The fine fine line

by thanklemons

I don’t see them yet, but I know they’re going to appear. Someday soon. Along my face will be the tiny ridges, testaments to every smile and frown and raise of the eyebrows. “Crow’s feet”, “smile lines” — we come up with creative names for a very simple piece of the aging process, the loss of epidermal elasticity and the gradual way the skin changes with time. I feel my face and try to imagine what it will be like in the future.

When I look at others, I catch myself examining their faces, the particular way their features blend together. If they are young, I try to envision how they will age, where the creases may appear, how they will angle. If they are old, I try to reverse the process; in my mind’s eye, the wrinkles melt away and I catch a glimpse of what was, the Before. On my own, I sometimes let this fast forward and rewind play back and forth. I alternate smiling and scowling, the lines appear and disappear next to my eyes and mouth. I move the muscles so many times that I start to see the lines even when they’re relaxed; it’s like they’re already here, prematurely permanent.

We learn a lot from faces. Evolution molded us this way, after all, to understand expressions and body language. We read one another. Looking at him sometimes, though, it’s like there’s nothing to read. A blank page where I was expecting a novel. With time, maybe it’s meant to appear, etching itself into every glance and turn of the eyes. I hold on, waiting for something I feel like I’ve earned. In turn, my own anticipation colors my expression; I can feel the lines coming in, creases of worry, furrows of brow and chin. Related not just to us, but, in fact, to everything–all the mis-stepped beginnings and faltered journeys. Sometimes, I am an engine, stalling out, unable to cross the threshold to start the race or I arrive at a boundary and cannot cross, cannot muster the strength to surmount it. Maybe it’s a boundary I invent for myself, a line in the sand I’ve drawn, but it digs itself deeper once it’s appeared.

It’s a mark of youth and relative innocence to wield an unmarked face. Untouched by the cracks and folds of adulthood and responsibility and disappointment and longing, all the pieces you might call the earned stripes of a life fully lived. When I touch my own skin, it’s clear I’m stripeless yet. I wonder if others can read me, wonder what it is he sees, wonder why it doesn’t show. After a while, some things do become clear– clarity from the ambiguity. We read each other; it should be easy. Why is this hard?

I scowl at the mirror and trace the creases with my fingers. Lines I don’t know how to cross. The reflection morphs, and I see you instead. In the Here and Now. Somehow real, though uninvited, intangible, an image on the glass. Today, I see things unraveling in your eyes and there’s nothing for me to do but wait.

I don’t see it yet, but I know that it will appear — a finish line, of sorts. If love never ends, this can’t be it. I see the ending, scripted, already written. The After.