by Terry Hargrove
I don’t regret any of the formal education I’ve received over the years. It’s unlikely I ever would have invented an alphabet on my own, and math has come in handy every now and then, especially the part about negative numbers. I use those a lot these days. But there are many lessons that I had to learn on my own, from the world, and that knowledge was gained through great physical and emotional pain. I know that water balloons don’t belong in church. I know that when The Dad told me to go get a switch (after I took the water balloons to church), I shouldn’t have dragged back a tree limb as a way of making a statement. Because The Dad used that tree limb to make his own statement, and at the end of the day, his statement was far more memorable. I know it’s a bad idea to try and make a pet of a goat. Poor, poor Hargoat. Let’s not go there.
The best thing about learning lessons on your own is that the world is constantly trying to teach us stuff, even when we’re slouching in the back of the room trying to sleep. Just yesterday, as I stepped out from the hot downburst that was my morning shower, I discovered a monster in my bathroom.
Nancy arrived in a flash.
“What’s wrong? Did another huge, hairy spider drop from the ceiling?” she asked.
“No, no, it’s…what do you mean by ANOTHER spider? Never mind. This was worse,” I gasped. “I stepped out of the shower and I saw this huge, awful two-legged thing! It was gigantic! And all lumpy and hairy and hunched over.”
“Where did you see it?” she asked.
“Right there,” I whispered. “See? It’s still there. It’s looking at me.”
“Honey, that’s the mirror,” she said. “You need professional help.”
“The mirror?” I asked. “That’s even worse! That means that that loathsome, disgusting creature is me! I look like Quasimodo without a tan.”
“Yeah, uh huh, Would you please cover yourself?” she asked.
“I tried,” I said. “These towels don’t fit me anymore. Just like my pants and my shirts. I think there’s something wrong with our dryer. Why can’t they make a relaxed fit towel?”
She stood there looking at me, and I felt naked and stupid. Because I was naked and stupid. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the mirror.
“You know, In Julius Caesar, Brutus said ‘The eye sees not itself but by reflection.’ Maybe my reflection is broken.”
“Maybe,” laughed Nancy. “But I think there’s a more logical explanation. You’re 53 years old. You don’t have the body of a young man anymore, and ever since you broke your elbow, you haven’t done much more than sit around, eat, and watch TV. You need to be more active.”
“But there’s ice everywhere,” I protested. “I don’t want to fall and break my elbow again, or worse: break the other one.”
“There is the treadmill,” she added.
“Are you kidding?” I scoffed. “Honey, where are we going to hang our clothes if I start walking on the treadmill? Oh, no! Look. My legs don’t match anymore. The right one has a different shape from the other one.”
“Yes, you had that problem with your calf two years ago,” she said. “Remember? You couldn’t walk without pain for three months, you complained about it for three more months, then your ankle turned all blue and black and it got better. Ever since, your calves don’t match. But it doesn’t really matter because your thighs never matched. That one sort of lumps out to the right. See?”
“I see now,” I said.
“But it doesn’t matter since your knees have always had that weird– I don’t know how to describe it– otherworldly appearance. Even now I have a hard time looking away from your knees. They are strange. You’ve never had surgery on your knees?”
“Not that I can recall,” I said. “But it’s officially on my to-do list. Still, the legs don’t bother me as much as my other parts. I can cover my legs, I don’t have to wear shorts, or swim or surf.”
“Surf,” snorted Nancy. “There’s a beach hazard.”
“But look at this?” I exclaimed, grabbing my side. “I‘m a walking side table. I could put my lunch here as I eat. I look like I’m overflowing.”
“That’s true,” said Nancy. “It reminds me of the time we tried to make muffins and we poured too much batter into the cups.”
“I remember those muffins,” I said. “They were delicious.”
“Do you know the muffin man,” sang Nancy. “The muffin man, the muffin man. Yes I know the muffin man, he’s 53 years old.”
“Since I broke my left elbow, I can’t straighten my left arm anymore,” I said. “It will always hook out like that. And when I move it, I can see the metal plate they put in.
Just look at that scar. I can’t hide that this summer. Throw me a blanket so I can cover myself. No, a bigger blanket. That quilt will do.”
“You’re really bothered by this, aren’t you?” she asked. “Honey, it’s natural. It happens to everybody. I still love you, and I’m not saying that just because you’re an excellent wind break. You are a handsome man.“
“I am a handsome man,“ I repeated. “A large, oddly bent, handsome man.”
“And good cover in a driving rain.”
“I always knew I’d get old one day, but I imagined it happening suddenly, in about 35 years. I thought it would be like falling off a cliff, but it was more like a casual stroll down a very gentle hill. Do you know, when I was Joey’s age, The Dad was 30. When The Dad was the age I am now, I was 28. Joey will have no memory of me being anything other than an old man. I’ve had people mistake me for his grandfather. And it will just get worse. That wind and rain takes a toll. Maybe those are the real monsters.”
“Maybe,” she said. “But it isn’t windy or rainy today. Why don’t you go and play with Joey. I have to take a shower myself.”
“Do you want me to check for spiders?” I asked.
“No thanks,” she said. “I’ll be down in 30 minutes.”
I helped Joey construct a massive Hot Wheels track that stretched across the floor of the basement. It truly was grand. 29 minutes later, I heard Nancy scream as she got out of the shower. It was probably another huge, hairy spider dropping down from the ceiling, but I spent a few minutes clearing all the clothes off the treadmill. Just in case.