I’m facing down an unwelcome assortment of fives and zeroes at the moment. This season marks my fifth year of being un-married, and I will turn 50 in the fall. So 05 and 50—neat, huh? Why do numbers that end in fives and zeroes always force one to take stock? (I just noticed that stock is a five-letter word with an 0 in the middle!) I hate to buy into the whole midlife-crisis hype, but I can’t stop thinking about where I am vs. where I was, where I want to be, should be, could be or might possibly be one day.
I recently tossed my collection of surviving-divorce books and have discovered that there is no manual for how to get through the phase I’m in now. The self-help books give you 3-5 years, max, to get it together and then you’re on your own. And most of the divorce memoirs follow a predictable script: distraught woman loses it completely, then rebuilds her life bit by bit. By the last chapter, she has found a richly rewarding new life and a new mate with whom she shares a deeper, more extraordinary love than she could ever have imagined possible (a midlife fairy tale—The Sleeping Divorcee!) She has also managed to publish a memoir, for f*ck’s sake.
In the divorce olympics, I am clearly not getting the gold. I’m a competitive person (did you know I won my 5th and 6th grade spelling bees?) so this does not sit well with me, especially as the forties are shoving me out the door. Fifty is actually not the new 37 or 43— just ask those decades.
And, lest I seem too Eeyore-ish, I do know that I have many, many things to be grateful for–amazing daughters, fabulous friends, Fresh Direct, a job with benefits (which entails editing publications that cover the numerous ghastly health problems that assault you upon turning 50. Just saying). Plus, it turns out I am kind of a little plucky. I’ve lived in a falling-apart house without completely falling apart. I’ve disposed of more than 30 dead mice and one dead car, dealt with two sewer-line back-ups without crying, and one burst pipe in my linen closet (with the kind of crying that scared my kids). I’ve done the dating thing, which is not for sissies. I’ve gone on approximately 16 first dates (god, no, have I really?), five of which resulted in second dates; two of those turned into brief relationships. (I’m currently less than optimistic on that front and pretty certain that my next great task is to make peace with being single for the rest of my remaining years. Fortunately, Netflix is really stepping up to the plate. And there’s always bridge.)
Not much more to say right now. I just felt like sending this little blog postcard while I stand here, slightly dazed, at the intersection of Half Century and New Decade.
It’s been almost exactly two years since R moved out. I honestly can’t believe it has been that long–even though we middle-aged folks are constantly bemoaning the brisk passage of time. My goodness, wasn’t I just writing the post about surviving the first year? Where has the time gone?
Many of the (many) books I’ve turned to for guidance during this difficult period mention the two-year mark as a milestone. Apparently, if you’re the me in the scenario, by then you are officially back on your feet, successfully re-routed toward your glorious post-divorce future. I remember reading about it while still in my raw, skinless state and thinking I could not possibly survive two whole years. I hoped someone would hit the fast-forward button so I didn’t have to be awake for the duration. Or hit me with a bus.
And now suddenly I’m here, 24 months later. I am, in fact, re-routed and less raw, just like the books promised. Yet, oddly enough, I’m also feeling a little sentimental about that hellish phase, if only because it gave me an automatic excuse for being unable to cope with anything. Just like when you have a baby and chalk up the extra weight, the slovenly attire, the exhaustion, to the fact that, well, you just had a baby–until one day you wake up and notice that your kids are in elementary school and you can’t fall back on that anymore.
When I couldn’t handle certain household tasks (and I couldn’t), I forgave myself because, after all, I was a recently-separated, marginally-employed, suddenly-single mom. If my temper was too short with the girls (and it was) or I cried in the bathroom (and I did), well, wasn’t I off the hook, given that I was going through an awfully hard time? If I needed a reason to turn a man down for a second date (which I did), I played the confused newbie: “I’m sorry. I’m so new at this. I’m not ready. I think I started dating too soon. Maybe in a few months…”
Abigail Trafford aptly describes those years as Crazy Time in her book by the same name: “It starts when you separate and usually lasts about two years. It’s a time when your emotions take on a life of their own and you swing back and forth between wild euphoria and violent anger, ambivalence and deep depression, extreme timidity and rash actions. You can’t believe…how terrible you feel, how overwhelming daily tasks become, how frightened you are; about money, your health, your sanity.”
Now I’m so jaded that when I read other women’s divorce sagas, I think, “Oh, boo hoo, honey. Pick yourself up off the floor and get on with it. Pump the gas, kill the mice, fix the toilet, change the occasional light bulb, join the dating site. Because–guess what–you have no choice.”
