Time Gap: Shock of Ages

Originally posted to MySpace on:

May 16, 2008

Last week, I had another shock to my system. Well, shock might be a strong word—let’s call it “disappointment, surprise”—nah, let’s keep it “shock.” I was working the night shift at the portrait studio when these five adults (three girls and two guys) came in for some pictures. There were only two of us working that night, with five groups waiting for the whole gamut of service—pictures, sales, pickups, backrubs (just kidding)—so they had something to give to their moms, so multitasking became a whole new nightmare for me. But everyone was patient, so I thanked God for big miracles (patience in South Florida is no small miracle).

Anyway, the five adults already had their pictures taken, as did two other groups waiting for viewing at the same time, so it was time for me to walk them through the picture set. As I bounced from group to group trying to give everyone a fair amount of time with service, though knowing full well just how lousy it was, I couldn’t help but notice how unfamiliar the five adults were to me. And that in itself was shocking, because one of the girls was a girl I knew pretty well back in elementary school.

Awkward.

Every so often I’ll run into someone I know from the past. Usually, the distance is short—five years, ten years tops. In this case, time was a behemoth, as this was the longest gap between frequent interaction and brief reunion I had with a single person in probably ever. The last time I saw her was in sixth grade.

In elementary school, I was part of the gifted program, which didn’t mean I knew everything, but meant, rather, that I had the ability to know everything. In the class, each grade had only a handful of students, but my grade had the fewest (from second grade to early fifth grade there were only two of us). When fifth grade got a decent running start, however, a girl moved to South Florida from some other state and joined the gifted program, disrupting the two-person niche we had. So now there were three, and it stayed that way until the end of sixth grade when we all graduated to junior high.

Fast forward twenty years and I only recognized the girl’s name.

Sometimes people carry a strong resemblance of his or her childhood self into adulthood, and identifying her as someone you know becomes easy. But in jumping from age twelve to thirty-two, the rules seem to change. Everything you remember is mush.

And hence, my shock. Everything about the girl was foreign to me, and I had seen her in class every day for more than a year. What the hell happened?

In the last few years, this time gap happened with three other people. Two I recognized, one—another graduate of the elementary school gifted program, but one who also attended my high school, so the distance in time wasn’t as great—I didn’t. The one thing they all had in common: they all looked old.

According to memory, these people had smooth skin, soft eyes, and general youthfulness. Then they went off to college, had families (well, half of them did), and gained about ten to fifteen years of age.

Now they have skin spots, coarse areas around the eyes, and this look about them that says: “Look at me, or don’t; doesn’t matter, really.” And I find it surprising because these people are my own age. Which means…

I don’t think I have to elaborate where this is going. Looking at my thinning scalp reminds me that I’m one of them—I’m one of the old guys on youth’s totem pole. In the last couple of months I’ve had people think I was twenty-three and couldn’t help but wonder if they were clinically insane. I mean, did they not see my scalp? Did they not see the wrinkles branching out from my eyelids or the hair trying to migrate below the back of my neck? What twenty-three-year-old looks like he belongs in middle management somewhere? I’ve got gray spots in various places. Come on!

I’m not usually age conscious, granted. I’m still in that hybrid stage where I can run around without killing myself, and yet, still have to watch what I eat. It’s not a bad place, just a weird one. It’s a place where playing Guitar Hero is perfectly accepted, but talking to a nineteen-year-old girl, even on friendly terms, starts to feel creepy. And recalling a moment when I was five years old, thinking I could never die because I closed my eyes, opened them, and I was still there, makes my getting here all the stranger.

Given the speed of time these days, however, it makes me wonder just how much faster it can fly before I close my eyes and discover that I can’t reopen them.

So, now it’s time for us to sing a song: If you’re aging and you know it, clap your hands! Oops, careful. Arthritis.

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