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  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

Every Twenty Years

Age 20

I feel so old. Almost twenty-one. It’s a big deal. It’s where life begins, when you think about it. It will for me, at least. College, career, kids, life. The whole drill.

My friends are good. And my family. They keep me grounded, help me know my place. I get afraid sometimes, not sure what to do or say, but the answers come later. Now is the time for action, and there’s no sense in wasting my youth on fear. Probably the most important lesson, I think, and I learned it early. That’s a blessing.

Age 40

Mid-life crisis always struck me as a strange concept. I wondered if I’d be “old” at forty, fat and bald. If I live to be a hundred, am I forty percent dead? Yet I feel great, like I’ve always felt.

I’ve settled down once or twice, but it’s hard to be with people. They’re never the same, it seems. I married one woman and divorced another with the same name. Some friends have left me now, and family. Lost to time and space and age. 

I can count the dogs I’ve raised. Six, to be sure. Although some I had to give away. Are they alive? September, my latest. Golden retriever, thick fur and a long tongue that yo-yoed as he panted after a run. Loyal creatures, dogs. Where is he now? He followed me for years, but not everyone can keep up. Rest in peace, old friends.

How am I keeping together so well? My mind is changing, yet my body isn’t. It keeps me bold.

But I’ve made mistakes, and I’ll have to live with them.

Age 60

The water was cold, at the time. I remember it, such a simple memory. The two of us, alone in public. Swimming. Kissing.

I held the dock with one hand while she rode me, our privates exposed in the wet, the dark. Yet warm. And lovely. Algae, the lake was thick with it. All life, though; every bit of it—clinging to our hair and skin. The algae’s bright green—green as her eyes—against her white-gold hair. We kept quiet as people hovered not far down the park bank, playing disc games or throwing rocks. Only the two of us were in the water, not afraid of the lake or each other or the world.

But the lake’s frozen now. I can hardly beat through the ice with the heel of my boot. The dock doesn’t bob as I walk along its rotting planks. How can this be the same place in my mind? No one could swim in this now.

It’s not the same place, though. I mean, it is. On a map it is. But not on a calendar. And not to the universe, which has expanded and expanded, shooting this lonely dock millions and billions of miles away from that time, that place. I could never walk back. It looks like the same place, yet it’s been changed—it’s different in every way.

Sweet solace, sweet comfort.

Age 80

I shave my head every day now, just to look different. It’s a strange look, but it’s something new, and I like that. I still have the appearance of a man of twenty. I still feel like a man of twenty. My hair grows quickly through the day, to the same outdated style I chose in college, when it was cool to look this way. 

Bald never goes out of style.

Bruises also heal quickly, although not one. The one on my hip, from cliff diving with my friends in the Ozarks. I bashed against a blunt rock. A nice bruise. One to brag about. Now I say it’s a birthmark, and sometimes I believe it.

I forget things, though, and that’s good. It’s the best. My blessing is having the memory of a human, unchanged. It doesn’t recall what was for dinner last night, nor my mother’s face. I’m seventy now—or eighty. All men go through this. It’s sad, but it’s not abnormal. At least I’m still normal.

Age 100

The world is growing, and changing, and enhancing itself. It’s still round, though. Or spherical or whatever. It still loops around the sun like a merry-go-round. But things change.

There’s this bug thing, like a space bug. It fascinates me. It’s been re-categorized five times in my life. It gets a new classification every twenty years or so, a new name. Yet it’s the same, no matter the microscope. It does what it does, always; yet no one can agree what that is or was or will be.

I like philosophy for that reason. It’s hard not to like philosophy as you get older. The big questions. They never die. The answer changes with the age, with the culture—if there ever was an answer. What’s right today is wrong tomorrow, the undying question unmoved and the infinite answers a bright justification.

I wonder what the lake is like.

Age 120

All the world I’ve traveled. Yet none of it. You never know how much the universe has to offer until you try to take it home. You realize your hands are too small to carry it all at once. Small handfuls, then. The old has faded and the shelves are empty—fresh space for fresh offerings.

I’ve been to Thailand seven times now. For years sometimes. Yet there are inches I’ve never stepped, people I’ve never met. And always more. It’s 300 million miles away from the last place I visited, that last time. Always moving. It’ll never be that Thailand again, yet there’s always more Thailand. New Thailand.

I’m thinking Canada looks nice. Toronto has a new boundary, they say. Same name, though, but more land. Redefined culture. It’s more Frenchy.

Age 140

Human ambition is a strange thing. Always be better, I tell myself. Yet, how? I’ve never done more than 180 push-ups. Ever. I work, I exercise, I eat right, but my body won’t grow other than to maintain. When I get weak, I heal. But I never get stronger. I never get better. It’s part of my condition, I know.

I’m grumpy for my apparent age. No use being with young people. I love them, of course. Their liveliness is contagious. But I know too much. Naivety bothers me to the core. Bad judgment, reckless behavior. The simple things, like not bringing a jacket, or asking for money from the wrong people. And so fragile, they are. I can make the stupid mistakes, yet I won’t. I know better. They know nothing.

They renamed that damned bug again, too. Pisses me off. Make up your damned mind!

Age 160

They warn of loneliness—of being in a world where everyone dies around you, and being stuck with the memory. But my memory is hardly a bucket big enough for all of that water. It could never store the contents of a lake. I know there are things I should be sad about, but they fade. And I can’t recall what I can’t recall what I can’t recall.

One thing I know for certain, though, is the loneliness. It’s not reserved for me. Everyone has it. I had it when I was twenty. I remember that much. I’ve been reading a bit about a second type of loneliness, one where you stand in a crowd, trapped within yourself. How do you escape your self? How do you join the outer world from that crow’s nest in the darkness of your mind? You can’t, it seems. I’ve been lonely for over a hundred years. Long before my condition.

Nothing’s changed all so much, has it?

Age 180

People have started to notice. How has it taken so long!? I’ve been everywhere, known everyone. I’m the headline across the world, a superstar. I guess my quiet nature was enough to hide before, but my face is everywhere now. No more hiding, not that I ever meant to. No more than any man. I’ve always been trapped within my body of water...

Age 200

All these faces scare me. It’s like I’m a kid again, surrounded by adults, all so much older than I am. How do I relate? Do we even speak the same language? I’m scared, I’ll admit. Always. Forever, I’m scared. Everyone is, no matter how many millions of billions of miles we sail through the stars, or how many years pass. Nothing changes, even when it does. Everything looks different, but it’s the same. I’m only now starting to learn the truth of it.

They say you’re a whole new person every twenty years, that you shed skin and metamorphose. Some science-types say that the caterpillar dies before becoming a butterfly, and that the two insects aren’t the same. They brought that up again... for the space bug. It cocooned itself, finally. When it comes out again, it’ll be a new thing entirely—in appearance as well as name. 

I have that to look forward to.


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