"A Matter of Time" by Jason Gipstein

Updated: Sep 27

Getting old is a kick in the lady garden, Charles. I’ve only said that once to anyone out loud—to my friend, Jeannie (the one who told you that you had the profile of an aristocrat)—and she just pshaw’d me all over the place. Because to her, fifty-eight is young. Given that she’s sixty-eight, though, and blessed with fuck-you genes, I didn’t take her seriously.

I’ll start with the embarrassing stuff, because, well, I’m drunk and I can’t see your face. The men aren’t even looking at me any more as I walk by. I know, I know, feel it from the inside and bla bla bla. That’s the goal, for sure, but if your name isn’t Queen Latifah, it takes a lot of work (especially if you’ve gotten used to the eyes on you). The guys didn’t always stare--well, actually, some of them did—but they always looked.

I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be telling you this, of all people. Maybe I’m still mad at you. Or maybe I just know that wherever you are, you’ll understand. You were (are?) a big enough person to do that.

I’m feeling tonight like I want to tell you everything as if we’d just met. As if we still had all of it in front of us.

I was born dark-haired and stayed that way, which is supposed to mean I had less fun, but I had long legs by the time I was fourteen and nice enough breasts by sixteen that the boys changed my name from Bebe Tidbaum to Bebe Titbaum. As a young feminist, I got in a few guys’ faces when I heard them say it, but part of me liked it. You see, I spent a lot of time reading books, and without those boobs, I might have been Bebe Nerdbaum for the rest of high school.

I will say, though this may sound stuck-up, I always liked my face. Not as much as you, but nobody ever did. As a teen, a couple of my friends told me I looked like a shorter version of Neve Campbell, and I guess I looked a little exotic, too, because a few guys asked me if I was from another country. In any case, once my chest got healthy, I never sat around on a weekend night again.

But it’s like I’m invisible now unless I show a ridiculous amount of cleavage. I won’t cheat like that. A cow could walk by, and if she managed to have her udders on her forehead, she’d have heads turning left and right. Before I met you, I used to say that the only thing more myopic than a man, is a horny man, but I don’t think that’s quite fair. We’re all wired for something. Many somethings, actually. At least that’s what my therapist tells me.

Tony moved away five years ago. I thought he might move back within a couple of states of me after he finally graduated college, but he really likes Tennessee! Rural Tennessee. I love him to death, but he sure does keep spinning out his riddles. How does a sensitive, thin-skinned Jewish kid from San Francisco end up in small town, Tennessee and like it?

Only people with kids can understand what it’s like to have yours go off and never come back. I don’t mean that the way it sounds—Tony regularly visits and I go see him—but he’s made somewhere else his permanent home base. And though his address may change, where I live will never be that place for him again.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be sixty-three and have my adult kid living with me. That’s some Freddy Krueger shit: Nightmare On Underdeveloped Street. But you give birth to someone, literally see him take his first breath, and you shudder over every cough, every punch absorbed or delivered, every disappointment; and you take your job more seriously than anything you’ve ever done, because let’s face it, it is more important than anything you’ve ever done. You’re the guardian of this life you’ve created and you know he’ll be deformed by cruelty and indifference and even his own blood, and if you don’t care for him with everything you have, he might physically survive, but he’ll be fucked up for his entire life, which might even happen no matter what you do.

And then he goes, and you’re just supposed to give it up to what: God? The universe? My therapist tells me I have to trust that I (we?) have given him everything he needs to succeed, but if that’s supposed to stop me from worrying late at night, she’d better get some new lines.

Wow, that bourbon is doing its thing! It’s always done that, remember? Tequila makes me hilarious, wine makes me sleepy and bourbon makes me an insufferable, sniveling crybaby. So why don’t I always drink Tequila? Because fuck you, I’m not perpetually here to amuse you. Yeah, that was a joke. In case you’ve forgotten over there, Charles, drunk or not, I’m a funny bitch.

Even in my dreams. Twice over the last three months, I dreamed that I invented computers! I recognized the need and the promise before anyone else and I brought them into the world.

It’s especially funny, because I couldn’t even build a decent radio in electronics class in junior high. Wound the coils too loosely, so all I could hear was a white static, as if everybody’s words got all scrambled before they reached me. That’s the way I feel now.

I have to tell you, when two thirds of your life is over, you have this Siri voice on meth screaming in your head. Mine is yelling, “Bebe! The Goddamn house is on fire! Get going”—but I can’t even get out the door. I order in almost every night. Give an extra tip to whatever delivery kid shows up because I don’t even brush my hair for him.

Sometimes, I think about trying to write again. I never read you any stories from my journals, but some of them weren’t bad. The only thing is, I’m not sure they’d appeal to a large audience. I kept writing stories about disappointing glaciers, ones that were melting in that sad way that snow surrenders to mud. The first story was okay—a kind of vision of our own undoing--but fourteen stories about the same thing?

Maybe being popular doesn’t matter. Maybe I just need to write for me. It sounds right, but inside, it feels like a laugh that’s already half the way to tears.