for her, for me

I've been thinking while swinging a hammer; undressing; hustling to pay the mortgage; hustling to do something glorious; failing; clearing single-track inroads; failing again; squinting deep grooves in bright light; exfoliating.

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After a satisfying day with the belt sander, I peeled off paint-splattered clothes and picked my way to the ocean between highly arranged sushi-tray clusters of 22-year-old girls behind great big sunglasses. Frat boys perused them and threw footballs.

This is when I thought of you, but not for the reasons you might think. Not because one of them was four semesters away from being able to find my cerebral cortex with a stereoscopic camera even though she was born in 1992. We were them, once: greased-up and golden, commodities, china dolls, still-life rotisserie.

It was hot. The water was big. Treading water, I saw shadows and looked down. I was in a school of minnows. A dozen foot-long trout encircled them, mouths open, all of us undulating up and down and up again. I floated and watched the panicked, hungry dance underneath me. I swam back to the beach feeling well, as I am, tingly with cold salt, pale and jiggling. I didn't mind.

When I was 22, I minded, terribly, despite a default buttery brilliance that I couldn't see. I would have dreaded moving around! With my skin out! The guys! What they see! What I see! Hips! Thighs! I would have been grossed out by trout.

There's something innately powerful about not minding trout.

Fresh from our parents, our stomachs may be flat and our asses high and tight. But I remember being two-week-old homebrewed kit wine. Do you?

I reconcile a lament of aging with the absolute certainty that I would never trade places with myself at 22. Relative to who I am now, I had no mysticism. I was less self-assured and more hesitant. A deal is not a good deal if the only pro on the other side of it is an ass.

To be forty is to be ready to drink.

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Adapted from a letter written for an acquaintance when asked to do something for her fortieth. I need it now, for myself. Tell me about your fortieth, your thirtieth, your anything. Your self at 22. Were you prematurely braver than me?