Intersections – A Life in Years
By Nicki Salcedo
I started my year with reflections and optimism. For me, optimism is not a natural thing. I’m a gloom and doom person. I have to try to be positive. I work at being happy like it’s my day job. I don’t think about the future much. The future is just going to happen to me. I can try to live without regret, but regrets will happen, so I savor the past. I pick out the good from what has happened, and hope for the good in what is yet to come.
I am now the big 4-0. If you ask me, I will tell you how old I am and much I weigh. I made a promise to myself five years ago that I would never hide my age or weight ever again. I am reflecting on forty good years. Good doesn’t mean perfect. Good means I’ve had a little bit of heartache and sadness and surprises and joy. Not too much of anything is a good life for me. My biography will be blissfully short. My life will be measured in years.
Forty years ago, I was born on a tiny island in the middle of the pale blue sea. Thirty-eight years ago, we flew to a country that I love as much as the land of my birth. I may not be able to be President here, but my kids might. Twenty-two years ago, I ran away to California because I wanted to see oceans and mountains, big valleys and yellow prairies. I found an ever-present chill in the air. That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. It was refreshing and startling at times. Not all places are a warm blanket like my Georgia home.
Twenty years ago, he asked me if I would be his girlfriend. I told him “No” even though I liked him. Fourteen years ago, he asked if we should get married. I asked him if he meant to each other. He did. Eleven years ago, we thought it would be funny to have a cat named after Greg Maddux.
Ten years ago, we nicknamed my pregnant stomach Lucky. Eight years ago our luck ran out, and there was a baby who didn’t make it. Seven years ago, our daughter became 7 of 9 grandkids. If you can raise your kids on Star Trek jokes and baseball references they might turn out okay. We won’t know if this is true for another twenty years.
Four years ago, we had that nice trip to Puerto Rico and came home expecting baby number four. The surprise baby. No one told me I would cry equally for the ones I would have and the one I lost. Three years ago, she was born on a day it snowed. I thought I was going to die. Two years ago, someone thought they might like to buy my novel. A year and a half ago, I did not have to have that biopsy.
Last year, I turned thirty-nine. On my birthday, I ate a pound of crab legs with my mom and dad and husband. I stood in the morning light of Piedmont Park and watched my kids run across a completely empty meadow. Two weeks later, my father died. I used to be ashamed to cry, but now I’m not.
We survived last Thanksgiving Day with dirt from the cemetery still on our shoes. I spent every day of this year learning to navigate overwhelming grief and disappointment. I’ve learned to look for happiness. I’ve learned to let happiness find me.
Today, though I like him a lot, I would never called my husband my best friend. He knows this. But I am still his girlfriend. I write to make sense of the world. When it rains my kids say, “Mommy, isn’t this your favorite kind of day?” I like sunshine, and I like shadows. I do laundry like I’m fighting the plague. I love birthdays. I don’t wish for anything, because I never get what I wish for. I put myself in uncomfortable situations on purpose. I find feeling comfortable unsettling. I have watched grief and happiness become good friends in my life. I often see them holding hands.
What is a life? We count the days and years between our birth and death. We count candles. We blow out the flames. But I don’t like to. I’d rather keep track of the years. I’d rather keep the candles burning.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.