When I was in grade school I couldn't wait to be 10. Something about the double-digit thing, the way it looked-- it seemed perfect. I knew everything would be amazing when I turned 10. At 10, the world did improve for me; I discovered rock and roll. I had my first cigarette; just holding it and watching it burn slowly was a coming-of-age thrill. My legs were disproportionately long; I didn't really appreciate my attributes, although boys asked me to dance and even kissed me. I desperately longed for braces on my teeth; I thought they would make me look older.
Boys required patience. Crushes were painful and took weeks to cultivate. A nervous exchange prefaced another long wait-- by the telephone, where there was little privacy and sibling competition.
Sometimes you'd have to wait a whole summer to talk to your young paramour. He might send a postcard and even the stamp would be magical.
These days love requires less waiting; texting has telescoped the space between us, and made some relationships cheaper. The waiting, contrary to the song, is not really the hardest part, but the best, in a way. We have forfeited this luxury of time in the interest of convenience.
Yesterday I was in a funk and walked up through East Harlem, as I often do when I want to blend into the local population. Daylight hours uptown mostly mothers and young children are on the streets-- also the disabled and non-working. It always seems there are so many more wheelchairs and amputees there. A man I often see hangs out on 104th Street; he is handsome, but has no legs. Sometimes he is eating. I wonder if he needs help to use the bathroom… he is waiting, patiently, for someone to come home, for his helper-- a wife, a son or daughter. He doesn't wave. Dogs wait patiently in the tenements for their owners to come home. I walk-- wait on lines, still without a phone, so I can feel time. I sense the miles up and back, the chatter and the music from open windows, the Mexican vs. Puerto Rican accent and style-- grown men in costumes of sports celebrities, women in loose colorful clothing. At the grocery store they call me Mami and tell me to Vaya con Dios. They don't care how I am dressed. I walk through the Meer and there are men on benches smoking and sitting. Some of them fish. I always think of the Old Man and the Sea. Some of them have dogs who sit patiently beside them, waiting.
Passing the hospital, there are people in the blue wheelchairs outside, waiting for the ambulette or for a family member. Some are old and some are young. Some have IV tubes and have turned the color of their medications. They want to go home, they have finished the daily treatment torment. They are waiting for the pain to return, or for the pain to subside. Some look at me with sorrow in their eyes, but most are not looking anywhere. They wait. I bless the warm weather.
When I was a teenager I came home and waited for the next day. We'd watch this show called 'Never Too Young' and the time between episodes was interminable. The nights were long, the walks to school were eventful and tinged with the anticipation of seeing whichever boy was carrying my books between classes. The space between things was so full and rich… you dreamed, you invented, you sang to yourself, you wished and longed for things.
My first husband used to go on the road, and these intervals were unbearable. To be physically apart was unthinkable and we would write and sometimes speak over great distances at great expense… and it was passionate and terrible. These times have receded like old waves… the longing subsided and other longings came to take its place.
It's politically incorrect to say this, but I feel sorry for women who don't experience motherhood. This waiting is epic and long. It is both anxious and peaceful-- it ties every single woman in the world together.. from princesses to African artisan-women to O-lan in The Good Earth who was my first literary version of a birth-giver. We are blessed with hundreds of days in which to anticipate and wonder, learn to love our new life, to talk to it, to worry about the suffering ahead, whether their hair will be curly or straight, whether they will be happy. And just when you are so tired of carrying this weight… you suddenly do not want it to happen… you want to stay this way forever-- connected, attached-- with the two heartbeats-- you want to prolong the waiting… but it happens, and the days of infancy are so long and difficult and sleepless, and you feel this endless passage of time with an archetypal slowness…
But here we are--- waiting to go onstage now, with children grown, with so much life behind us- and even this time feels foreshortened. We sit in a doctor's office, waiting for a bit of pain, knowing it will pass, and that we will pass, and our sorrows will pass, even though they are unbearable. We will no longer be waiting at some point which keeps approaching with almost terrifying acceleration.
My niece is in a waiting pattern. She is waiting for love, she is texting and tweeting and sending out instagram photos and dreaming of these boys and men who don't really exist but are like digital pin-ups. This kind of waiting is not good, I tell her. You must go out and begin your life. You must find your actual physical space and take your place because these celebrity fantasies and fairy tales do not just happen. Life is what happens when you stop texting and you listen to your heart. You must embrace the wait-- the physical passage of time-- the loneliness and the longing and the not-knowing. Like an explorer, you must suffer the voyage before you are rewarded with the discovery-- you must log long days and weeks wondering if there will even be a place for you at the end of the distance. You must learn to believe.
I still use public transportation exclusively. I like the required 'wait' for a bus or train. I read and think, and use my writer's voice to invent lines and make up songs. I am conscious these days that my time is short and the waiting may not be as sweet. The distance is not as great between points as when I was 10, but without the waiting, our lives are like words without punctuation, without line breaks, without space and without time. The beating of our hearts is the real timekeeper and to fail to listen is to fail to leave space for love to come in--sometimes when we least expect it, even when we fail to recognize it--- there it is, as though it has been waiting forever.