I can turn eighteen again as long as I avoid mirrors or rising from a chair without first placing both hands on the chair’s arms and pushing up, as long as I don’t attempt to throw a baseball to a grandson or extend my glove hand to catch the ball the boy throws back.
I have learned gratitude—my wife’s keeping me around. How could it be almost forty-six years? When I look at her, I see that long-limbed girl striding across the campus, her red hair flouncing, what our sons call her hippie dress, its field of wildflowers, swaying above her sandals, her green eyes dangerous as her smile. Dangerous still. When she looks at me, I wonder what she sees.
Let me be as truthful as is now possible. If I go, it will be because of Marc, his emails refusing to excuse me from such a reuniting. He capitalized, in italics, the intransitive, but no less insistent verb, IS in, “It IS our 50th. Have you forgotten you were senior-class president?”
I have not forgotten this: Our sophomore year, Marc knocked on my door, saved me from Saturday nights watching Have Gun, Will Travel and Gunsmoke with my parents. Who else would have rescued a 90-pound weakling even Charles Atlas and Joe Weider would have abandoned to a lifetime of beach sand kicked in his face?
Who else would have offered me weeknights after football practice, weekends and summers, for three years, loading sacks of Macobar drilling mud, each sack weighing more than I did, onto a flatbed truck to haul to East Texas drilling rigs and become the sidekick, the Boy Wonder to Batman, Captain America, Sergeant Rock? When Marc shames me into at least registering for our class reunion, he doesn’t say, “Remember who you are, who you come from.” He doesn’t need to add, “You owe me.”
What possible truth would seem the truth excusing me from such a simple request? Who would believe I have not stayed away fifty years? Who would accept such a conundrum—how I have never left. How I have been with them every day since 1964 when I packed my ’55 Ford Fairlane, drove off to college, that redhead in the practice room, her long fingers easing a Chopin prelude. . . .
Who could accept my explaining how I have been with them every morning at 4:30 when I sit down at my desk with a cup of coffee and my writing notebook, all absolved people sleeping? They are present in everything I have written, although most will not recognize themselves. And how will they recognize me? Who will rise and smile, extending a hand, “Oh, look who’s come. Welcome home. We forgive you”?