Twenty years ago today, I received news of my mother’s death. For the last year and a half, I have been older than I ever knew her to be. It’s a strange, conflicting perspective to have, as I am not her peer. Many will arrive at such a perspective sooner or later, but for me more than most, my mother is known only as a young woman.
One of the obfuscations of our age is to consider teenage pregnancy a social ill. I remember the one who bore me, a wife with a son and a daughter before her twentieth birthday, and the thought in me reading the frequent protests to a life such as hers is “Quit insulting my mother.”
I know marriage in youth is not the only legitimate possibility; quite the contrary, as the month I turned three was also the time my father happened to be exactly twice as old as my mother. Their marriage was not ideal, but it worked well enough. What shortcomings there were had little to no connection with my parents’ age difference; in so much of their lives together it was irrelevant, a difference on a par with separate national origins. Early next year my father will turn eighty, and in the summer I will reach the age he had at my birth. My mother was never older than I currently am and I have never known my father when he was younger than my current age.
The age difference of my parents is something I don’t disclose casually and occasionally keep deliberately quiet about. “Woman half his age” is widely understood to indicate a baseness even lower than “teenage mother.” The basis for this is 1) a civilization whose thoughts are never too far from the gutter, and 2) the prevalence of a self-centeredness that allows many to shoot off their mouths about things of which they know nothing and see their own lives as the norm for everything. There is a range of honorable possibilities out there including outliers such as my family’s. Who would have guessed that a woman marrying a husband more than twice her age would leave him behind as a widower for a term exceeding their years together?