From a manuscript in progress. Her collection of essays, Essays One, will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in November.
It takes me so long to get used to new things in my life that when I am tired I call my husband by the name of that other husband I used to have, although it was a long time ago by now, and this new son by the name of that first son I had, who was in my life for ten long years before this one came. But it is worse than that, since when I am even more tired, I remember only the other husband and the first son.
When I married that other husband, I was not yet used to being a girl of eighteen but thought I was even younger, maybe twelve, and that he was my older brother, and I teased him like a little sister until he swatted me away. And then, when my first son was born, I was not yet used to being a woman of twenty-nine and thought I was younger, maybe a girl of eighteen, still a child herself, really, and not old enough to be a good mother.
Now I look at a young woman standing here before me with her mother, and I think that her mother could be my mother too, she could be our shared mother, because I think I am still a young woman, though I am the same age as that mother. It may take me a long time to learn that I am the same age as that mother is now. But I will be still older by then, and will have learned the wrong thing.
I look at another motherly woman of middle age and think she might be my mother, although I am nearly her age myself. But if I see that she cannot be my mother after all, I lose not only this woman, as a mother, who might have been my mother now, but also my own mother, as she was at that age.
If I continue to look at motherly women of this age, thinking they might be my mother, and wishing they might be my mother, that they might come into, or back into, my life to take care of me, I continue to forget that I am now even older than they are.
I cannot get used to the disappearance of my mother or my father, either, who were in charge of things and took care of things, in their own way, and took care of me, and of all of us, who made plans and changed them, who lost their way in the car and found it again, who lost their keys to the house, to the car, and to the hotel room, and found them again. I cannot get used to the disappearance of that beautiful older sister pursued by college men, or to the disappearance of that high school brother with his Latin book and his touch-typing book and his cello.
Sometimes I forget I am a woman at all, and at these times I am not inside this woman’s body with its signs of age, but inside a smaller body, a very small body, a body with no gender, or not much, a body that wants to go out into the morning sunlight and climb an apple tree.