25. Overheard in the Jacuzzi, February, 2016
Old age confers a strange sort of invisibility. I don’t know whether it is that people assume I am too old to hear or just that I am harmless. In any event, I will occasionally lounge in the jacuzzi of our condo complex in the late afternoon — a pleasure I cannot indulge in Maine. One 10-minute turn of the dial, a sea of hot bubbles, and I relax beneath a huge Torrey Pine watching the giant pine cones struggle to hold on to their waning purchase.
This afternoon, just an hour or so ago, I found two people in the jacuzzi as I approached. Closer inspection revealed them to be (I am guessing) twelve or thirteen year-olds, one male and one female. They were deep in earnest conversation — barely looked up to acknowledge my intrusion. I am guessing they are cousins: too excited by their conversation to be brother and sister, surely not boy friend/girl friend.
They were painfully awkward. He was wearing (as they spoke) a pair of full swim goggles. If a goose could speak it would have her voice. No matter; they were intent on figuring out the world: school, friends, relationships, parents, etc..
They sat partially submerged on the steps of the jacuzzi as I settled into the “deep end”. His feet were above his head as he leaned back against the inside of the railing that bisected the stairs. She sat somewhat above him, shoulders hunched. Both had adult-sized bodies, but without the definition that accompanies adulthood.
Each was trying out a persona: she tried to understand the world by asking questions — almost after every sentence: “when? really? he said what?” He was trying to understand the world by explaining it. He would offer a theory/interpretation; she would accept it and press for more. It was clear that he had no idea what he was taking about — perhaps just happy to have an audience. Conversely, she had no idea what she was asking about; perhaps just happy to glean what (little) information she might. When I entered the jacuzzi their conversation was about being “held back”. What did it mean? how did it happen? why?
If they were a year younger they would have been on opposite sides of the jacuzzi and the conversation would not have happened. A year later and I suspect it would not have happened in front of me.
It brought to my mind how difficult it is to be young. How strange and threatening the world can be? How little self control is available. There may be some challenges in old age, but they pale when compared to the terror of adolescence.
When the young metaphysicians left I was soon joined by a little girl I took to be about four and her mother. They were almost the opposite of the former occupants: laughing, confident, conversing in a joyful/sharing manner completely without apprehension or awkwardness. Evidently the girl and her mother had been to a birthday party earlier that afternoon. They were discussing it: the mother prompting her daughter’s memories. “What was your favorite part of ….” and clarifying what they had just experienced. For instance, the daughter thought her mother had baked all the cookies. The mother explained that she had baked only some. “Did you like the little pink ones? Abby’s mother made them. I thought they were delicious, did you?” “Oh, yes.” Unlike the previous occupants, each knew her role and played it perfectly.
Evidently, each child at the party was allowed an amount of play money with which to “purchase” the cookies. The mother was congratulating her daughter on how well she handled the money — pointing out that some kids ran out of “money”. The daughter clearly appreciated the compliment and proudly explained her theory of cookie selection. They were as full of fun as the adolescents were full of trepidation.
So how is it that a confident, bubbling young girl of four turns into a fumbling adolescent of 13??? Clearly, it is the addition of self-consciousness, (that most precious of gifts), that screws us up — at least for awhile. The little girl is who she is; there is no gap between her and herself. The two adolescents find themselves estranged from themselves, adrift, puzzled, concerned to figure out the world and what it expects of them.
Now, of course, ten years down the line the situation will have reversed. The adolescents will have sorted themselves out, will be off on their individual adventures, while the little girl will have become estranged from herself and from her mother (at least for awhile). She will not laugh freely and effortlessly. It will be her turn to fall into that pit that is adolescence.
I wish all three of them well as they make their way to the irrelevance of old age when they too can sit, invisible, in the jacuzzi.