My mother used to say that my dad, for all his absentmindedness, would once in a while have sparks of clarity and objectivity during which he could suddenly explain and justify his actions. I know I got that trait from him. It used to happen all the time: after the murkiest of arguments I could suddenly tell a girlfriend exactly what line of logic I was following to arrive at the stupid things I did or said. Throughout my thirties this happened less and less and eventually disappeared. I hadn't looked on from that view in maybe twenty years. Until today, that is.
It's almost an out-of-body thing: I'm walking to the restaurant, nervous to see my son on neutral ground, and then poof! I'm a specimen. I'm watching myself shuffle down the sidewalk: my lined face, my squinted eyes that never focus on anything, my rhythm-less gate, my twitchy wrists, my chapped and permanently pursed lips. The explanation of what I am and why I am becomes so clear to me suddenly and I struggle to hold on to the revelation so that I can tell him, warn him. I can explain everything now and he'll be much better off than I was at twenty-three if I can just say this stuff right.
The concept I want to convey to him, the thing I never understood (or at least wasn't able to articulate) until this moment, is the concept of consequence.
It's the little things. Stupid things really.
Like back in two thousand-whatever when my glasses broke, I didn't stop to think about all the squinting I was doing as a direct result. I went without glasses for like three years because it seemed like an expensive hassle to get new ones. But just a few years later I had crow's feet and chronic migraines. Imagine that? Crow's feet at the age of thirty (most of my friends haven't seen a single wrinkle yet). And my stupid brain didn't really put two and two together, didn't establish causation. I just looked in the mirror one morning, saw the tiny tributaries running to my eye sockets, and thought, "Oh. This is happening."
I suffered through allergies for my entire childhood. One day, at twenty-eight, I stopped ingesting dairy and promptly the blowy nose and gooeytoothed mornings evaporated. Why did it not occur to me that what was going into my body was affecting what was coming out of it? Why was I unable to relate the two until I was almost thirty?
Or take my long and sordid affair with bad credit - it ruined my thirties, thank you very much. I'd always thought that those financial hiccups of my late teens would work themselves out when the music took off, so I took the collection notices and lease-less squalor I constantly found myself living in as harmless. Four years later, watch my face when I try to get my first car loan. The monthly interest was higher than the monthly payment itself.
Life just never seemed that real for me, I guess. I wasn't IN it - my life. It was as if I was always waiting for the "living" part to start, and once I realized it was indeed heavily underway, I'd missed most of it, or screwed it up.
And so I think this is what aging actually is: the realization that you are indeed deciding the route your life takes, and you are doing so on a moment-to-moment basis. Every minute action or decision you make has very tangible consequences, both long term and short. I know it's so incredibly common sense when spoken, but that doesn't mean that you or I really grasp the validity of it so easily. And this realization of causation is what adulthood is, I think. Why is mine happening so late? I'm going to be sixty in a few months, and I'm just now learning this. I have been a late bloomer all my life, I suppose.
"Every cause has an effect." That's what I need to tell him---but worded cooler, somehow. Kids don't take well to the word "Karma," you have to put it in their terms... relate it to Hoverboards or something. Most of them doubt its very existence, but I happen to know there's such a thing as Karma. I'm living proof of it.
Or "life is something that happens when you're making other plans." That's what I have to say to him, but more profound sounding, so he respects me as a thoughtful person. Something poetic too, like, "Life hits you where you least expect it - in the 'life.' "
I don't know.
That doesn't feel right. Feels stupid.
"Life is the realest thing since death." Ug. everything I say comes out sounding like a tagline from an old M. Night Shyamalan movie [Whatever happened to that guy? I never read another thing about him after he got sued out of existence by the Rod Sterling estate].
I'm heading into the restaurant now, and I haven't quite finalized the wording, but I feel good about it. This is the best wisdom I could pass on to him.
When I sit down across from him, I want to be upright and alert so that I can deliver this message with all the authority needed to drive it home. But his disapproving gaze slumps me over and I'm altogether dismissed by the waiter, an angular boy who never looks at me (even as he takes my drink order). The only features of my son's face that were inherited from mine are his contrary brow and the overriding contempt for his father, the softening of which seems an insurmountable task now that I'm two feet across from it. I clear my throat and tell him, "You look good, Chris." He does not return the compliment, but then, we both know I look like Baghdad right now.
"What's the deal, Gavin?" [Is there a less subtle method of castrating one's own father than using his first name?]
I cough and look for a drink to animate this sandpaper tongue in my mouth. The waiter has not brought me my drink.
Chris is going to walk out on me again very soon. I can see his shoulders turning towards the door. if I don't impart some of this wisdom I've accrued on him soon, I know there will never be another window for us. Just getting him to meet me here was a two-month effort. No, no. I have to be truthful---it was not so much my effort as it was Talbot's (my sponsor).
"you should. you should NOT squint at stuff as much... as...
you have. you have to live with stuff. Hoverboards are like Karma, you have to keep your.
Get help," He said, shedding $40 onto the table as he put his coat on and stood up in one fluid motion. I tried to stand up but my legs were in their own time zone and he was gone before I could put his drink down.