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.
So my block recently had a stoop sale, which is the Brooklyn equivalent of a yard sale. We’ve half-heartedly participated in these before, but this time I was determined to do a major house purge. Up from the basement came the massive plastic dollhouse with life-like doorbell sound, the de rigueur girly purple bike, pounds of clothes–including many darling toddler-sized dresses–and a stack of self-help paperbacks that have given it their very best. My 11-year-old and I arranged everything artfully and greedily awaited our customers.
Within a couple of hours, we’d sold the bike and all the cute dresses (over which a few moms almost came to blows). Talk about a win-win! People were handing over U.S. dollars to relieve me of burdensome crap. It was so intoxicating that I kept running into the house, frantically grabbing more things to sell–old chairs, redundant tank tops and jeans that never fit right and never will, bent forks, tired tablecloths. At the height of my frenzy, I almost dragged out our pets (2 guinea pigs; 2 cockatiels) and hung a price tag on them. (How about wedding photos, baby pix, kindergarten art work, my high school lab notebooks? Buy one, get one free!)
In the end, we made almost $120 (which I stupidly promised my kids we’d put toward a new TV), bonded a bit with our block-mates, and managed to spend only $10.50 on our neighbors’ cast-offs (ice cream maker, hand vacuum and kitschy angel statue).
But now I want more–I mean, less. Much less. I’ve become allergic to quantity. Opening my shirt drawer makes me feel ill. Who needs that many crappy t-shirts, all that dyed cotton? Even the word plethora repels me. I want to invest in a few “classic” pieces of clothing and essentially wear a uniform like the truly elegant older women do. I want to be loyal to one tasteful, beautifully-packaged organic brand of soap and shampoo and ditch the 30 or so half-empty bottles of gooey drugstore hair products that infect our bathroom. (Two teen/tween girls = Not going to happen) I look at everything in my house with a new eye toward goodbye. I am the anti-hoarder.
And then there’s that emotionally-loaded subset of stuff known as memorabilia. I am hyper-aware, almost phobic in fact, about the things my kids might find if something were to “happen” to me, as the euphemism goes. I have thrown out some old journals and photos, but there are more. Do my kids really need to read about that night at CBGB’s when I was 20? Do I? Would I feel more complete or less so if I tossed all of that in an effort to lose weight from my psyche?
Maybe our next event should be a bonfire.
This morning I was lying in bed, listening to NPR. It was early–around 8 am. (I got up so I could get to Target before anyone else, because I have crowded-Target phobia.)
Anyway, a guy was being interviewed about “mindfulness” (sorry, but that’s one of those jargon-y words I have to put in quotes, though it resonates with me more than the others) and meditation. He read this poem aloud and it spoke to me in a big way, so I want to share it. It’s the takeaway message for me and I think for anyone who ends up single again after a long relationship. You were on one planet, half of a whole, and now you’re on a different one–one that only vaguely resembles the planet you were on as a single person before marriage. Even if you end up in a new post-marital relationship, it’s so different from that first defining one, formed when you were young and naive and forever-oriented. You’re forced to realize that it’s you who must be your greatest source of strength, you who is both halves of the whole; anyone else is pretty much gravy.
I’ll shut up now and turn the spotlight on the beautiful, true words of my guest poster, Derek Walcott:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I’ve been hating the desk in my dining room for months now. We moved it down there after R moved out and tenants occupied the third floor of our house, where I previously had a little office. It’s a big, clunky piece of furniture whose main virtue is that it holds a lot of stuff. But I never use it anymore. I’ve spent months plotting to get rid of it and to replace it with something sleeker and more dining room-like and finally, this past weekend, I made it happen. Prior to ditching the desk, though, I had to empty its seven drawers, an experience that turned out to be something of an emotional landmine. A few of the random, meaningful, meaningless things I came upon:
It’s clear what I should do with the hospital bracelet (stick in box with other baby memorabilia) and the invitations (toss into recycling), and the mini-cassette recorder (save because no other way to play mini cassette tapes of girls saying ridiculously cute things at age 2). But what about the R-related (but not necessarily R-rated) stuff? These random desk-drawer findings are just the tip of that iceberg. There’s a box in my closet that contains assorted pieces of my past, from my junior high school diary to another stack of love letters from R. (I threw this particular pile of them at him during the ghastly, wrenching pre-separation months and also offered some suggestions for where he might want to shove them.) And then there’s an entire freestanding wardrobe filled with photo albums chronicling our 18 years together.
It’s been a couple of years since R left now and I have some distance. I have transferred my romantic feelings to another person. I can come across the odd Valentine’s Day card from R without it sending me reeling. But still. Still. I shared almost half of my life with this person and it’s hard to know where to put it all, literally and figuratively. Reading these gushy missives is an out-of-body experience. I know all of that happened and that this was the most significant and lengthiest relationship of my life, but it all seems so, so distant already. It’s still hard to process how those passionate written exchanges, once focused on our mutual adoration, could have devolved in to the quick, terse, business-like email affairs that they are today. Looking at letters and photos from my married days brings up something different than the sweet nostalgia I feel when I read something saved from a college or high school boyfriend. Those relationships were meant to be finite. The scenes from a marriage, on the other hand, still sting and feel like reminders of failure–as if they don’t really count because it didn’t last.
So where do I store this stuff emotionally, how do I make a place for it in the modular add-on system of past experiences growing inside my aging brain? Do I want my kids to come across those letters one day so they can see that in fact their parents loved each other once? (Does one keep naked pictures of one’s ex? What’s the protocol there?) Or should I get rid of all of it, sending it off with the ship that has sailed?
