“What age would you stay? 30s?”
Overheard in women’s room at the Main Berkeley Library, today, 2nd Fl. One young twenty-something to another.
“Yeah, 35, 25…21!”
The year before you got sick. That’s the age to stay, girls. But no one can tell you this. It’s different for everyone: The Spanish Flu, cancer. Just getting old. The brain injury that changed you so much you can only, just barely, remember who you once were—like the wisp of smoke you think you saw after the train rounded the corner. The spinal cord injury that left your nipples your main sex organ, taking up the sword of your lower, formerly in command, phallus.
The year before any of that or worse, the year you didn’t know would be the one you’d want to keep. For me it was the year I met Sally.
We convinced each other it wouldn’t matter if we said it. We both felt the same so why say it?
“I want you” became code for “I love you,” which we said when we grew braver. Finally, when we became more sober (but confused it with growing braver still), we said, “I will marry you.”
We knew we didn’t need to state the obvious: “I see you, I will stay with you, I will honor you.” We didn’t need to say it.
Should we have stayed? Should we have stayed forever in this year?
What did it look like?
The rope swing hung steadfastly. It hung on a branch of the weeping willow tree over the deepest part of the river, floated like the wisp that was true, that really did hang in the 5 o’clock blue of a summer never meant to contain the rest of our lives. The summer we swung out over the deepest part of the river and dropped, mercifully, into the cold forgiving water. How did we know? How did we know to trust the previous Good Time Charleys who hung the knot there in the first place? Or in the 4th or the 19th place? How does the lineage of trust continue? Was it because the knot was strong and right, looked like a knot our fathers would tie? Or simply by merit of it being there that we trusted the rope was safe. “We’re all in this together,” the knot seemed to say.
That bright indigo summer’s eve was not meant to contain our whole lives. Our friends must have known this but we did not. We tried to capture the perfect, lasso it with that swinging rope. Borrow the strength of the knot and let it stand in for the rightness we wanted to feel in our words but did not.