My Parents Have Bruises On Their Hands

My Parents Have Bruises On Their Hands

old-hands

The statement itself seems to beg an interesting story, likely about a fight.  To clear it up immediately, it’s not a statement about abuse. I think my father might have spanked me once as an adolescent, and if it meant that much to him, I likely earned it. In a sense, the statement is about a fight, one to the absolute last. It has nothing to do with punching though, or standing over fallen opposition. It’s the fight my parents are destined to lose as we all are.

Bruises happen every now and again, and generally, depending on the time of our lives, we can guess where they’ll be. Kids find them on their knees and elbows more often than not, still earning how to control their bodies. Teens find them on their upper arms and faces, reminders to practice a little more or badges of honor from trying to prove that they have some. Then adults get them on their thighs and torsos, mystery spots from some thing they did last night that they didn’t expect to or had always wanted to.  Sure, everyone gets a stray now and then from a slip on the sidewalk or a light pole that wasn’t watching where you were going, but the main areas stay consistent. But, for one as yet named group, their bruise signals a membership in their order. They are the only ones that get that particular bruise.

Old people get bruises on their hands.

Its one of those things we all notice by never minding it. You expect an amount of shaking when an older person picks something up. You expect to hear a few words or sayings that don’t get much exercise when you’re having a conversation with your grandfather. And when the owner of the company shakes your hand, you have to ignore the black and blue splotch on the back of his. You ignore it because you have to, it would be rude not to.

You aren’t not seeing it, you’re ignoring it. You saw those splotches on your grandmother’s hand when she reached down to pinch your cheek and you couldn’t help but flinch. It bothered you so much then because it was miles away from your experience, decay and deterioration conflicting with your vibrancy. Shared blood, your blood, clotted on a quaking hand that wants only to feel the life force that once propelled them, now just getting warmed up inside you.

There’s something about the color and location. It’s a deep purple on shallow skin. The bruise is too close to the bones and veins, like their insides are leaking but can’t break through the membrane containing it.  The mystery in how they got it is fascinating because we already know how: they’re old. That’s what old people do. Have bruises on their hands.

Now, my parents have bruises on their hands.

I should have been ready for it, but I was not.

Our parents get to serve as a living mirror for us. Whenever I look in a regular mirror, I still see a teenager staring back at, albeit one with some spreading crows feet and some straggling gray hairs that only look to multiply as much as I want to. The signs of aging don’t register in the glass because I see past them to the boy playing at being a grown up. When I look at parents, I still see my protectors from the boogie men, my discipline for not cleaning up, and food and clothing provided free of charge.

Of course, with years, I see more.

I see people with neurosis and concerns. Pet peeves and guilty pleasures, friends and enemies. Insecurities and moral dilemmas. Getting to know your parents as people is wonderfully humanizing to yourself. The component pieces that make you who you are display themselves in peacock colors. You can draw a line to your bad habits origin. Or, you can thank the gene pool that gave you the work ethic that’s keeping you alive.

When I look at my parents I see the foundation of who I am.

And now, when I look at their hands, I see an expiration date.

They built me up to stand the test of time, and finally I can see the buttresses cracking. Will I come tumbling down without them to hold me up?

As I get older, my parents become more and more the Queen of England in my life, stripped of power, but with a strong significance to identity. They haven’t held me up for a long time. The bruises on their hands say they couldn’t have. They have built me to last and I have.

And I am.

And I will.

My parents are old.

I don’t know what those bruises feel like but I imagine they hurt them the same way all bruises do: a dull ache that can’t be salved except to run its course.

If nothing else, it’s the most painful bruise I’ve never had.

About Jake Serlen

Jake Serlen once published an essay about oral sex in National Lampoon's. He received $50 for his efforts and was happy to get it. He lives in New York City.

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