One Last Thing: Seventeen and Spectacular

I caught a glimpse of her when I turned onto the narrow lane of cottages facing the open sea. Something about the sunlight reflecting off her hair clip or the silver bracelets she wore on both wrists caught my eye. Curious, I pulled the car to the side of the road to watch our daughter in a rare, unguarded moment. She looked spectacular.

She was there with friends “hanging out” – so aptly called that for the languid way their bodies slouched against one another and anything nearby. I could hear her voice, clear and high, rather matter-of-fact. Teenagers all seem to talk that way, as if everything were obvious to everybody. I strained to hear what they were talking about.

They all laughed, then continued talking in bursts of babble, staccato and legato, trampling each other’s sentences inconsequentially. Their glee was full-throated, the kind that challenges old people and makes them uncomfortable.

The way the sun hit her hair and made it gleam made me start; I hadn’t noticed how the summer had fashioned natural highlights from her crown to the wavy ends against her shoulders. “Would it be possible to do that to mine?” I might say to my hairdresser when I returned home to New York. Looking at the highlights again, I couldn’t tell if she had recently showered and whether or not her hair was wet. If so, perhaps that would explain why her skin seemed moist and the fleshy part under her eyes was flushed.

As she spoke, she twirled in on herself to the arms of a boy sitting on the bench. She sat on his lap and continued talking, pretending not to notice the unadulterated electricity between them. I’m sure she noticed though. Looking away, my face burned as even I felt a charge.

I smiled. Though confident, she didn’t think herself so pretty. Yet everyone mentioned her beauty: her long, dark hair and eyelashes, her kind eyes and ready smile. She had that easy way about her – comfortable in her smile, with the swing of her arms when she walked.

But my husband wouldn’t approve: of her hanging out in the park with friends, the guy whose arms crossed around her waist, the way they all dressed.

“These kids are out of control,” he’d say, sucking his teeth and complaining about public displays of affection and how they played their music too loudly – how inappropriate it all was and what the world was coming to. But I didn’t feel that way. There’s a vitality and hopefulness in young people.

Besides, my husband and I had been that way too once. Before we gave in to grown-up ways, accommodating children and in-laws and celebrating birthdays with too many candles. Like my daughter, I also had been spectacular. In fact, my husband had sought it out, a sparkly complement to his quiet, matte finish.

I returned home needing to go to the bathroom. “Just a minute,“ I said when our boys heard the screen door slam shut after me, and they all began to talk at once. They were hungry and quibbling. My husband was asking the obvious, “You’re back?”

Running the tap at full force to drown out their voices and the televisions blaring in two rooms, I reached for the soap, mushy and floating in its own milky puddle. A single wavy strand of hair clung to its side. I groaned. I glanced up into the harsh lights of the vanity to see myself stretched forward over the sink, glaring.

I stared in contemplation, seeing that entire territories had shifted. The visible texture of my skin was something I hadn’t noticed before, the thousands of miniscule craters, so evenly spaced down my nose and across my cheeks. My eyebrows had thinned and a solitary hair sprouted near the underside of my chin. Hurriedly, I pinched the coarse stem and yanked hard. Bewildered, I couldn’t remember when my face had changed and why I hadn’t noticed it before.

I seemed ordinary. Once, I had been almost gem-like, a delicate adornment for my husband to pull out at will and cherish. Yet I had grown weary of being cradled for the dazzle he needed. He had grown weary too, of my wayward sparks that eventually felt glaring or brash. Years passed. Upon closer observation, both of us found me scuffed. Not always sparkling. No longer seventeen.

Slanted sun streamed through the bathroom window.

Emerging from the bathroom, I smiled at my husband and offered, “What do you say we all go to the beach for a sunset picnic?” I might have preferred a strappy dress and sandals to cut-offs and bug spray, but life was more complicated now. “We could pick up some food on the way, bundle up in blankets with the boys. A glass of wine,” I trailed off, leaving some of the imagery to him.

He hesitated. It was true it was harder to mine the spectacular in me these days. But it was there. I was still active and adventurous. I was happy, and it showed. Archiving my gifts, familiar yet strangely foreign these days, my husband shrugged: “Sure. Why not?”

I quipped, “I’ll try not to get jealous if you ogle the sunset.”