. One friend posted about the two times she'd dropped her bike; another one wrote about someone he knows who's now an amputee. Many, many people wrote to express alarm: "Don't do it!" they pleaded. I weighed in on the opposing side: "1. Yes, do it! but 2. Do it only with training, training, and more training, so you can be in the group that is underrepresented in accident statistics." Unfortunately, my comment appeared just below one that tersely said, "My son-in-law was killed on a motorcycle."

I felt awful. And then came my trip to the shopping plaza, where I went shopping for a glimpse of the future. Which would be worse? Deciding that, since so many of these intense flavors will be untastable in a short while, I should decline them now? Or taking the risk that I might not get all the way to 75 and custom-made orthopedic shoes if I drink that whole glass?

Maybe I wouldn't reach 75 anyway, all my efforts to preserve this web of blood, bone, tissue blown to powder one day in a surgeon's office.

And what is so great about 75, I'd like to know?

I do not have a death wish. I have a life wish, one so strong that it requires me to scoot a little closer to the silent but breathing hulk of death's form; I reach out and take his hand in the dark. We are together in this, not like friends, not like lovers, but like parts of the same self. It's the life wish that makes you want to open wide every sense, go screaming into the air, waving wildly to your partner, he who is The End, as you go. It's the death wish that makes you slow down to an acceptable speed for someone your age, comparison-shop for walkers and canes, resolutely denying the existence of the quiet watcher. He who is going to get you, sometime. Not to be morbid or anything.