But, as crappy as I felt during that stage, it also came with the thrill of the new and unknown. I had my work cut out for me, a fierce sense of purpose. Every day felt like a challenge, an occasion that required rising to, an endless loop of first-days-of-the-rest-of-my-life. It was often agonizing and exhausting, but there was so much intensity and drama, so much adrenalin. It was an adventure.
And now things have leveled off. I have a job; a guy. Much still remains unknown, unhealed and unclear–but Crazy Time has officially ended. It’s not exactly a let-down, it’s just so weirdly calm and orderly all of a sudden that I’m a little disoriented. I wonder what will be the source of my next adventure and what will provide meaning. Or maybe I should just embrace the stillness for a while.
(Note to the universe: I said adventure, not heartache. Meaning, not misery. Got that?)
Right after we separated, people were all over me with optimism and advice. This was an opportunity! A chance to turn misfortune into something positive! A new lease on life! A gift! R himself assured me that I was going to thrive once he left.
I can’t tell you how many times people suggested that I take a class, get re-acquainted with a long-forgotten hobby, find a new hobby, learn a language, or do volunteer work with people who were really suffering so as to get perspective (actually, that one was my idea). What I can tell you is how many copies of The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, were handed to me in those first few months: Three.
I have not yet read the book (and I doubt I will ever read all three copies, since I assume they say pretty much the same thing) nor have I taken a class or found a hobby or done volunteer work or even started composting. I’m not proud of my inertia in these areas. Instead of becoming all life-transforming and hobby-oriented, I was in a daze there for a while, focusing on little achievements like trying to cry every other day instead of every single day. And there were several hobbies I had to take up against my will, like mouse-icide, coping with my car’s mental illness, and online dating.
Then, a few months ago, my friend across the street tried to sell me on Bikram yoga–the one where you spend 90 minutes locked in a 105-degree room. She insisted that it would change my life, which got me vaguely interested. When she promised it would change my body too, turning me into a toned, lithe, uber-babe, I got onboard.
The first class was hell, mostly because I was terrified. People warned me that I would feel nauseous, dizzy and faint, but that it was worth it. So, even though I am not prone to any of those things, I spent the entire class fearing I was going to experience some kind of catastrophic physical event.
In fact, the only dramatic thing that happened was that I saw my shins sweat for the first time ever; it was miserably hot and humid in that room (think about it–have you ever seen your shins sweat?) Oh, and when I got home, I fell asleep for two hours.
Two days ago, I took my fourth class and I can see how it might become addictive. I’m not sure that Bikram will change my life, but I’ve started to groove on seeing those toxins spilling from my shins.
Last weekend, my daughters and I got our Christmas tree. Pulling out the decorations had a similar effect as the one I described in my post about my country house, where the familiar backdrop forces you to acknowledge the things that have changed in the intervening months.
Two Christmases ago (my, but it still seems like yesterday sometimes), R & I knew our separation was inevitable, but he was still living with us and the kids had no idea that our cozy foursome was on un-cozy ground. Not surprisingly, it was hard for me to enjoy Christmas that year. Everything we did–getting the tree, decorating the tree, hanging up our four stockings–was laden with the awareness of it being the last time we’ll ever do this. The last time we will all four decorate the same tree and wake up on Xmas morning together. The last time for this, for that. I happen to be especially bad at last times. When we took down the tree and packed up the ornaments into their usual boxes, I wondered which ones had spent the holiday in my house for the last time.
Last Christmas was difficult for the opposite reason: It was full of firsts. The first time I bungee-corded the tree on top of the car (may she RIP), the first time only three stockings hung on our mantel, the first time the girls woke up on Xmas morning and came into a bed that was mine alone. R joined us for breakfast, which felt absurdly normal and also miserably not so. I felt incredible pressure to hold myself together, to exude a see-everything-is-OK! attitude for the girls. The minute they left with R to visit his family, I sobbed for an hour (maybe two). Then, for the first time ever, I spent Xmas day alone, reading a new book–sad, but also, secretly, guiltily enjoying the solitude just a little bit.
And here we are one whole year later already. The girls and I decided we didn’t really need to drive to get a Christmas tree, so we got one around the corner and brought it home in the shopping cart. When we discovered that the trunk was too wide for our tree stand, I cursed, but at least I didn’t feel helpless or cry. I went into Mom-saves-the-day mode, grabbed the bread knife and shaved the trunk ’til it fit.
I can’t say that everything has come up roses (one look at my checking-account balance will quickly convince you of that), but a few aspects of my life are indeed much rosier than they’ve been for a while. For one thing, the gap on our mantel where the fourth stocking used to hang is not nearly as glaring.
On Xmas day, R will again join us for breakfast and I imagine it won’t feel as awkward as it did last year or as poignant as it did the year before that. To quote an old friend, it will feel, as so much now does, like the new normal.
