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The Electrodynamics of Loving Old Men

By Sheyene Foster Heller

So you want to know why I love old men. You already know the story: The first man I ever loved was my grandfather Poppy, and I loved all six-foot-two-inches of his cigarette-smoking, car-fixing, meat-and-potatoes-eating, cancer-riddled manliness, right up until the day we all watched him die. I was only ten at the time, but Poppy is the man who made me love old, and I haven’t been able to shake it since.

You’re living proof.

At twenty-seven, I am an old-man-magnet. They watch me at the gym, those gloriously white domed titans still hefting heavy weight, and they pause mid-grimacing-rep to smile. They follow me in the grocery store, ask me about my eggplant, eyes lit with joy, gritty voices full of charm. You’ve seen it happen, and you think you know part of the problem. “You actually look back at us,” you tell me, kissing my forehead with lips nearly three decades older than mine. “Be careful: That’s how I fell in love with you.” But even after six years of marriage, you still wonder: Why do I always look back? And why did I fall in love with you?

I love old men because I love the calm that follows an early morning storm. I love the way the fiery temper of your youth has smoldered, how you’ve become careful in making conversation and generous in making love. I want to memorize the way flecks of blue, green, and gold break through the cloudy grey of your eyes, the exact gleam of the gold fillings in your molars, the precise shade of your sun-soaked olive skin. I want to run my fingers through your still-thick salt-and-pepper hair, soft and soothing, a welcome mat to the home I’ve made in your head.

I love old men because I love history. I want to know what you were doing when Murrow brought down McCarthy, when Kennedy was shot, when Nixon announced “the end is in sight,” and the world held its breath in anticipation. I want to hear about the first girl you kissed, the first car you owned, the first classmate you lost to untimely death. I want to sway with the sounds of Big Band Jazz that pre-dates us both, the music I taught you to love, swing-dancing in our stocking feet, our miniature long-haired dachshund barking in bewilderment.

I love old men because I love geology, topography, the relief in your tissues and the map of your veins. I want to trace the deep creases in the back of your neck with the tip of my tongue. I want to chart your Campbell de Morgan spots, which sparkle like tiny red stars on your chest and back because your capillaries just can’t contain themselves anymore. I want to know the location of every scar, every mole, every blemish on your body, immerse myself in your landscape, until I can’t remember whether it was you or me who once stood on a bathroom door knob when we were twelve (why we did this, who knows?)—until it snapped off and we fell, lower lip smacking the top corner of the door, driving a sharp lower incisor through soft flesh.

I love old men because I love the physics of Newton, Einstein, Oppenheimer. I want to measure the gravity in your face with my fingertips, how far the flesh of your cheeks has fallen. I want to caress the collapsing cartilage in the lobes of your ears. I want to pull you close, feel your energy curve through my spacetime, alter the paths of our free particles, bodies colliding in fission and flame.

I love you because I can’t help myself, because I can’t escape complexities and contradictions, because I want to contain multitudes. At the Trinity test, Oppenheimer remembered two quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita:

If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one . . .

I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

As he watched the unleashed fury of an indescribable future swell over Alamogordo on July 16, 1945, four years before your first breath, more than three decades before my own, Oppenheimer expressed neither thought. All he could say was “It worked.”


Sheyene Foster Heller's essay “A Soil Survey of Clay County, Kansas,” received an AWP Intro Journals award and appeared in Tampa Review. Her work has also been published in In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal (W.W. Norton), Brevity, River Teeth, Nebraska Review, Pennsylvania English, Clackamas Literary Review, Invisible Insurrection, Milkwood Review, and American Cowboy.

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