I think of a woman, sometimes. She is younger than my mother but older than my sister would be, if I had one. Sometimes, she is polished and strong and seems to be coated in something like Teflon or shatterproof glass. She wears suits—immaculate with pristine pin stripes, wrinkleless and taut like her cheekbones—and her hair is dark and smooth, and she has lovers but she doesn’t love any of them, really. I imagine that in the evenings, when she is done with corporate and important and serious things that require a complicated cell phone and high blood pressure, she takes off her clothes and scrutinizes herself in a mirror, and then slides into a tub of scalding hot water and holds a glass of wine to her forehead and sighs with both stress and satisfaction.
Other times, she is soft and mussed and torn a little around the edges, and she has laugh lines at the corners of her mouth and crow’s feet around her eyes. She wears old, faded sundresses that she probably owned in college and leather sandals that have molded to her feet, and she has messy, curly hair the color of the pale kernels near the top of an ear of corn. She has a boyfriend or maybe a husband who’s a writer, like her, and a house full of animals. In the evenings, they cook together, chopping and stirring and pouring and solemnly placing dabs of flour on each other’s noses; and they fall asleep holding hands.
This woman is wise. She knows about love and heartbreak and loss. She knows when to throw out old milk and how often you really need to vacuum and how to balance a checkbook. This woman knows things, and I want to ask her questions.
I want to ask her if, when I am her age, I will think about the boys I’ve been with: the ones I write off now as a drunken mistake or no big deal, the ones whose names will escape me in a few years or maybe even a few months. The ones I stumble home with and let clumsily struggle with the clasp on my bra, the ones I let awkwardly kiss and touch and sometimes fuck me, the ones whose beds I sneak out of in the morning, clutching my shoes in one hand as I silently shut the door. I want to ask her if I will regret these encounters, if I will find as I grow up that these boys have, at some point, slipped into my heart and dug out something that I will miss later. I want to ask her if I will remember the one who stands out among them now as the one who really broke my heart, or if I will have forgotten him too.
I want to ask her if, when I am her age, I will lament the things I’ve done, things that seem okay now because I’m twenty and wild and will surely grow up sometime but things that may nudge at my conscience later as unnecessary or unhealthy or bad. Things like throwing back ten shots in a night and dancing on tables until I’m dizzy, or smoking too much weed before dinner and laughing loudly and inappropriately in public, or making out with my best friend in the middle of a party. I want to ask her about the extent of the consequences of these actions: if they will end with a morning spent throwing up, a splitting headache and moment’s embarrassment, or if they will follow me as I grow up, turning me into the sad-eyed, middle-aged woman alone at the bar.
I want to ask her if, when I am her age, I will appreciate the effort I put into my work: if my GPA will matter, if anyone will care about the title on my diploma. If the all-nighters, fueled by caffeine pills and coffee and cigarettes will have any result besides fatigue and shaky hands and three extra points on a test; if the extra reviewing of essays will have been proof of a hard work ethic and integrity or of just slightly obsessive tendencies. I want to ask her if these things will have mattered—the extra points and lost hours of sleep—or if I will just wish I had had more fun and worried a little less. I want to ask her if these things will have gotten me a bigger office or a higher salary, or if these are things I even want.
I want to ask her if, when I am her age, I will have figured out how to clean my shower so that I don’t feel dirtier when I sit on the floor to shave my legs. I want to ask her where I will live—if my love affair with the South and its afternoon thunderstorms and cicadas and heat will have ended, if I will live in a small apartment in a city or a sprawling house with a lawn and trees. I want to ask her if I will have learned how to do my laundry so that my whites don’t end up blue. I want to ask her if my mother will still be my best friend. I want to ask her if I will love my job—if I will have a job. I want to ask her if she will know any of these answers. I have so many questions for her, but I suppose I’ll have to wait.