I very nearly didn’t ask, not least because it was an incredibly stupid question.
I mean, it was impossible. I understood that it was impossible, and yet I’d seen her.
She had Kat’s hairstyle, certainly, and drove an identical car, but she was clearly a different woman. Like, 50 years different. Her hair was grey-white, her hands hooked over the wheel, bony and withered, and her faced was cragged by what appeared to have been a very full lifetime of experiences. Yet, sunk into that face, surrounded by deep smile-lines, were the eyes I’d fallen in love with. More tired, certainly, but still clearly the same eyes.
She was stuck at a red light, and when she saw me she seemed to look away, as though avoiding my gaze. I started over to the waiting car, but the light changed before I arrived and she sped away.
Sped, by the way, was chosen very deliberately there. Tires squealing and everything, as though she was trying to escape something that terrified her. As though she was trying to escape… me? That made no sense, we’d never met, why would she want to escape me?
So I wondered. Then, realizing how stupid a thing to wonder it truly was, I stopped wondering, shook my head to clear it, and got on with my day. Because I’m a grownup, and grownups get on with what they have to do rather than standing around wondering incredibly stupid nonsense.
Later, once my errands were run, I started to wonder again. I guess I’m not THAT grown up after all.
I let the question nag at me all afternoon, knowing how embarrassing it would be to ask it out loud yet needing to know the truth. I agonized over it, vacillating back and forth on whether to ask or not, but by the time Kat got home from work, I’d resolved not to. It really was unbelievably stupid, after all, both as a question and as something to spend a day obsessing over. So I would put it out of my mind, we’d open a bottle of wine and enjoy a relaxing evening together. So I had decided, and so it would be.
Which is why I was surprised as anyone when the first words out of my mouth when she got home were “Honey? Could you come in here a minute? There’s something I need to ask you…”
My face went red even as I was saying it, I couldn’t believe what I was actually considering. But when she came in, blushing equally guiltily and staring at the floor, my eyes went wide with shock.
“Were you…” I stammered, suddenly certain she was, “did you, I mean… you were the woman? You were the woman?”
It made absolutely no sense, yet I could tell before she even opened her mouth what her answer would be. And when she finally worked up the courage to look up into my eyes, she knew instantly that I knew.
She put a finger to my lips to silence me, which was good because I was sounding dumber with each word I spoke, then silently walked to the kitchen fridge to grab herself a can of diet soda. When she returned I was on the couch, still visibly shaken.
She explained to me that yes, she was occasionally an eighty year-old woman. She had the ability to use years from the end of her life at any time she chose to, and so she used them whenever she had a convenient opportunity. While driving, or evenings when I wasn’t around and she didn’t want to do much more than watch TV, or other such trifling moments. She’d been doing it since she was in her teens, in order to get the years as an old person out of the way in as non-intrusive a way as was possible.
She explained that it was a skill she’d picked up from her grandfather, and that the first time she tried it she immediately dropped dead of a massive stroke at the age of eighty-seven. She’d been dead for nearly ninety seconds before she snapped back to her natural age, and had been plagued by headaches for weeks afterward.
But, she added, when it was pointed out to her that, having died of a massive stroke already, she never had to worry about doing it again, she immediately understood the value of the gift she’d been given.
Since then she’d been getting the years at the end of her life out of the way however she could, and by her count she’d managed to work her way back to somewhere around the age of eighty-one, in the process saving herself six extra years of youth to be used at her leisure.
Which seems insane. Because it is insane. Yet I saw what I saw, and to be honest she does look many years younger than me in spite of us being approximately the same age. I’d clocked it up to my smoking and her taking care of her skin, but if it was this…
Which, of course, it wasn’t. Because like I said, that’s insane. She’d spun a good yarn, but really? She was dealing with aging by getting it out of the way? That’s not even a thing, and hearing her say it out loud drove home this point such that it finally felt real. I was being silly, it was just a woman with a similar hairstyle and similar eyes driving a similar car, Kat happened to be somewhere nearby and had seen how I reacted to it, and she was fucking with me. It was funny, in a way, but I was on to her and the joke was over.
And I could have left it there, honestly I could have.
I could have just laughed it off, or said something along the lines of “Oh, I see what you’re doing, you’re right, it was a stupid thing to ask.” and then offered to order some takeout for dinner. I could have done any of a thousand things, and the matter would’ve been left.
Basically I could have done anything other than say what I wound up saying.
Which she then did.
And there, faced with an eighty one year old version of the woman I loved, slightly stooped, wrinkled and exhausted-looking, wheezing slightly as she breathed, apologetic that she’d never told me any of this before, it became impossible to deny.
Also; impossible to understand. I sputtered and stammered, trying to force my fractured thoughts into something resembling a sentence, failing utterly to express my response to the totality of all that I’d witnessed that day. Eventually, although it was woefully inadequate, I managed to get at least one word to squeak out of my paralyzed throat.
…and then, smiling, she showed me.
So yeah, that’s what happened to me today. Weird, right?
Oh, and sorry it took so long for me to post this. Arthritis in my joints as I type takes some getting used to, and it took me all night to finish…