I’m Not Staying Long Enough in This Midpart


I’m not staying long enough in this midpart.

I’m at a place in years where friends have kids who have kids in turn. It’s not clear when that started, exactly. I became aware of it only recently. It’s a nice thing – rather remarkable, actually, to hear the name of Nancy Frumpkin, and to wonder whether this would be a daughter – but then, no, that can’t be right, must be a granddaughter – of my classmate Andy Frumpkin. Had no idea she existed. But, well, since she’s here – and a teenager already, to boot! – by all means, welcome.

But I’m afraid I won’t be staying long enough in this midpart, this clearinghouse where people of various generations are visible in both directions, a generation or two (or three) from me: some checking in, some checking out. I’m at the top of a hill. It’s downhill back behind me, but also downhill ahead. And, honestly, it’s a hellacious road, both directions.

It certainly hasn’t been a straight shot to the top, from where I started to where I am now. Not at all. It’s been winding and nasty, and we’ve lost some along the way – Rodney, and Kevin, and Dwight, and probably a whole assortment of others I won’t hear about until the next reunion of some class or family or whatnot, careening off the edge of the road, or their engines failing, or maybe just flat run out of gas, but for whatever reason not making it this far, abandoned back there in places I missed as I shot on past, or anyway won’t be returning to.

I’d actually prefer to stay a bit longer in this midpart, but the vehicle has momentum and it’s plain we’re going to be rolling down the other side soon now. And those who have stopped out back there, behind me, aren’t a fraction of the many who went on ahead. Mom and Dad, I can see, got a good long roll out of it – I can’t yet quite identify what kind of place it was, where they ended up, but I know it’s up ahead somewhere. Or I guess I should say “down ahead,” down in the twists of that road, narrow and gravelly in spots, winding down from this hilltop into trees and swamps I haven’t seen yet. And David, Louanne, Walt and Pete – really, no end to the numbers of them, fantastic people in their own time, all heading onwards where the road led: sometimes letting it roll, sometimes hanging on desperately as they plummeted into tight curves, sometimes just stalling out, down there in spots that I, myself, may or may not reach.

It’s just so funny, to go so quickly from struggling to keep up the forward motion. It was such a hard slog to get here, such a tremendous push just to keep moving; but now I face a prospect that things will be speeding up all on their own. Now I’m suddenly wanting to drag on the brakes, pull off to the side for a while.

Wish I could. I don’t find it a sad height. This midpart seems to be a brief scenic overlook, easy to miss. We’re all tourists in the Smokies, climbing, turning, climbing, rounding a bend among the endless trees – and then suddenly there’s an opening, the clouds part, everybody in the car gasps but, damn, we’re already past the turnoff. Oh, well, it was pretty spectacular, there for a moment, being at the top of this part of the world, seeing it all, or at least an awful lot of it.

Not that there’s just the one turnoff and that’s it. There’s the one, and then the next, some higher and some lower, some wrapped in clouds or obscured by shrubbery. Without quite knowing it, you find you’re already partway down, by the time you finally do make up your mind to definitely turn off, stretch your legs, and take a look. A younger person, on their way up, could have told you that you were already past the peak; but the young don’t come up that side, so you pretty much had to guess and wing it. So then, yep, looks like we’re a bit post-climax after all. Oh, well.

And then, I suspect, it’s on you. In a heartbeat, you go from being on a slight roll, gathering speed as you head downwards, to being completely out of control, lurching into the ditch and then flipping ass over applecart. And that will be the end of you. Because what starts to happen, here in the midpart, is crisis and upheaval, death and devastation, really no end to the variations on the theme we’ve been hearing all along. Same tune but, ah, now we’re a bit more vulnerable. Now, by God, we’re really listening. The broken bone or emotional wound that would have slowed us down for a few weeks, back then, is full ready to provoke a real blowout, and then there we go, over the brink.

This is supposed to be an era, a long slow phase of pleasurable existence. And for some it is. Some manage their approach speed, somehow; they drift up here for a good spell. But even for them, this stage has all the makings of sudden-death exposure to every stray virus and random accident. One little skin blemish that turns out to be melanoma, the accrued payback for all those decades in the sun; one slip on one banana peel and a fall onto the wrong hip. One overlooked clause in the health insurance policy; one virus that would hardly have fazed a younger person; one screwup at the pharmacy. It just takes one – of something, unpredictable – and suddenly we’re viewing the precipice from a completely unacceptable angle.

I, personally, won’t be staying long in this midpart. I’m not sure why not, but I sense that’s so. Thinking back, I can’t even say for sure whether I was always roaring on too fast, or was actually just idling up the hill, poking along far behind most others. It seems like it was both ways at once, though of course that’s impossible.

Well, whatever. Here I am, and not for long. Worry itself seems to accelerate the downward pace, or to make the drop seem more precipitous – and yet who can help but worry? But maybe that’s the trick. Maybe I’m supposed to always remember that I am a tourist. It’s not just any road, this one; it’s the road to the top. It’s the one I chose, intending to get to precisely this point, wherever it is precisely that I really am. Now, of all times, is when I should be most earnestly looking off to the left and right, seeing what I came here to see. That sounds like a half-assed way to drive, but the best tourists do it, and survive; and perhaps I shall too, at least for a while.


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