For me, the awareness of time began young. My first recollection is of nap time, that soft and quiet slice of the afternoon where I snuggled into bed with my patchwork cat quilt and my doll babies only to waken flushed-cheeked and content in the ethereal pre-dusk light. Then time was mandatory, but a kindness – my body and my mother needed to rest.
All too soon time became less gentle, less friendly, more about pace and movement and accomplishment. School days measured time by subjects and tasks with a bell constantly clanging its passing, sometimes propelling me to the thrill of music or art or the olympic adventures of recess. But too often that bell signaled the ingestion of a razor-edged rock in my stomach – math class.
Math taught me to hate time. Or was it time that taught me to hate math? A half sheet of paper slid on my desk, face down, my pencil sharpened and perched mid-air, quaking as it waited to stab at the simple equations staining the flip side. I had five minutes, then three, then one. This ritual of time and numbers was supposed to increase my aptitude; all it ever did was constipate me with held breaths, attack me with a horde of butterflies with acid-tipped wings and intensify the urge to fill my pants rather than the paper. “Go!” – the teacher’s simple and enthusiastic call to begin these trials mocked me. Such a short word, just a pocket of seconds no bigger than a weeble – but those were the intensely sweaty spiritual minutes when I first felt and understood the words “fear” and “poor” and “needs improvement”. It wasn’t Sesame Street that taught me about the letters C, D and F; it was that teaser, Time and his evil step-brothers, Numbers.
Times-tables may have given me my earliest emotional scars but, coincidentally, the passage of time has faded those scars into relative insignificance. Now time is married to the equally dubious idea of age. Time passes; that seems a universal truth. It’s also presumed that with every second I get older. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for time and age to work their artistry on my face and transform me into something more…mature.
Most of the people around me seem obsessed with staying young, and when they realize the impossibility of that, at least looking young. Women coat their faces with make-up during the day and goop themselves with anti-aging cream by night. Men resort to razoring pre-maturely balding heads or pasting on toupees or spraying on sticky, dyed fibers or surgically relocating strong patches of hair to areas deforested by time. They all resort to whichever effort makes them look younger. I, on the other hand, have donated my hair several times. My bountiful crop will cover many naked or ravaged pates. The mirror reminds me of this every morning.
I see my reflection every 24 hours, often hoping the pure light of dawn will reveal time gone by. The image before me is always the same: a mass of hair, smooth evenly toned skin, the only lines present carved by the upward tip of smiles and laughter. But I’ve been ravaged too. I’ve cried enough tears to erode a little Grand Canyon on these cheeks. I’ve endured the trials of people twice my age. For some reason, time and age have forgotten to paint their battle scars on me.
The gift I want from time it not really to look old. (As much as my face resists, my grandmother’s face and my mother’s hands are the evidence of time’s inevitable power over my DNA.) The gift I want is respect. When you’re attached to a baby face, respect is something metaphysical. I’m not always sure what it means. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t.
I hope in time. Each second, every day, bookends. They are increments with the potential to gift me what I want. I’d rather wake up to a surprise pool party with fluorescent inner tubes and a smoking barbecue than a canoe, reel and tackle. I hope, in time, that I will know what it is like to bask in granted respect rather than having to earn it anew.