Nonfiction from Jessica Barksdale

Photo: Fallon Michael

This Decade

I got married and stayed married. No small feat, trust me. The arc of second marriage, shorter, a meteor of desire and hope, and then, whoa! We are on that same damn spaceship we were on before, with different people.

Hang on. If you dare.

A flare of need, a flame of midlife crisis and panic, I enrolled in another graduate degree, graduated, and did pretty much what I was doing before but maybe with a bit more style.

My children got older. Hurt more. Loved. Lost. Loved. Lost. Then they loved, and moved into the world without me, as they should. I tried not to hold on tight. I tried to remain calm, not react. “Not a bitch” my rule of thumb.

My mother got older, and older, and her brain began to erase itself. Meanwhile, I continued to drag her around the world. Ireland, Canada, France three times, England twice, Sicily, Scotland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Denmark, Estonia, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia.

What was I thinking?

I taught over four thousand people something about writing. Or I think I did.

I wrote a lot, published three novels, a poetry collection, many poems, many stories, many essays. I’m still not famous.

I fought with a lot of people in the way adults fight: avoiding and not saying what is true. I’m now speaking to all but one of them, so the odds are okay.

I’m plotting my retirement. I’ve sent in the papers. The next decade will be about that. Stay tuned, if you can.

My skin decided enough was enough, relaxing, both of us sliding into my late fifties. Black long-sleeved t-shirts and Gold Bond lotion are my trade secrets.

I packed up and moved away from the area I’d lived my entire life. Here I am, sitting in my new house. I made a friend. I go to Meetups. Sometimes, it snows. So far, so good.

I lived and taught in Florence, Italy for three months. My first weeks—after my luggage was finally returned to me—I thought of my much younger self, moving away at nineteen for college. A bit late, but still. Made it. But there, in my studio, looking out onto the strangeness of everything, I wondered why. Even in Florence, despite Michelangelo, Dante, and Da Vinci, one can ask that same question.

My favorite people are still my sons. And yet, I know I’m not theirs. See earlier item.

In a fit of further insanity, we got two dogs, working dogs, shepherds, who have ordered and arranged every hour of our day. But I remember, they might not make it through the next decade.

Dogs love people like mothers love children.

It is possible—if I have done my math correctly—I’ve walked my dogs 11,648 miles in eight years.

While I might be tempting fate and with only three days to go, in this decade, no surgeries.

I am a full-time eyeglass wearer. Progressives.

I gave up the drinking of alcohol and the eating of creatures. Legume is my middle name.

In the next decade, the body will suffer, the mind, too. It can’t be helped. But I am ready to jump into it, a woman freed to live mostly how she chooses, ready to look around and see what is left. Right now, it seems like a lot.

I hope to see you.


Jessica Barksdale’s fifteenth novel, The Play’s the Thing, is forthcoming from TouchPoint Press in 2021. Her poetry collection When We Almost Drowned was published in March 2019 by Finishing Line Press. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

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