Those Were the Days

Those were the days, though I didn’t know it then of course, the happiest days of my life; the kind that fall in our memories between hard and harder like a single mismatched white lace curtain hanging in a row of heavy black drapes; the kind that signal endings and beginnings, that serve as a reprieve from the shit and fortify us for more. They began that summer when her son was out of town, visiting his father in Atlanta, and for the first time we were completely alone together for an extended period of time. We talked about taking a road trip but we were broke, we were so fucking broke we were on food stamps and I took every extra shift I could get driving cab so that for days on end my biological clock was frozen in a.m. when it should have been in p.m., and vice versa. So broke that we continued to live in the tiny one-bedroom cottage she’d rented before we got together, not daring to move into something bigger for fear we wouldn’t be able to come up with the rent each month. So we hung out in our cramped pad when I wasn’t working and watched movies on the cramped little loveseat and took walks and engaged in philosophical debates. We made up crazy, funny stories about strangers we saw on the streets and smoked weed out in the open, rather than in the bathroom like we had to do when her son was there. I pranced around the place naked after my shower, reveling in our aloneness, in the familiar freedoms that come from so many years of aloneness where you can do what you want when you want and how you want because you have no one else to think about – sacrificed to be with her and now fleetingly re-acquired with her and even more blissful in the intimacy of her company.

One night I couldn’t sleep for thinking how it would soon be over, how her son would return and we’d all be on top of each other again and how, even though he was a good kid overall, he was a kid nonetheless, and I had for my entire adult life avoided kids. I had nothing against them, I just had nothing for them either. Yet all of a sudden I had one, by proxy anyway, and it was hard, Jesus it was hard, to adjust.

I remember that night because it was so hot and we were awake later than usual, tossing and turning. Then quietly, almost stealthily, she sat up next to me, then straddled me with her legs and laced her fingers into mine. She leaned down and kissed me, tenderly and slowly, and I could hear her breath even before I felt it as if she were taking in as much of me as her senses would allow. She glided down my chest, barely grazing my bare skin with her lips, then sat up and tossed back her head. Her hair was long in those days, almost to her waist, and in the pale moonlight it glowed like scattered cornsilk as her head fell forward onto my belly. I closed my eyes and felt it, just felt it, that soft, sensuous pile of tresses traveling from side to side with the movement of her dance. She wrapped it around and around me, then as it slipped away I felt her mouth in its place and my pulse quickened in anticipation. I knew what was coming next and yet I remember feeling as if I were about to experience something brand new, something exotic and unforeseen. I remember thinking, right after I exploded and we were both completely still, that even though I didn’t believe in love, that I knew it to be a lie, I was living it, for the first and only time in my life.

She lay beside me on the pillow and I kissed her, then she wrapped her arms around me and pulled my head into the hollow of her neck. “Sometimes you feel exceedingly precious to me,” she whispered. “That’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you should be exceedingly precious to me all the time,” she said. “Not just sometimes.” She sounded so sincere and contrite, and so very, very young.

I laughed softly. “That’s the way life is,” I said. “We get busy, and distracted. Other things compete for our energy.”

“There are so many things I want to do with you,” she whispered. As I tipped my head back, a drop of warm liquid slid down my forehead into my eyes. I put my hand to her face and her cheeks were wet with tears. “Why are you crying?” I asked, unfurling myself from her embrace and propping up on one elbow to look at her.

Her gaze, glowing and intense, dropped. “I’m afraid we won’t get to do them.”

I wished then, as I do now, that I had met her when I was in my thirties, my twenties even, that we’d have had that many more years together. Then I wonder if we really would have had more joy in that extra time, or if it would simply have been more time. I would have died for her then and I would die for her now, but it’s the difference between desperation and resignation, and I’m not altogether sure I could have borne it if the transition had come any earlier than it did. The former lasted a long time as it were, far longer than I would have predicted, in and out of houses and jobs and the comings and goings of her son. Out of fears and into memories. Would more time, hence more memories, have made the accumulation of Age’s vestments easier to bear? When she looks at me now she doesn’t know me, except for the rare “good days,” and her doctors don’t expect that to change for the better. In her mind she’s young again, she’s a carefree girl with nothing more serious on her plate than what to wear to school today and who she’ll sit with at lunchtime. Some days I’m her brother, some days I’m a neighbor or a boy in her class. I play along for the most part. Last week I was the king of a small principality in the Middle East. But I cherish the “good days” when they come along, knowing the end of them will mean the end of me as I know myself to be, so inextricably am I tied into her, and not being quite ready for that. I treasure the moments when she remembers as I do; when the white lace curtain flutters behind her eyes; when those days are these days too, and we are lucky enough to know it.

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