And I won’t be spending the rest of the day alone this year either. What a merry thought.
It’s not always easy to come up with ideas for blog posts, so when a holiday like Thanksgiving rolls around, it’s like a freebie from the blogosphere, a no-brainer. You simply write a post about being thankful, even if everyone else is doing the same thing, and even if the holiday was four days ago.
So, while this blog has chronicled the assorted forms of emotional and financial devastation for which I am decidedly not thankful, I am also genuinely grateful for many things in my life.
Here we go:
Oh, and one more thing: I’m very thankful that I got over my blog-aversion, read WordPress for Dummies, and created this blog, which I enjoy working on more than almost anything else I do all week. Mostly, I am thankful to you for reading it.
I’ve always been a bit arrogant about my vision, which was as perfect as it gets for most of my life. I was the one who could see which bus was coming from 6 blocks away and I could read the tiny print on over-the-counter medications. I sort of understood that those who couldn’t read without glasses couldn’t help it, but secretly I felt they just weren’t trying hard enough.
Simply put, I did not get what it means to have your eyes fail you.
And now I do. Dammit.
Why must my blurry vision join the unwieldy mattresses, sides of trees, and petulant automobiles in their metaphorical mission? My eyes seem to be saying ha, ha, get it, Christina? You can’t see clearly anymore now that your future is blurry.
Duh. Really clever of you, eyes. Like, could you be more obvious?
But it isn’t just me who can’t see (though it IS just me whose car spontaneously combusts). My previously un-bespectacled friends have started holding newspapers six feet from their faces, and on every date I’ve been on since separating, there was a menu moment, where the man pulled out a pair of reading glasses and gallantly offered them to me when he saw me squinting in an attempt to distinguish steak from salmon. (Me: “It must be the light, but, thank you, I’ll use the glasses just this once. I’m sure my eyesight will return to normal any day now…”)
Once I accepted that ocular decline was just another non-negotiable midlife perk (and reading glasses the skinny jeans of my age group), I broke down and bought a pair. But I keep going through cycles of denial and acceptance. I lose the glasses, pretend I don’t need them anymore, then grudgingly buy more when I realize I can’t see jack. I recently purchased three pairs from the dollar store and sprinkled them here and there–anywhere where reading matter and I might converge.
I was really taken aback when I saw R toss on a pair, because his vision was possibly more perfect than mine (I said possibly, not definitely). Since I don’t see him every day anymore, the small physical proofs that time is passing as we soldier on in our separate lives tend to jump out at me. He wears clothes I don’t recognize, and more and more gray seems to sneak into his hair when I’m not looking. And now the glasses.
I’m starting to think that my sudden need for glasses suggests that I, too, am aging–a fact that hits me right between the eyes.
My conflicted relationship with my car came to an abrupt and tragic end on Thursday when the engine spontaneously burst into flames.
I did not make that up just to get attention.
I parked the Saab (which had passed inspection the day before) as usual on a nearby block on Thursday morning. Then I went home and began my daily procrastination routine. About an hour later, a neighbor rang the doorbell and asked:
“Did you park your car on the corner of 16th St, near the church?”
Me: “Um, yes.”
Neighbor: “It just burst into flames.”
Me, chuckling, certain that neighbor is delusional or has nothing better to do on a Thursday afternoon than pull jokes on gullible females: “Excuse me?”
Turns out the neighbor was not delusional and walked me over to my green vehicle, which was surrounded by two big red vehicles, also known as freaking fire trucks! The fire had been extinguished and the hood of my car sported a big burned bruised boo-boo (see photo, above). The engine was a charred black melty mess. Totally weird and shocking, right?
So that’s it; experts believe there was an undiagnosed electrical problem aggravated by a possible oil leak.
After all we’ve been through–the drive to Maine, the numerous breakdowns–and after just sinking six hundred !@#$%^&* dollars into it a couple of weeks ago, my car officially totaled itself, resulting in more family shape-shifting. You see, the Saab was originally R’s baby; in fact, he was so taken with it when we first got it that he spent hours on a nerdy website for Saab owners. We had joint custody of it for a few months after the separation, and then I got solo custody when R downgraded to a used Geo Prizm (one might say downgrading became a global aspiration for R, in fact, if one couldn’t resist being catty just once.)
Honestly, I think the car never got over losing its preferred driver, because it has been kicking and screaming ever since. Last summer, it broke down on the West Side Highway during our first R-less drive to the Adirondacks and, as chronicled in previous posts, has found every possible way to let me know things are not OK.
For now, I’ll be sharing R’s Prizm, which is not nearly as lovely as the Saab, but seems to have a more stable personality. Beyond that, my vehicular future remains unknown.