antique eyes

by Amy Turn Sharp


I am obsessed with the notion that inside of all of the very old people are still young people screaming and freaking out. I walked the long isle of the Athens County farmer's market with my 91 year old grandmother on Saturday. We shuffled like a dance with her walker and my deliberate small steps. We touched melons and stroked produce grown on the hills so sweet and thick all around us. We laughed as light hot rain started to fall.  I am helpless not to stare at her lately as she is nearly translucent. She is so feather soft and her skin hangs slack like velvet. She is molting and there is not much left to shed as I feel all of her sharp bones when I hold her against me like a lover. She is shorter than ever and I feel like a tall angel above her. I have wings. I am her ferryman to the next great thing.

She tells me more and more than she ever did. About her past. Her absent father. Her life. Her husband. I sit still and soak it in and ask her for more of her recipe cards. Please write things down I ask her all the time because I am so comforted by her handwriting. It is swirly and perfect and of a time long ago when handwriting was important. She gives me baubles and trinkets and any large furniture she can get rid of as she is arming me with my future. I came home with my great grandmother's necklaces.

I drank like 1996 in the bars over the weekend while my grandmother sat in her chair and watched television. I bounced and beamed all over the town. I took full advantage of a night alone. My friends and I spun barstools like children and our laughs filled small spaces. At the end of the evening I stood inside a tiny tavern bathroom. A tavern that holds the most perfect combination of good and bad in my memory bank. I stood in front of the mirror and dared myself to forget all the things I knew. You cannot forget.  I am sure I am still so young that there are a million things I can still do I thought. I just kept looking and all the vodka swirled around and I wanted to cry.

One of the first poems that I ever wrote was about my grandmother and it was all over the place and subversive and daring and I wondered through the words about sex and old people and passion and lust. I tried to find the words to make sense of all of the pulsating ridiculous feelings that I had inside of my twenty year old body. I thought it was certain that the old people had to be dead inside because they did not seem to have the violent beautiful ache that the young people did. I don't know where that poem is now but I know it was trying very hard to understand me.

And I am older now. I am old enough that I can notice youth. I saw it all around me in the bars of my old university town. I felt myself reverting to type. I am the most popular girl in the room. I started using my humor and red lipstick. I was relieved to find myself not yet invisible. I could hold a gaze. I was interesting and charm fell out of my body and filled the bar. You could almost drown in it.  I called my husband and he laughed at me when I told him that my friends and I got hit on by old men and ex convicts. I told him that we had to do the old "pour the shots on the floor" trick because there were too many being passed to us.  He told me to get home soon. I pushed my body up against his and I could tell I wasn't old to him. I could feel it as soon as my dress hit the floor. It sounded like an ache that made a noise.

And granny she looks at me. All the way inside of my eyes. I know that she cannot even believe it that she is this old. She tells me that 5.00 is too damn much for peaches at the market. She cannot run. She cannot skip. But she did do all the things that I am doing now. She did have a full rich life full of passion and love and things I may never know about. She walked into rooms and her black hair hit the light like a menace once. She had a husband that made her toes curl. She heard the baby cry and her breasts leaked love. She passed through the same stages. They all did. The old ones. We all do.

If I had a lot of money I would travel the world taking down the histories of the old people. I would harness photography equipment and cameras and recording devices to me and just learn about them. I am helpless when I look in their eyes.

I sat on my bed nude today. I wore my great grandmother's costume jewelry necklaces. Three of them. They are large and heavy and white. I sat there and practiced remembering all of it. I focused on a particular point of my bedroom wall and practiced staring like a young one. If I am lucky enough to be an old one like her someday I will look inside of a beautiful young woman's eyes and I will melt her heart. I will make her cry.