Changing clothes is a pain in the neck. I mean, I’m already wearing clothes but they won’t do for whatever else is on the itinerary. So I have to pick out an “outfit,” take the clothes I’ve got on off. All the way off. Put the new clothes on. And off I go. Yeah, I know. Easy peasy. Still, a pain in the neck. Why can’t I go everywhere in sweatpants and tee-shirts? Why do I have to change?
I vividly remember the summer when I was twelve. That was the year I got my first period. It was also my last summer of climbing trees. There was a marvelous mulberry tree in our backyard – I think I’ve mentioned this before. It grew beside a fence, which gave me a leg up into the first crotch, and from there all the way to the top. I could take a book, and when the mulberries were ripe I could eat all I wanted. A ripe mulberry tastes like nothing else in the world. Ripe mulberries, when picked, dissolve into a formless mess. You can’t make mulberry pies. But a ripe mulberry fresh from the tree is ambrosia.
So I would take a book, climb as high as I could, and sway back and forth in the top branches pretending I was riding a horse, and come down with both book and me covered with mulberry stains.
That fall I started Junior High School – what we now call Middle School – 7th grade. I was a pretty if skinny child. Some of the boys in my class I noticed were kind of cute. And before I knew it, I stopped climbing trees.
I remember this because one afternoon I spent some time thinking about it. Thinking that it had been a few weeks before I had gone up the old mulberry tree. That I had nearly – horrors – forgotten about it. And I remember thinking that I didn’t want to forget about it. I never wanted to stop climbing trees. I did not want to change.
But I did. I hated it, but I did. Later that fall, I tried to climb it again but it just wasn’t the same. I was too big. Too tall. I didn’t fit well. Climbing no longer felt like the easiest most natural thing in the world to do. It felt awkward. Even uncomfortable. I never climbed it again.
We all think and talk about the difficulties of adolescence, ascribing it to various changes in hormonal levels of one kind and another – I’m sure that plays its part (see above where I start noticing cute boys) – but I’m not sure we pay enough attention to the hardest part of growing up. Change.
Change is hard. We stop being who we once were and become someone else, and we don’t know who that other self is. We’re not sure we like her. We remember liking the kid we were, but that kid doesn’t even exist now except in memory. We can’t even climb a damn tree.
I’ve gone through another change in the past 15 years or so. I’m growing old. Oh, I went through plenty of changes as an adult – a topic for another time – but for the most part those were changes I chose. Reinventing oneself is a continual process from adolescence onward until change comes that can’t be reinvented and I don’t mean menopause. I was still dancing at Dead shows well after menopause. I mean giving up on not looking or feeling 35 for the rest of your life.
I mean getting used to your old face without makeup – because you can’t see well enough to put it on without your glasses and you can’t put on makeup with glasses on. Something has to go. I mean going to a concert with old friends and realizing that you can’t dance anymore. Your back hurts and your feet can’t spell out the rhythm. You run your fingers over the papery wrinkles on the back of your hands and think boy! They look old.
And then, if you get your mind right, you stop fighting it and grow to love it. Like leaving adolescence behind. I still miss the girl who used to climb trees, but I finally met the woman who could fall in love or in lust or in just a little liking. I met the woman who could give birth to a son and a daughter. Who learned to play pool. Who graduated from college with a magna cum laude. Who found the Grateful Dead and learned to dance like nobody was watching. It was kinda like climbing trees.
I met the woman who could hurt when she didn’t mean to and be hurt and survive. The woman who made a home for herself and others. The woman who eventually wrote and self-published three novels. The woman who drove around Britain by herself. Twice.
And now I’m getting to know the old lady with the artfully wrinkled hands who, because she mothered a son who forgave her grasshopper ways, has a room of her own. Who has danced and loved and been all over and back again. Who has no more need to be who she once was, anymore than she needs to climb the maple tree in the back yard, but she remembers and loves them all.
Change came for me and I resented it, every damn time. I don’t even like to change clothes. But change will have its way. You will remember the taste of a mulberry and the way you moved at a Dead show. But you don’t need them anymore. Your hands are beautiful and will become more so. For everyone who has unwanted change thrust upon them, something better is ahead. Take it when it comes along.