“It’s okay to be old,” she told him. “A lot of folks don’t get that chance.”
“I’m okay with it,” he said. “Sometimes I wish it didn’t take so damned long. You lose so much along the way.”
“There’s that,” she said, and kissed him on the cheek. It was still soft, that kiss, soft against his worn skin, and it still meant something. He asked her once if those kisses were a habit, like the cold cream before bed, or dropping a sugar cube in her coffee every morning.
“Not habit. An addiction, maybe. Maybe I’m a kiss junkie.” Her eyes sparkled when she said it. It was one of the advantages of growing old. You could say things like that and not feel foolish. If you said it to a 20-something, like Mister Grocery Clerk at Food Lion — her eyes still sparkle — he’d probably cough into his hand and stare past your shoulders. There’s a special on navel oranges this week, Mr. R, he’d say, and, well, the hell with him. An old man could say any damned thing he wanted to, if it was true. He could say it to her, and she’d understand that he meant it.
“Your eyes still sparkle,” he said, and she winked.
“Fairy dust,” she said. “Darn old fairy dropped her bushel on me when I was sleeping.”
When he was a young man, he couldn’t wait until he was older. A young man suffers for his inexperience. He fumbles as he learns, gets drunk as a penance for his ignorance, and aches to learn more. A young man is alone in his heart, and yearns to be more noble, immune to foolish clatter. There’s no such thing as a noble twenty-year-old, he thought.
So he wished for age. To be thirty, or — no, even better, fifty. He would be stronger, wiser, and be amused by his former ignorance. He’d have a wife by then, of course. A good wife, and they would have built themselves a solid life, a life of ambitions, of passions, a gallery of memories, a shared marital language.
When he turned sixty, ah, that would be the prime of life, he thought. A solid foundation, full of richly textured accomplishments, deep understandings. Winding down a busy life, preparing for sunsets. Old age may not be for sissies, he thought, but if you made it that far, the rewards were terrific.
And then she died last September. Twenty-seven years of marriage, fifty-five years old.
Sometimes it’s okay to be young, she said, and she kissed him on the cheek.
It’s okay to be young, he thought. A lot of folks miss their chance.