Monday, August 1, 2016


I used to be strong. I was the strong girl, and then the strong woman. That was one of my things. I could lift heavy objects. Move furniture. Open a tightly sealed jar. Beat most people at arm wrestling. One woman I knew marveled at how strong my hands were, when she asked me to help her wring out soaking wet towels that had fallen into a river. That strength, it was no small thing. It was a part of who I was and how I identified. It was a part of how people saw me. I liked that strength. It gave me confidence, not only in my ability to carry a heavy suitcase, but in my ability to carry myself through life in a way that suited me. Capable. Determined. Fearless. Without hesitation. Physical strength goes a long way towards building other types of strength.

A few nights ago, I found myself lying back, looking up at the stars, in the middle of the desert, next to the person I hold dearest of anyone I know. We were young together, once, this woman and I. We were not much more than girls, then, really. That night, though, in the desert, even though we felt young, it was just an illusion. It's easy to feel young when you're flat on your back, under a vast sky, with a beautiful woman for company.

"Damn it," I mumble, under my breath, trying not to yelp in pain.

"Your back?" she asks.

"It's ok," I answer.

"Can I do anything?" she asks.

"I'll be fine," I reply, "I just need not to move for a little while."

And so we don't move. We lay under the stars for a good, long time. We see a planet. Saturn? Maybe Jupiter? And shooting stars - lots of shooting stars. We see the waxing crescent moon, and the clouds slowly rolling in to block the moonlight. We hear coyotes and an owl. When we can no longer fight exhaustion, we stand up - me slowly, methodically - and head back into the warm house, where we don't bother turning on the light. Instead, we make our way to bed in the dark and, without words, we kick off our sandals and jeans, and climb in under the covers. Sleepwalkers - that's what we are like. Already asleep, for all intents and purposes, and just looking for a warm place to do our sleeping horizontally.

It is not much later when I feel her stirring, and then sitting bolt upright.

"Damn it," she says, under her breath, trying not to wake me, forgetting we're in this thing together.

"Your back?" I ask.

"It's ok," she answers.

"Can I do anything?" I ask.

"I'll be fine," she replies, "I just need to sit up for a little while."

In the morning, the sunlight streaming through the window wakes us both. Each of us wants to ask how the other is feeling, but neither of us does. Instead, we just lay still, letting the warm sun shine in on us.

I make a move towards rolling over to face her, but change my mind as I feel a twinge in my lower back.

"I used to be so strong," I say, dangerously close to sounding pathetic.

She sighs.

"I remember," she replies, "I used to be strong, too. I used to move so easily when I danced."

"I used to be able to move furniture. Now, I can barely hold myself up."

"We're not young, anymore, is all," she says.

"I'm not sure I know what to do, now that I'm not The Strong Girl, anymore, but The Woman With The Crumbling Back."

"We'll both do the same thing," she answers, without hesitation, "We'll hold each other up."


D3athLily said...

Time certainly does know how to change us all in similar ways. I was a sprinter in school but now I can't even run without getting shin splints. Hope your back gets better tho!

Danielle Dayney said...

Oh I love the ending here. Isn't that what love is about? Holding eachother up when the other is weak. Beautiful.

Ellen said...

I feel your pain! You have described my life so well (only it's not my back, but other joint pain). You wrote this perfectly without sounding pathetic!

meg said...

Funny -- I was thinking today that I still think of myself as 30, even though I'm nearly twice that age today. I used to be strong too. Now my knees ache.

This essay's structure is beautiful -- that flat, flat ground we occupy more often as we age. I especially love the echoing of this: "It gave me confidence, not only in my ability to carry a heavy suitcase, but in my ability to carry myself through life in a way that suited me."

tammy said...

Gorgeous. And it also proves that you are me. God, I hate being weak.