A Hand Across the Ages


Eyes shut, the quiet buzz of the fluorescent lights and the cool, quasi-wood of the desk below my folded arms soothes my rapid-fire thoughts.  I lay my head on my arms, shifting so that my cheek encounters the coolness.  Old, boxy, shag-haired Mrs. Damon, my English teacher, speaks in a soft lull. I think about our school play and the boy playing Enoch Snow, and wish I wasn’t a fifteen year-old, gangly tomboy.

Somewhere far off there is a lawn mower, and I sense more than smell, the cut grass on the breeze from the open window.  Mrs. Damon’s voice reigns in my meandering thoughts.

“Think for one moment of your ideal age.”

Sixteen, I think, Or perhaps 21.

“Choose your ideal age and consider, what is it about that age that is so special?”

I consider.  Maybe my ideal age is eighteen.  Eighteen is when I go to college and get to drink.  Twenty-one is pretty old, and college will be over. And what does sixteen bring me? Just a driver’s license.

Concentrating, I reach up to my curls, twirling a dark-brown ringlet around my finger: a habit I picked up in first grade when I sat behind Amy with her lovely yellow ringlets.  I would twist my short, pixy haircut around my finger and be left with frizz and tufts sticking out sideways. Now at least I could create a single ringlet amidst the frizz if I worked at the twirling long enough.

Eighteen is my ideal age, I decide.

My eighteen year-old self is tall, but only because the gods have already ordained that characteristic. My frizzled brown hair is 1940’s movie-star perfect, and the green in my hazel eyes dominates.  Mr. Enoch Snow can’t help but notice the confident, sparkling, woman I have become.  Yes, eighteen will be the perfect age.  I sigh aloud and then peak from under my elbow to see if anybody heard me.

“Open your eyes,” Mrs. Damon instructs, and a room full of bleary eyes stare at Ms. Damon.  “Who wants to share first?”

A half-dozen hands go up, while the rest of us blink back bright sunbeams. Some noticeably stretch as though awakening from a deep sleep.

“Sixteen,” says one, “I can drive myself to school.”

“Twenty-one,” another calls out.  “That’s such a sophisticated age.”

“Twenty-two is my ideal age,” announces the girl next to me.  She looks pleased when Mrs. Damon nods in encouragement.  “I’ll be out of college and really living my life.”

“These are all interesting answers,” says Mrs. Damon. “Not one of them is wrong, but…”

She looks around the room, extending the moment.

“Do you realize that for most of you, your ideal age will have come and gone in less than six years?”

We are all nodding now, still envisioning our beautiful, self-confident selves, and drinking in the warm spring sunshine wafting in on the breeze, and defying time’s passage.

“…then what?”

Mrs. Damon leaves the words hanging and for a moment lets our imaginations fill in the answer.

Then what? I wonder?  Family, children? What would be next?

“Do you realize that you will all pass your ideal age and most of you will live forty to sixty years longer?  What will you look forward to then? What will you anticipate? Isn’t there more to life than driving, drinking, and a post-college job?”

I shut my eyes again, and lay my head on my folded arms.  Hearing no objection from Mrs. Damon, I stayed silent and listen for the fluorescent lights, and the lawn mower.  I let the spring breeze and its essence flow over my face.

Sixty-five, I think. At sixty-five I will have my own family, I’ll be retired, I can travel.  I breathe deeply feeling the sun press warmly on my cheek. Sixty-five will be my new ideal age.                                                     ***


With tired eyes shut, the quiet buzz of the fluorescent lights and the cool, quasi-wood of my cubicle desk leave my head aching and my vein-webbed hands frigid with cold.  I lay my head on my arms, shifting so that my cheek shares its warmth with my frozen, arthritic fingers.  The fifteen year-old, gangly tomboy has been replaced by a boxy, shag-haired office worker. 

“Ninety-five,” I say aloud.  “Yes, that’s it.  Ninety-five will be my new ideal age.”

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About Barbara Rath

Enjoy reading, writing, hiking, hangin' with family, friends and my dogs, watching soccer (Go Breakers), baseball, football. Favorite foods are coffee, chocolate, and artichokes. Always thinking of new stuff to do and then not doing it.
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