Taking Mace on Dates, My Grandfather, and Why the Time is Now

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My grandfather and I were never close. He died this summer, and I don’t feel any regret about us not being closer, because I don’t think it would have ever been any other way. I didn’t confide in him. We rarely spoke. Rather, we communicated mostly in birthday cards, formal “Hellos” and “How are you’s,” and the collectible quarters he would send to me in rectangular cherry packages with United States emblems embossed on the tops. We didn’t know each other all that well. And yet, not so long ago, he told me something I really wanted to hear. Over breakfast in a casino, the slot machines roiling, his fingers were gnarled and still on his lap, as he looked at me and said: “Not everyone has to be a lawyer.”  At the time, I’d just found out I’d done poorly on the LSAT. And when my grandfather winked, he threw a net of EASY DOES IT over my seemingly GIANT PROBLEM. Suddenly, it didn’t seem to matter so much what I did, as long as I was happy. My grandfather was good. Now, via a lot of paperwork and effort on the part of airline representatives and morticians, his body has been flown from Las Vegas to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, which is the town my Dad grew up in. Stevens Point. With its cedars and junipers. Its loons and thick summer air. Its bugs and boats. Fishing lures and cheese. Its red and white checkered tablecloths, long grasses, deer, and the memories I barely remember.

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There’s something my grandfather used to say, and of everything he ever said, it will be the thing that sticks to the inside of my mind like cooked spaghetti to a refrigerator. My parents repeated this adage to me so many times, I am not even sure I ever heard my grandfather actually say the words. Regardless, over the years, I would be putting away my Beanie Babies. Grabbing my field hockey stick. Heading out the door with the phone at my ear to meet friends for happy hour, and it would be like my grandfather was there instead of thousands of miles away: “Well, you know what Grandpa Hal always says,” my Mom or Dad would say. And I’d hem and I’d haw, and I would reply: “I know, I know. The time is now.”

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I have spent a lot of my life in a moment other than the one I am in. I have wasted time worrying. I have wanted to hurry up. To get to a better future than the present I am in. I have glorified a past that – seen through rose-colored glasses – never existed in the first place. And honestly, when I try to really be here, sometimes it’s hard. So I try to fill it out: “Right now, my heart is beating. Right now, I am twenty-eight years old. Right now, I am healthy. Right now, I am loved by not just one person, but (I start to count them). And damn that new mid-century modern credenza I got from Hillcrest looks good…”

Being here, I think about where my friends and I are in life. What we are doing, eating, and buying online. And it’s clear to see that we are not finished. We are queens-in-progress.

For example, recently, I made my good girlfriend promise to take mace with her on her date. She did. She was meeting the 46-year-old United pilot for the second time (whom she calls “Daddy” in jest), and it occurred to us both that, since he was driving, and since they were going hiking in the middle of the woods, he could chop her up into little pieces and no one would ever know. Rest assured: she is alive. She had to end it with Daddy.

A few nights ago, the women in my book club and I discussed the hard parts of motherhood with a mild horror: “It just seems so terrible,” Jen, who teaches at a middle school, said as we sat on the grass in the park above the surfers: “Two hours before school lets out, you start to see a line of mini-vans out in front of the school. Two hours. Then the moms are driving their kids to piano and Hebrew school and cheerleading practice, and in between then, somewhere, they rush home to make dinner,” the rest of us nodded solemnly. The sunset was great (the surf was not, I noticed). A poodle with a purple afro sniffed the ground. I ate another block of cheese. “I don’t know, man,” Jen shook her head of wavy, shiny blonde hair. “I kind of see them (her hypothetical children) coming up to me saying: ‘Mommy, I’m hungry, feed me. I want dinner,’ And I imagine myself saying, ‘Well, I want to go on vacation to Thailand!”

My friends and I are in our mid-twenties to late-thirties. And while our furniture, salaries, and the people we date are getting better, we are not done. As humans, we kind of want to be done. We are hard-wired to want to know what’s going to happen next. But what I’ve wondered lately is: are we ever? Do we ever feel done? Do we ever feel like we have “arrived”? I am starting to think this never happens. And then, if that’s the case, have I essentially spent a lot of time chasing after something that’s always moving, like the end of a rainbow that I can never reach?

My grandfather was a great man. He was a cardigan-wearing, hard-working kind of person who was onto something when he essentially said: “You don’t have a lot of time on this earth – so do what you want to do, and do it now.” And I do want to do that. But I also want to add to that.

I want to take risks. I want to squeeze every last bit out of life. But while I do, I also want to remember to think about how I am orienting myself to the world. How much I am loving myself for the person I am right this moment, at 10:29 p.m. on Thursday, August 11th. I want to think about now more. And how I can never get it back again. I don’t want to take it for granted. I don’t want to miss it.

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