I sat in the musky car, rolled down the windows, and let the night seep into my empty stomach. The memory of those elders melted away from the heat sneaking in beneath my hat. Neon lights flickered past the raging drivers as I let the car coast. The stereo played long and loud while I let my left arm hang out the window. To the cadence of undulating rushes of heavy air, I sporadically opened and closed my fist. Youth. The elastic silky skin of my face and taut stomach muscles. I studied my forehead in the rear view mirror. Wind hit me in the face, drying my lips. Windows went up. Time poised to a near stop in this instance. Shards of broken lights scattered on the mosaic of neon through the passenger windows, and as I sped down the freeway, pops of headlights flew into my vision.
Wrinkles twinkled about the edges of her eyes while she stoically sat, knitting in her airplane seat. Each hand worked away on a scarf; needle upon needle joining the tiny threads to create a fabulous new garment. Every few seconds some straggly fuzz flicked out of the needle, sealing her image in my memory. With a blurt, the comical noise of her thigh rubbing blue leather, I blinked, only to find a projection of an elderly man’s braced legs in my mind. His suspenders ground into his white polo, and he trudged along to find tomatoes in the fluorescently lit supermarket. Then it shifted to a hunched back professor shuffling to the bathroom: her bright eyes contrasted with her time corrupted cheeks and forehead. Still her flat hair, a light brown, cut into a neat bob, brushed perfectly against her jawline. And the airplane seat creaks. I wait a bit, blinking again into hazy internal glimpses. I see the knitter’s flushed face smiling down at the progress she made.
They said that this stretch of hours, days, years is the time of your life, the highlight of your whirlwind existence as animated matter. Locks of curl whip around my cheeks. 65. 70. 75. 80. 85. A syrupy stew of black heat hugs the side of the road, cloaking the automobiles, and I alone propel ahead of them. I can’t see those smiling grandmas or those hunched elders now, only the road lays ahead brightly lit by slithering streetlights. I see my face again, shamefully praying I don’t get old. My face holds the etching of my days. I wonder how it will fit them all.
How vain I am to begin my mental obsession with youth. And yet, why do I see such beauty in these passing elders. Society says they deserve pity not some marveling thoughts of a twenty-year-old. Go help that old lady out. Don’t stand there infantilizing her. Go give your grandpa a hug, young lady, he’ll only be here so long. He’s a human being; he can make decisions for himself, do things by himself—he still has agency. Come on, he’s old. Whatever.
What am I doing with myself? I wish to be old—to have my busy days past me, and yet I treasure my youth, my ability to simply do without inhibition. Why then, am I cooped up, slaving over project after project, trying to tell myself that I am happy being a workhorse. I am happy being a student. I am happy being stressed beyond belief. I can’t be masochistic.
Sample graduate school interview questions:
What are your hobbies?
I don’t know.
What do you do in your spare time?
I don’t have any.
What are you doing with this beautiful time when you have arrived at your most attractive, most physically fit, most alive? I hope they’re lying. I hope that those smiling elders are happy now because their dispositions have changed. That’s possible. Perhaps they too faced their own type of plastic bag over your head suffocating stress. I don’t know. The one thing that bothers me is their blissful happiness. It’s like they’re children all over again, and here I am, on the first step into my twenties, and I only see blackness—stairs leading to nowhere. I’m afraid. I’ll fall. There’s no railing to clamp my hands onto. I can’t gingerly step down one stair at a time. I must go down, head first, because it’s just me. It’s my life whether I like it or not. This time as a “new adult” is mine. I must remember. I don’t want to concoct a lie; construe some educational thing I do or something I hate into a so-called hobby. I don’t have spare time, but that’s my own fault. Yes, there’s the rub. Time—the destroyer of everything, the common denominator of all life, and what does my family constantly berate me about—how I use or misuse it.
You should get that hair out of your eyes. You have such a beautiful face, young lady, said my 80? 90? year-old great Aunt Carla, immediately touching my hair and tugging it behind my ears. She just broke her right femur falling down a couple flights of stairs. She’s still alive—it’s hard to kill a Cox.
Those boys love a pretty face.
She pushes me constantly, same as my mom. That’s the one thing I can’t think about: Do you have a boyfriend? No. Come on, sweetie, don’t you like someone? Well actually yes, I do now, but I think it’s unrequited. Look at your friends and twenty-something family members all getting married. Mom and dad hate them and think they’re crazy and never going to be as successful as you. April got married last year—you’ve never been on a date. That hike with Steven counts since we hiked until sunset, that’s romantic. No, he was a friend. Timothy asked you to prom even though you were graduating early, that counts. Of course it doesn’t, you said no because of a calculus test. You’re pathetic. Try again.
When Aunt Carla touches your face, her hands nearly set your cheeks ablaze. You never could figure out why she resembled a walking furnace, especially with her ridiculously dyed red hair. Face it. You need something else to live for besides good grades and props from professors. You’re not in high school anymore. In fact, you’re a senior in college. Truly figure out why you want a college education besides money and the chance at a better paying job. You still have time. What about relationships, emotional intelligence, and overall happiness?
There, much better.
She whispered in my ear as it burned.
The road turns again. For a split second I close my eyes once more, getting ready for more wind to curl up around my eyelashes. I see that knitting grandma, that suspendered grandpa, that flat haired professor, and now my brutal Aunt Carla invading my thoughts. They flicker away as quick as I blink, and I begin to retreat into my mind once more to that first step on the staircase. Time hasn’t changed you, has it, but you’ll keep wearing your woes on your face. Time will inevitably knit a scarf for you, and as you try to smile down at it, you’ll know your fate. You will never be that kind old lady on the blue leather airplane seat. It’s all in your head. You just don’t know how to turn-off.