Image by Dawn Estrin
You will never be the one with the overweight wife, whose hips jiggle as she walks down the aisle of your granddaughter’s christening – your out-of-wedlock granddaughter – unashamed because at that size, what other choice does she have in her tented paisley dress.
You will never be the one whose hairline rolls slowly back like an eyelid opening onto God from the underskin of your scalp. Yet, somehow, you are that one you swore you’d never be.
She, fat. You, bald. What do you have to show for yourself? An also-bald grandbaby from the too-young mother who still has temper tantrums at home and dates a clerk from the 7-11, not the baby’s father, and she won’t even tell you who that is for fear you’ll take the twelve-gauge to his house. And the girl might be right about that, so you can’t say she’s totally brainless. She knows her father. You. Bald, sort of. Not fat, really, but with a few love handles that were merely a God-forbid image ten years ago, hell, not even five, and you wonder what the exact day was when you turned, the day you got old, the day your life ran away from you. There you have it. This is the thing. This life you’re living is not yours at all, but here you are, sucker. Tough shit, tough guy, this is your life. What other choice do you have?
And what choice does she have, worrying every weekday about a layoff, her vindictive boss, her ailing parents, sitting still for ten-hour shifts at her call-center monitor, fielding unhappy customers while a line of coffeecakes calls to her from the grey counter in the break room? Oh, you’d like to blame her for it, but those voices must sound pretty good during a shitty day, loving, comforting, especially when you’re the jerk who can’t always get it up in the evenings. And the worst part is that now it sometimes doesn’t even bother you that you can’t get it up. Oh well, you think. Sorry babe, you say. Guess I’ll go clean the garage, you think. And this is your life. Bury yourself now or suck up and live with it.
You understand her. You know those thighs, the ribbed lip of her C-section scar, those swollen breasts that hurt like hell, that you rubbed Palmer’s cocoa lotion into when she was nursing your slut of a daughter, back before the girl could even utter the word sex. Back when she could only suck her mother for milk. Innocence. Man, weren’t you all innocent back then?
Back then, you didn’t know how hard it would be, and you’re glad nobody ever told you, or you might’ve cashed in your chips early and checked out. Back then you had the luxury of dreams, the dreams your daughter is giving up far earlier than you and her mother had to give them up. Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. Those dreams are not your life. This is your life.
She hurries up the aisle, her paisleys swishing across her hips like flags, having forgotten her purse in the ladies’ room with the ceremony about to start. You look at her face. She’s smiling at you. She sails toward you like some sturdy ship, her eyes and everything in her smiling, as if you aren’t the man with love handles, as if your head is not staring up at the sky like a slowly opening eye. She smiles like that day never came, the one where you must have lost it all. In her, you are yesterday and today. You are less scared about tomorrow. She smiles at you like you are the man you always secretly wanted to be, but feared you never were.
Claudine Guertin lives and writes in Chicago. She earned her M.F.A. at Queens University in Charlotte. Her writing has appeared in Chicago Social, Capper’s, Permission and other journals and has received an editorial nomination for storySouth’s Million Writers Award. She recently completed her first novel, entitled Lakers.