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Love and the Older Woman

Seventeen years younger than his wife, he learns that while people aren't ageless, love is

If we do, I'll try, as I age, to remember how. That's something I do these days — let Sheri's life show me how to accommodate my own later years.

Here's one thing I've learned from this adventure: Love old people if you plan to be one. Another: Sometimes you choose your age; other times it chooses you. Maybe one day I'm young enough to rope-tug with the dog on the living room rug. Then comes the morning when the bathroom mirror shows me my grandfather's eyebrows — unruly, wiry, white. So I pull on a sweater that belonged to him, sit on the porch rocker as my wife waters a potted ivy, and think, "Emperor of the universe!" Every day I practice living as if time is fluid.

Sometimes you choose your age; other times it chooses you.

My wife and I are dressing for a funeral. "Hon," she says, "where are my reading glasses?"

I find Sheri's glasses and slip them into my coat pocket. At the funeral (for her brother-in-law) I hold the glasses because she doesn't have a pocket. Whoever said "Don't sweat the small stuff" had it backward. The years give you no choice about the big stuff. My body will break down. Sheri will probably die before I do. No matter how much I worry, these things won't change. But at least I can remember Sheri's reading glasses and that we both need to floss and that comfortable shoes are worth the money.

I still look forward to growing old, to exploring mysteries to come. For now, I'll take them as I did that December night, not long ago, when Sheri and I ice-skated beneath a half-moon. As we circled, I felt myself stepping in and out of so many ages, they ran together. I was a boy trying to keep his ankles straight, a young lover holding hands, a husband worried about his wife cracking her skull on the ice, an old man lost in shared nostalgia. An hour in, neither of us had fallen. "Twice more around," I said to Sheri, "then let's rest."

Michael Downs's novel-in-stories, The Greatest Show, will be published in 2012. He and his wife, Sheri Venema, write the blog Him+17.

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