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My Life in Fractions

My Life in Fractions

When my friend Judy died, at 55, of metastatic breast cancer, I realized my life was  three-fourths over. I did algebra in my head to arrive at this conclusion, eventually resorting to penciling the backs of envelopes with equations, x over 100 equals 55 (my age) over my estimated death at 75.  This would be a long life for my genes.  If I imagine I will live longer, the lower the fraction of my life lived to date, so I could say I am three-fifths done on a good day.  My daughter asks me why she should bother with math homework, and I want to, but refrain from, telling her that she will need to calculate these fractions one day.  Hopefully she has just lived one sixth of her life, if she lives to 78.  She will have at least five more lives.  I will be lucky to have two.

This is the time of life where we really start to realize that our time is limited.  Really limited, not just that we won’t become Olympic athletes or skilled musicians, but that the number of times we will swim in a tropical ocean again may be less than the fingers of both hands.  That instead of writing three books we might write one, or none. That if we are lucky we have achieved 10,000 hours of expertise in our chosen field, but that there isn’t anywhere near the chance to gain 10,000 more. That our children will grow up and that each day our life with them becomes less close, because once they leave they will never come home again in the same way.

In my writing group we used to write about passion.  Now it is about parents dying, about cancer, about our bewildered realization that some things will not come around again.  Marriages end, love affairs ignite and burn out, pets become demented and howl in the night.  I still believe in passion.  The other night I went out to an “older lesbians” nightclub and danced in the crowded sweaty dark, rubbing up against backs, breasts  and bellies. I flirted with someone I had had sex with twenty-five years ago and traded demographics.  Divorced this long, anecdotes about dating, the kids are how old?  When I kissed her goodbye there were meaningful looks and promises to call but so far that hasn’t happened.  When I got home, all pumped up with passion, my teenager made fun of me and asked me how the “old ladies’ club” was.  Sexy, I said defiantly.  Oh mom, that’s just icky, she said, and went back to her computer.  I laid on my bed and closed my eyes, still whirling in the dark.

I had the best sex of my life with my last lover.  I could finally ask for what I wanted and take what was offered without hesitation. It didn’t matter if I was butch enough, femme enough, thin enough, or how long it took me to come. When you have only two-fifths of your life left, where the first fifth and the last probably don’t have much good sex, you take the sex you find and savor it, roll it over your tongue and replay the scenes when you wake up in the night.  On bad nights I don’t know if I will ever fall in love again, or even lust.  On good days I imagine the love of my life is yet to come.

The best part of knowing your time is limited is all the ordinary things that become momentarily precious.  My daughter on a horse, tons of weight leaping in the air over a jump, her legs melding into his back in flight.  Feeling the acuity of my mind as I read a difficult text.  Cutting persimmons and finding perfect stars inside them. Getting lost in a poem as I dust my bookshelves.  The comfort of finally, after all the calls are made, the dishes are done, everyone is fed, of opening up the envelope of my bed with the cozy sheets and sliding under, my book and me, just like when I was fifteen and my life was only one-fifth over.  Only now I am safe and warm and truly myself, which is actually worth more than any length of years that may or may not be left to me, at least in this moment.  This moment, when the telling of this story is five-fifths done.

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3 comments

  • Carmen says:

    Wonderful Betsy! Love the honesty, the passion, the vivid details, the realism and the very engaging writing. Thank you and keep them coming!

  • KAYLAH STERLING says:

    Bestsy: Pristine and tender images of life as it ticks away toward the countdown to transformation… your touching portrayal of parent and child, friends, flirtations, lovers, sickness, grief, humor, loss….and ultimately the awakening and safety of maturity. Congratulations!

  • rachel wahba says:

    hey betsy,
    you speak truth, your truth and the truth we all feel and have to be reminded of. thank you.
    xooxox rachel