Joe Aguilar

Joe Aguilar is the author of Half Out Where. Recent work is in Sprung Formal, The Threepenny Review, and Tin House.


I don’t know how to grow up.

What’s to get?

Fused growth plates?

Proctologists. Expensive haircuts.

Maybe it just feels like the end, the first end before the last end.

My uncle said I’m taller than him now, either because he’s shrunk or because I’ve grown. I said that’s so depressing.

He said here’s Kleenex, son, but it was a Sheetz receipt.

This is a joke to him.

When you pause at the top of a ride, it seems the world lays itself out for you.

From here you can see the end that’s the start.

I’m talking about where everyone’s lingering for you, waiting to get on.

People board the thing and leave the thing, other people board the thing and the other people leave the thing so other other people can board the thing, until the hour comes when everyone has agreed to leave, and now somebody earning less an hour than what an airport milkshake costs shuts off the machine.

That’s not exactly what I mean.

What I mean is does anybody else feel burdened with this dread?

I can sense graying hairs behind my face ready to press into the future. A force shrivels my gums back, driving out the cartilage in my ears and nose, hugging in the bones around.

You might pay for dental work. You might investigate rhinoplasty.

Even the thought of surgery already liberates me.

I shave every hint of hair, above or below. I grease any rashes that result.

I stream cartoons on my laptop to soothe myself.

My brother tauntingly calls me Peter, as in Pan.

But even Peter Pan admits, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

I cultivate nostalgia for feelings I can’t understand anymore.

In seventh grade, I had few friendships that moved me, but Philip always played me ping-pong at lunch, left-handed. He was right-handed. He never explained.

He wore this new A’s hat low. His eyes were a green that echoed the fresh, beautiful color of his hat.

I suspected he hadn’t tried to match.

He couldn’t pronounce “r” right. His pockets were torn out. He farted loudly during class, even while others stared, disbelieving.

Why does Philip stick?

My heart lurched when he spoke my name.

It devastated me. It devastates me, this love that can’t touch what I am now.

I’d say what’s shifted is the expectation of what love is. It’s relieved me from an obsession with my own giddiness.

What’s not to like? Maturity like this sounds wonderful.

While the momentum broadens you toward possibilities outside the corporeal, it also traps you deeper in your flesh.

Your hip.

The winter air.

The shrinking ability to read road signs.

The mirror.

Okay. My uncle’s father—the uncle who likes jokes—my father’s father too, this is my grandfather who I am talking about: he died last week.

I can’t face how long his death took.

Whenever I would visit his apartment to surprise him with lunch, he said, “Joey, I don’t know why the Lord hasn’t taken me yet, but here I am.”

Once he threw his pinched-in eyes up toward the stains on the walls from his cigarette smoke and he yelled to his Lord, “Strike me down!”

Later his spine bent so badly it injured his organs.

It was the most evilly unnatural natural process.

He visited a discount chiropractor, who adjusted him vigorously enough to fracture his back. The discount chiropractor was protected from malpractice by fine print.

My grandfather wore a cheap brace he’d found online. He slept hunched on a cot in the smallest bedroom. Everything smelled yellowing, like bandages.

He never forgot my birthday.

He’d bought me the ping-pong paddle I used for Philip. It had its own leatherette case.

Don’t many people age gracefully, joyfully?

For example?

I guess there’s this famous artist in his eighties who everyone posts pictures of, who wears an expensive little Panama hat and has tattoos up to his knuckles? Or there’s this woman in her nineties, a viral star, with articles about her in various large online publications, she’s witty, she says “fuck” a lot, and she dyes her hair pink?

No, that sounds very depressing.

My grandfather’s sister used to say “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple.” She died alone in a nursing home, in a hospital gown. I don’t know the color.

She was not someone who let others in. I’d guess she wasn’t unpleasant or shy, only indifferent.

She would have filled the passenger seats of her car with empty soda cans. She would have ordered every channel possible for her television.

I only saw her at weddings or funerals. She would whisper her faraway, wry pronouncements, like she never expected an audience.

Today, I find myself eating breakfast alone at a café by the waterfall. Through the window water falls. A group of elderly women arrives, in a fog of perfume, carrying shiny gift bags. They greet each other. They linger in their hugs.

They pass out bright, meticulously-wrapped presents, which they open, one by one, different books of different colors. They inscribe long messages in each other’s volumes. They take their time.

They laugh and laugh.

They lay their hands on each other’s wrists. They ask about each other’s granddaughters’ soccer teams, each other’s backs, each other’s feet.

They pass the syrup. They exclaim sincerely over their pancakes’ delicacy.

They do not check their compact mirrors or their phones.

None has dyed their silver hair.

What they are is hidden from me.

I look down at the shoes I paid too much for online.

The water falls over the rocks.

It shines silver. It allows its own movement.

I wonder how long it will go on like that. ●

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