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?)
Of all the challenges that working full time has thrown my way, I am most plagued by the getting of groceries—where to get them, when to get them, and how to get them into my home from wherever they originate.
For almost a decade, I’ve been a member of a fabulous food co-op. The prices are amazing, the produce is amazing–but the amount of time, effort and psychic distress involved in membership is also, well, amazing. In order to reap the financial and health rewards the co-op offers, you pay in other ways. You have to work there for 2 hours and 45 minutes every four weeks; if you’re me, you have to figure out how to get there now that you rarely have use of a car, because the co-op is over a mile away. And the process of shopping can take hours, especially if the checkout person is new and doesn’t know her celeriac from her lacinato kale.
When I was a freelancer, I shopped at off-hours and it was manageable, but now that I work full time, it’s impossible to continue as a co-op member. Letting go is not easy. There’s a cult-like quality to belonging that makes it hard to leave the fold. I feel like an Amish teenager in rumspringa. But it had to happen. I had to leave, to experience food shopping as most of the country does.
As with any loss, the first phase was denial–which manifested itself in me as an inability to shop anywhere. I found it hard to buy food, period. I felt dirty shopping at a regular supermarket, with its clogging trans fats, its cheap-whore-like red delicious apples, its plethora of plastic bags. Where was the bok choy—the beautiful bouncing baby bok choy like they have at the co-op? Even worse, the supermarket has the exact same feta cheese we got at the co-op, only it costs two dollars more. Two. Dollars. More.
I decided that the girls and I would forego food completely. I mean, really, it’s such a time suck—the shopping, the cooking, the endless chewing and digesting. Couldn’t we just consume very nutritious shakes and vitamins and leave it at that? I was annoyed every time the girls asked me for a snack. “Well, there’s that sprouting potato on the counter, or–hello–what about the mulberry tree out back? Anyway, do you really need to keep eating, again and again and again? It’s so common. Get over it.”
Supported by takeout, I moved through that phase and, for a few weeks, I was able to shop at the supermarket, though only in an aggressive co-op backlash mode. When I came home with Reese’s Puffs cereal and Tostitos, the girls were thrilled, though clearly worried about me. Eventually, even they confessed to missing the healthy, wheaty, crunchy stuff.
During this difficult time, ads for Fresh Direct seemed to lurk everywhere, promising to deliver freakishly photogenic foodstuffs right to my door. Naturally, I was suspicious. It seemed too good to be true.
And then, last week, it all came to a head. The potato on the countertop was growing branches worthy of a treehouse. The ancient capers in the side of the fridge door seemed like viable dinner fixins. Finally, I caved and placed an order online with FD. And it was a revelation–no lines, no car, no store to think about! If I have to live on supermarket food, this is the way to do it. I can shop online whenever I want and the food is brought to my door–in 100% recycled boxes, no less, which almost makes up for the lack of exotic vegetables.
Yesterday, our second Fresh Direct order arrived, just as we were finishing up a legitimate dinner whipped up with ingredients from the first one. When I saw the delivery guy at the door, it was as though Prince Charming had arrived on his horse (or in this case, a white refrigerated truck).
My daughter, noticing my glee, said, “Chill, Mom. It’s not Santa Claus.”
Oh, but for a single mother who works full time, it is. It is!
(Fyi, I was not paid by Fresh Direct or anyone else to write this.)
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.
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.