He stood, his hand resting on the hoe that he was using to dig up his garden his head spinning just from the simple act of looking down at the overturned soil, his breath coming in short gasps. He hated when he started to feel this way.
He spent most of his days outside when the weather permitted, his hands in the dirt, making his own compost, and planting his own vegetables. It was ingrained in him, the earth underneath his fingernails, blisters and calluses gracing the palm of his hand. He learned that the hard way, working on the farm in Kansas when he was a young man. It was beaten into him through the hot sun on his neck and the weariness of a hard day’s work. He stretched, amazed at how tiresome his bones got these days. When did it all pass? he wondered to himself, more times than not lately. His bones were tired and weak; his knees giving him trouble in the mornings until he got the juices in his joints moving, his fingers swollen from the arthritis that plagued him day in and day out. He really did hate feeling this way. He slowly wiped the sweat from his brow and looked at his old, age spotted hands, a sense of weariness settling into him. God, it had all passed so quickly.
Earl was an old man now, his brain still trying to wrap itself around the idea that time had moved him through his life without him even realizing the passing of the years. He felt young in his mind, the ideas of projects and things to do, creating a whirlwind of activity that he wanted to participate in, but his body simply wouldn’t allow. His memory sometimes played tricks on him too. Sometimes it was hard to remember where he put his keys, much less to take his medication, or how the dang computer was supposed to work. He often wished he could just go back to cans and strings. Technology was moving too fast for him to keep up, and sometimes that just made him more tired.
He just couldn’t believe that he ached so badly in the mornings, too tired to do the things that he eagerly used to jump up and tackle with enthusiasm, just as dawn was cresting over the mountain peaks of the Sandians. And even though he continued to rise with the sun, he just couldn’t seem to get moving the way that he used to. Retirement didn’t agree with him either. It found him bored and restless even though his body protested the movements and chores that he still wanted to accomplish to feel useful, to feel as though he wasn’t wasting his time, or merely surviving being trapped in the house. He blinked into the desert sun, the smell of dust and city grime reaching his nostrils as the cars passed by on the busy street behind his house. The area has swollen over the years and was now a hub of activity. Yuppy coffee houses and foo-foo shops had taken over the empty fields where he used to toss the frisbee with his late dog. It just all changed so fast.
He had lived in Albuquerque for most of his life, born and raised on the high desert with its sagebrush and tumbleweeds. When he was younger his skin would take on the hue of the land, brown and dry, his lungs burning with the blaze of the dust that often came in from the mesa in little tornados and dirt devils. He would bake while chasing down errant hot-air balloons in the warm October afternoons and fry when he tinkered with his old ‘66 fastback Barracuda. The sun would soak into his skin and he would relish in the sweat of his honest labor.
The heat very rarely agreed with him anymore. He could barely stand to be in anything hotter than 74* and that was on a good day. Now the heat worked on keeping him inside some days, making him feel cooped up and lazy, giving his body a heavy leaden feeling that he seemed to suffer from when it got too hot. He hated that lazy feeling, like he wasn’t contributing to taking care of his house, his family, although his girls were grown and living lives of their own. How he missed them. Despite the fact that they talked on the phone quite frequently, although he didn’t consider texting talking, he missed having one of them sit with him and just chat. Just someone to share his ideas with. His youngest daughter loved to help and tried to accomplish the things that needed to be done, even if it meant doing something that she wasn’t very comfortable doing. His eldest, however, she had the ideas and creativity to help him see how to complete a project in a different light, how to add just a little bit of something extra. Both of them now, however much he hated to admit it, had their own lives and were moving on without him. It was often this loneliness that got him down on most days. He seemed to be having a harder time finding his own happiness these days, the silence of the empty house while his wife was at work often felt as though it was a weight, crushing him until he could hardly stand it and had to go outside. But, sometimes that didn’t alleviate the loneliness. He really did need to get out more and meet some new people. Maybe he should start going back to the gym.
He sighed heavily as he raked into the dirt again, his stubbornness was determined to get the tomato plants put into the earth today even if he had to sacrifice his own comfort in order to get it done. It was going to be hot tomorrow and he wanted to make sure that the seedlings were planted before he couldn’t stand the heat anymore. As his aching shoulders lifted the soil from its bed, he thought back to the time when he was younger, strong and able, hefting hay bales and mending fence posts with ease and confidence. But that was before Colorado, before his wife and family, before when he was still a rebel and unafraid of growing old. Ah, to be so young again.
His youngest daughter’s voice calls to him from the kitchen. His grandson is on the phone. If only he had his energy. He places the hoe against the house and moves into cool rush of air slipped through the glass doors. He looks at his daughter as he takes the phone from her and then he pictures his eldest in his mind as her voice comes over the line with an exuberant 5 year-old echoing in the background, and for the briefest of moments, he forgets. He forgets about the pain and achiness, the melancholy and the overwhelming loneliness. Amanda smiles at him as she turns back to do the dishes in the sink and he puts the phone to his ear to hear Rebecca’s melodious voice. This was why, he realizes suddenly. This was why it moved so fast. Not because time was being cruel to him and that he missed out on so much, or that he was given more than his fair share of grief just because Fate was feeling less than kind. No. He had made his choices, and whether he regretted them or not, they were the reasons why. They were the lights of his life, even if they were living lives of their own and seemed too far away to care about his daily existence. And no matter how far they were, or how busy they seemed to be, they would always be his own special lights of Albuquerque.