I’ve learned a hundred things about sex. Another hundred about pain. Another couple hundred about joy and hedonism and survival. I’ve learned how to steal and why to steal and who not to steal from. I know tricks for hot weather and cold weather and smoke-filled air, but a steep flight of stairs can hold me hostage. I know chances are good I’ll live to be seventy but am not sure about more than that, or that the planet will still be here then. I know twenty years seemed an eternity when I only thought I’d last eighteen, and now that I’m fifty it seems not nearly long enough.
The beach and the desert have taught me similar lessons about perspective and paying attention. About letting go and being still and small and grateful. About the line between sky and not sky, between me and everything else, and how fluid those are. Grains of sand under my feet and slippery clouds of dust, grabbing hold of my flesh and following me home. Reminders in the rush of city and daily life of an endless day of being in the moment. Of beauty that can hurt you if you’re careless or heal you if you let it. Of all the beings that live there, and what it means to be a guest.
I gather rocks and sticks and feathers and shells and photos and place them on my altars, the best treasures I can find. The smooth green oval for that time I was missing my family and crying into my scarf, ocean breeze blowing my salt into the waves. The red sedimentary heart from the forest of saguaros on the day of perfect happiness and serendipitous monsoon pool, the smile of my heartsister brighter than the sun. The driftwood wing of silvered cedar found when I flew my first kite in my forties, wind tugging me into the sky. The spotted silvery feather left by a mourning dove when she outwitted a snake, both of them hungry to survive.
My body is marked by years and revelations and sorrow and transformation. By ink and scar and heavy stainless steel pierced through and grounding me into meat and water and bone and the ground it stands on. By gravity and injury and labor and resistance. By the weight that has been added and the pieces that have been removed. It curves and sags and thrills and aches and sings and comforts and terrifies. It roars. In my dreams at night, it soars. It lets other people in, but not always. It taps and sways along to the music even though it can’t dance much anymore. It finds ways to dance.
I’ve learned that massaging muscle and adjusting bone are necessary. That garlic and onions are poison. That I will hurt on cold mornings and after long drives and long walks and long nights of fucking and long days of work. I’ve learned that my body needs cisterns of water and groves of weed. The release of writing and laughter and the moon shining down shameless. The anchor of baths and plants and wet dirt in the sunshine. I know that I need a tiny pink pill before breakfast. A comfortable chair, and sometimes a cane. A tens unit for the bad days. Patience for the worse ones. Breaks for stretching and frustration and forgiveness.
Trees and ice both measure age in rings. Time makes riverbeds wider and mountains smaller. Seasons change and these days are wildly unpredictable. Perhaps it will snow for weeks or not at all. Perhaps it will be hot for months instead of weeks. Perhaps it will rain. Perhaps the earth will shake or slide or burn. The planet seems stable and constant until it isn’t. A sudden flood was months or years in the making. Volcanoes are constantly preparing to erupt. Hurricanes bide their time in the clouds, crossing the seas. Lightning strikes where it meant to, because it has to.
My body can’t do all the things it used to. Before unexplained chronic pain and thyroid deficiencies and immune system misfires and repetitive injury and growing older. Before assaults and no insurance and dental issues. The changes of aging and capitalism. Decades of damage and manual labor. It sometimes strides but often limps. It creaks and cracks and falters. It complains. It pushes through another pain spike, another cloud of chemical scents, another joint ache or headache or gut ache or back ache. Another night of clenched jaws. Another day of making do.
I’ve learned a hundred things about compromise. Another hundred about persistence. Another couple hundred about solidarity and sorrow and passion. I’ve learned how to give and what to give and who not to give to. I know tricks for leaky sinks and missing windows and moldy bathrooms but a face full of perfume will knock me out all day. I know chances are good I’ll die before I’m seventy but I’m gonna live my best life until then, or until the planet kicks us out. I know twenty years seemed an eternity when I only thought I’d last eighteen, and now that I’m fifty it seems like such a gift.