At Fifty

Chela Jodene 1988_0001
Twenty-five years ago. Exactly.

We have entered the last half of our lives. Our friends are old enough to die of old diseases. We grew up with little knowledge of death. Our mother died young. Our first lover died of epilepsy. The only ones we knew who died were relatives in dark, curtain-drawn places with pretty teacups we weren’t allowed to touch and plates of cookies we weren’t allowed to plunder. There was a boy in high school who died drag-racing, but we had to look him up in the yearbook to see who he was.

We spent our youth trying things on. We were singers in the high school musical, poets in cafes, street musicians on the Ave. We were girlfriends, best friends, spurned friends, untrusted, and trustworthy friends. We feathered, shagged, and wedged our hair. We drew green eyeshadow above our eyebrows, wore bubble-gum flavored lip gloss, refused to wear lipstick, wore too much lipstick. We wore togas to Latin club, memorized lines, mostly won at chess. We marched against the draft. We had sex, didn’t have sex, had everything but sex. We went to our first concert; it was at the Kingdome with 16,000 people. We went to an all-ages disco. After dancing with a girl, we were asked to sit down. This isn’t that kind of place, they said.

We went off to college in places like Olympia, Eugene, Berkeley, Northampton. We fact-checked for the Atlantic, took dictation, talked phone sex in a Manhattan basement, drove a taxi, kept on playing our music, writing our poems, taking our photographs. We marched for women’s rights and gay rights. We marched against the invasion of Grenada. We smoked pot, dropped acid, took mushrooms, went sober. We drank wine out of dixie cups.

Our cats traveled the country with us. We sailed halfway around the world with a family friend. We packed our bags for graduate school on the other coast. We drove from Boston to Seattle, sleeping in dark, empty campgrounds in the open air. We stopped at the Corn Palace. We sent postcards. We sent long, juicy letters. We called, out of the blue, on our birthdays and got drunk over the phone.

We fell in love. We had boyfriends who wrote us songs and built giant puppets, girlfriends who took our portraits. We made domestic nests of candles and ferns. We slept with other people and confessed. We slept with other people and didn’t confess. We lusted only in our hearts. We stayed loyal for years and years and years until someone new cracked our hearts open and we realized we’d been unhappy. We spent years alone and decided we liked it. We fell hard, very hard, and then he said he wasn’t ready for marriage, but within a year he was married to someone else. We went to couples counseling. It helped a lot. We broke up anyway. We went to individual counseling. It helped a lot. With the next lover, we knew what we wanted.

We had abortions, we had babies, we stopped having sex with men and didn’t worry about babies. Some of us had weddings. Some would wait years for weddings. Some couldn’t give a shit about weddings. We tried to adopt but it didn’t work out. We inseminated for a year, but it didn’t take. We got pregnant before we were ready but what the hell; we had a beautiful, beautiful baby. We fell in love with our nieces and nephews and friends’ children. They rode on our backs and climbed in our laps and fell asleep in our arms. Our ability to embrace these new responsibilities surprised the hell out of us.

We went to medical school. We earned master’s degrees in fine arts, library science, literature. We didn’t go to graduate school because we kept getting promoted. We learned to bind books. We made millions at a new company on the eastside that did something with computers. We were awarded a prize for our first published short story. We gave readings, we gave talks, we interviewed for new jobs. We taught, edited, wrote, photographed, supervised, healed, catalogued. We discovered we had a talent for teaching yoga.

We came home. We never left home. We couldn’t stay away from the Cascades and the Olympics, glittery on the horizon. We missed water. We missed, specifically, Puget Sound. We missed inlets and rocky beaches and blue herons. We missed ferries and the keening gulls that follow them. We missed coffee culture. We came home, but we put the entire city between us and our parents. We came home, but we put three hours between us and our parents. We moved back into our parents’ neighborhood, having forgiven them and having been forgiven.

We have entered the last half of our lives. We get small parts in plays at Seattle Rep. We publish essays in obscure journals. We play with Instagram. We teach, edit, write, photograph, supervise, heal, catalog. We drink wine from fancy glasses. We never even think about drinking anymore. We have weaned ourselves of trans fats, salt, and gluten. We love cupcakes and truffle fries. Our children are going to college now. Our favorite dogs, long gone, run in photographs on our desks. Our parents are more frail. Our parents just walked the Camino in Spain. Our parents are gone. We want, most of all, time alone to work and think and breathe. We want, most of all, to laugh with friends in candlelight and communion. We want, most of all, to make sure our loved ones know we love them, to know our loved ones love us. We want, most of all, to be. At least a few more years.

(With a nod to Julie Otsuka)

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About allisongreenwriter

Author of The Ghosts Who Travel with Me, a memoir, and Half-Moon Scar, a novel.
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6 Responses to At Fifty

  1. Another stunningly beautiful post. And I notice none of the cigarettes in the photo are lit!

  2. chela says:

    hey there..I recognize those gals! Lovely post Alison, and thanks. At 52, I have a photo of a dead cat on my desk, and a new weight of dead and dying friends to go with the old weights of AIDS and such. Sending a hug…chela

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