Last night I met a bunch of beautiful women, some of my dear friends, for what turned out to be a raucous dinner, sushi and sake and wine. There is a very well-known but pretty expensive sushi restaurant here, beyond the bounds of my budget for sure, but they offer a happy hour. All kinds of sushi half-price, sake and wine half-price, etc. On the way there, battling the atrocity that is Austin traffic, I was listening to music and thinking about whatever the song made me think of. So many of the songs come with bodily states, where I feel in the cells of my muscles the way I felt at the time. The first song cracked me open and then there I was, crying all the way down the highway.
American Pie, memories of dancing like lunatics with my kids in the living room of our home in Huntsville, Alabama – the twist, the monkey, the swim, the pony, dances we could all manage. Such a sweet, sweet memory, nearly unbearable. I can see their sweaty little faces, I can hear us laughing, see us falling down on the floor. It was even fun at the time, it’s not just something precious in retrospect, but in retrospect it’s everything there is.
And then I remember living with them, the feeling of being with young kids. Carving a pencil eraser into a little foot shape and dipping it in powder with a bit of sparkle, then stamping the wood floors outside Marnie’s bedroom, and up to her bed, for the magic of the Tooth Fairy. A few more stamps on the window sill, a little tooth pillow with money tucked under her pillow. The extraordinary privilege of getting to make a child’s life magic, for just a little while. Walking the kids to the bus stop in Virginia, watching the girls get on the bus and then pushing the stroller with Will back home.
Goodnight, The Beatles — oh, spasm of love that song produced in my heart, remembering the years when they were very young and I’d spend so long tucking each child in bed. I’d bring my guitar with me and after we talked about the day, I’d play and sing Goodnight softly, and each one would drift off to sleep. Katie was the oldest so she was always last because she could stay up later. She always tried so hard to stay awake but even she eventually drifted off. I remember kissing their little foreheads, breathing them into me.
The Look of Love, Dusty Springfield — the new dress I wore on the first day of second grade, that song playing throughout the house that morning. Making my lunch and putting a little box of gingersnaps in the sack. Excited and scared to meet my new teacher. Seven years old, I remember how it felt to be that little girl. I remember it so well, my little hopes and dreams.
And then I drive through the big intersection where my dad shoved me out of the truck and turned around to run over me. And I pass the street where we lived when he put a loaded pistol to my head and cocked it, and I remember. Ghosts. Then I drive past a place that has changed, it’s not what it was but I still see it there, I still see the ghost of that apartment building where I lived with him for a scary month. No one else can see that building there, but it’s there for me. I pass another street, the one with the sad little apartment my dad lived in right after he and my mother divorced. That apartment building is gone too, but I still see it there. Ghosts. I don’t really go to the part of town where the sushi restaurant is because I have so very much history all around it, but it wasn’t at all painful. It was all just a bunch of ghosts.
I was crying the whole way, crying through the music, crying seeing all the ghosts, but crying because I am so incredibly grateful for every tiny little bit of my life, every bit of it. The good the bad the boring the scared the lost the hopeless the hopeful the brilliant the dark. It’s all so precious, even though I have regrets about this and that, about not being able to be a lighthearted mother. I was trying so hard. It’s all been so precious, every single bit of it. The ghosts are precious too because I survived and this place has so many layers that only I am aware of. When my life ends I will be so grateful for it all. It has been so magnificent.
* * *
On the way home I was sitting in traffic and saw a concrete pillar with a really beautiful image someone painted on it. Then I looked at the words around the image and they said “Fair sailing, tall boy.” In another spot it said, “Don’t drink and drive, you might kill somebody’s kid.” In another spot was a span of years I quickly calculated: 18 years. Tall boy was 18 years old, and someone who loved him terribly had the grace and incredible strength to wish their tall boy fair sailing. I almost couldn’t bear it. I almost can’t bear it even typing these words.
* * *
We all age differently; I have what I call my “Concentration Theory” of aging, which is that we simply become a concentrated version of ourselves as we age. Cranky people become intensely more cranky. Gentle people become gentler. Sensitive people become more sensitive. I think about Maurice Sendak’s last interview with Terri Gross on Fresh Air. Here are the extraordinary last five minutes of that talk:
And here are some of the best snippets:
- “Somehow I’m finding out as I’m aging – I am in love with the world.”
- “I don’t know if I will do another book or not. It doesn’t matter. I am a happy old man.
- “I have nothing but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop loving them. They leave me and I love them more.”
- “There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
- “It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music. You know, I don’t think I’m rationalizing. I really don’t. This is all inevitable and I have no control over it.”
- “I wish you all good things. Live your life, live your life, live your life.”
And I say the very same things. I have nothing but praise for my life. There are so many beautiful things in the world. It is a blessing to get old. Life your life, live your life, live your life.