Preying on Time

I am driving, and I am happy. I am streaming George Michael’s greatest hits–Ladies and Gentlemen–from my iPhone and into the speakers of a Toyota RAV we were given by your parents, a gift, no doubt because they feel somewhat sorry for us, for the lost dream, but it has a JVC bass and a V6 engine, so the music sounds good and I can accelerate through traffic when every car seems to move more slowly than I can possible stand. I am driving from an hour spent with my physical trainer, who is good-looking but not very interesting, and so the perfect recipe for a stranger who might touch my body, watch how my body works, correctly it with a slight touch of fingertips. He costs me $52 an hour and I have been seeing him weekly for a year, and have something like 18 pounds and a more defined waistline to show for the investment. I am driving from two hours spent under the not-so-tender ministrations of my hairstylist–(I am too Minnesotan to utter an “ow” when she pulls a brush through my hair which still knots up into a rat’s nest like it did when I was 7)–who has made my long hair copper, and my eyebrows less sprawling, for $170 dollars (including tip.) I said yes, when she produced a new product from her cupboard, to be used during the dying process to increase the likelihood my hair will “take” the color, though she can’t guarantee it, because everyone’s hair is different. I justify my acquiescence by reasoning that the dye is expensive itself, so why not try to make it last; plus, any time I walk into a Target or Walgreens, I seem to buy $25 dollars worth of stuff I’d never planned to buy, so why not spend it deliberately in this way? I am heading across town, my workout behind me, my hair gleaming and straightened, the music I wrote my undergrad thesis–short stories, not all of them about love–to, this one: Praying for Time, playing in the cocoon of my car, heading up north to a shop that specializes in “ski, tennis, and snowboard” and is as high-priced as it seems. I am getting my tennis racquet restrung, possibly because my elbow has started hurting and new strings may solve the problem, but also because I have been losing a lot, losing to both better players and to players that shouldn’t have the skills to beat me. I know I am mentally suspect. I know that when push comes to shove, I tighten up, and that is why I lose more than I should. But maybe new strings will turn my luck around, lift my confidence so I can fire off the forehands that make up the majority of my game. My game. It’s pretentious for a 44 year old woman who has only been playing tennis for 10 year to refer to herself as having “a game” and no doubt I’d roll my eyes at any middle-aged weekend basketball player or early-morning round of golf before going into the office who referred to himself has having “a game,” but I spend a lot of time and money on said game, because hitting a down-the-line winner during a match feels as good to me as a kiss, and winning? Definitely as good as an orgasm. Since my husband and I have no time or energy for sex, I take what satisfaction I can get by hitting a backhand slice dropshot against that one lady who called my T-serve “out” when it was obviously in. I try not to let her gamesmanship affect me, but it usually does. I try to shake it off; I try to lighten up; I even call one of her in shots “out.” But I’m shaken. Put on the defense. Forgetting to play my game. At the shop, I see that they are offering a sale on last year’s racquet models. Spontaneously, I buy one for $125, as a backup in case I break mine–it’s becoming more frequent that I bang my racquet on the hardcourts when I make a particularly dense error–or even just break a string (which likely will never happen because I simply don’t put that much spin on the ball.) Better to be safe than sorry, and it is a good deal. I justify spending money on tennis as a way of investing in myself. I’m not thin, and I don’t run, and I like to eat too much of just about anything, but I love tennis–I joke that my last life was as a labrador because I’ll only stop eating if I’m chasing a little yellow ball–and I’m glad something gets me moving. Perhaps that one form of exercise will amount to even the smallest increase in my life expectancy, because it’s true that I can never die. I mean, I will. But, this thought, fleeting as the shadow of a hawk as it glides low over a field in search for a mouthful, a talonful, of field mouse, comes again, right then at this moment when I am so happy, when I am doing the right things to be happy, because this is a good life with a good job that allows me to buy everything I need to be happy in this and any moment, and a good marriage that allows me to the freedom to find and do these things that make me happy, but really, how can I ever be happy, knowing that when I die, when I die sometime between now and, maybe, another 44 years, I will leave behind a son who will never be able to care for himself by himself. Another new fissure is added to the many, too many, that striate my heart at that moment when I swallow the truth that there is no happy, just forgetting. A friend once told me that people are like antelopes in the plains of South Africa. We have to forget that there is a lion, a predator lurking just over the rise, or our anxiety over dying would subsume us, exhaust us for the escape. When Noah began having seizures and a futureless future was like a blackhole looming on the horizon of my life, I spent a lot of money, money that we didn’t have, in order to distract myself. Maybe that’s what I’m still doing. Maybe I’m buying back some of that lost dream. Because every life needs evolution, some kind of stone-rolling that justifies our experiences, painful or no, and we often live our evolution outside our bodies, through the lives of our children. We put everything we have become into them, hoping they stay safe, alive really, and learn from our knowledge, knowledge that has long evolved past what our parents knew and their parents knew. But my son cannot. He simply cannot. So I evolve for him. I will do what he cannot. I will be happy because I can make myself be happy, like clay into a vase that holds happy, an extra supply because maybe then my happy can be his, because unhappiness cannot not touch him as long as I am alive.

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