While I was unloading stuff from the desk drawers to the dining table, a little gift card fell open. It was signed ”I love you, R,” and it landed right on top of a folder labeled “Separation Agreement.” Really. You can’t make this stuff up, and I didn’t.
Several of you have complained that I haven’t blogged in a while and you’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry! (How’s this for a lame excuse: I’ve been busy.) But I’m thrilled that any of you actually notice and care. That is hugely gratifying and encouraging, so don’t go anywhere. I actually have a lot of post ideas brewing and very soon I expect to unleash a torrent of fascinating, fully-formed posts.
In the meantime, how about helping me get my writerly juices flowing? Ask me something Living in Splitsville-related and I’ll put together a fun little blogger/reader Q&A.
Go ahead, ask!
Oh, and here’s a cartoon from this week’s New Yorker that seems appropriate. Enjoy.
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?)
This is not mine, btw.
This past weekend I decided to wear a bracelet that I haven’t worn in years. No big deal, really, except that the bracelet was from R, and for a long time I boycotted most of the jewelry he gave me in a misplaced, don’t-mention-the-war type attempt to protect myself from sentiment. (Plus, the books say that removing physical reminders of the spouse is necessary to heal and rebuild.)
The downside of my jewelry boycott (mancott?), though, is that I have been wearing the same wimpy handful of non-R-associated necklaces and earrings for two years now and I’m getting bored. About 80 percent of my jewelry collection was given to me by R, and,whatever one may or may not think about the man’s other facets (tee hee—get it, facets?), one can’t deny that he had excellent taste in baubles. In fact, it instilled in other females the kind of awe and envy that is usually reserved for that lone remarkable dad pushing his kid on a swing at the playground on a weekday morning.
My friends routinely expressed amazement. “R got you that? He picked it out himself? All by himself?” Then would come the sad stories of having to return–or, worse, keep–ill-chosen husbandly gifts of jewelry, or of having to actually accompany one’s husband to the store so as to avoid faking an “Oh, honey, I love it!” moment.
I never understood this stereotypical cluelessness among men, because it seems that if someone truly knows you, he also gets your style and sensibility. Right? It’s so simple. (The truth is that toward the end of our marriage, R’s jewelry prowess began to falter, and I ended up returning a pair of whimsical, but not wearable, antler-shaped earrings. Something was clearly amiss.)
At one point during those stormy pre-separation months, I weepily gathered every last bit of jewelry that R had ever given me into a tangly mass and chucked it into the wastepaper basket next to his dresser. Fortunately, a sliver of my rational brain was still functioning and knew I would regret that move. I dug it out and tossed it into a drawer instead.
And now that I’ve lifted the ban, it’s like I have all this new jewelry! There are a few key pieces that give me a pang, but it’s amazing how time has diluted most of the voodoo.
Once I found the bracelet, I started sifting through the other stuff. I even reluctantly opened the gray suede box that now serves as a tiny coffin for my wedding and engagement rings. I put the engagement ring—one of my favorite pieces of jewelry (and yes, R chose it all by himself)—on the ring finger of my right hand. Then I put it back in the box because that one’s still a little fraught, plus it seems wrong to wear a symbol of a marriage-to-be when the marriage is now a has-been. But IS there any real reason not to wear it, now that it’s not so much my engagement ring as just a pretty ring that happens to have been given to me during a prior engagement?
What do you think?
I try to steer clear of whining about the physical decline inherent in midlife, because it’s so cliche.
Me, formerly flawless and well-lit.
But I recently experienced a moment of reckoning in a fitting room at Lord & Taylor, where I was all alone with fluorescent lighting and a three-way mirror. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. My 46-year-old self stared back at me in all directions. Who knew I had a little pouchy chin thing, plus the beginnings of the weirdness that happens to one’s neck–not to mention less-than-taut upper arms? Not me. Until then.
I walked out of L&T dazed and confused, and without having purchased anything. (I might have bought something had the lighting been less brutal. Seriously–has no one done market research and found that women will buy things if the dressing rooms are designed to flatter, not to appall??)
In my disoriented, highly vulnerable state, I wandered into one of the three Sephora stores near my office. (There seems to be a 1:1 ratio of Sephora to Starbucks stores lately.)
I’ve worn makeup since I was in junior high school, back when my skin was a creamy, smooth blank slate, open to subtle enhancement via a bottle of Maybelline Kissing Potion roll-on lip gloss and a streak of eyeliner inside the lower lids (remember that technique, gals my age?) A spritz of Love’s Baby Soft and I was good to go.
Now, at my advanced age, enhancement is the least of it. Correction is what it’s about, and Sephora is all over that, with displays devoted to wrinkle fillers, concealers, and the newest word in corrective makeup: Primers. These are all designed to bring your face back to a flaw-free baseline so that it can receive the more frivolous embellishments like eyeshadow and lipstick.
It seemed exciting at first, to think I could erase all my facial flaws simply by purchasing a few tubes and jars, but I soon experienced what I call the orange-juice dilemma, which goes like this: When I was a girl there was one kind of orange juice. From concentrate, period. Now, you can choose from OJ with some pulp, no pulp, a little pulp, tons of pulp, with calcium, without acid, with other kinds of juices, etc. Should you want no pulp, yet tons of calcium, or a little pulp with a soupcon of pineapple juice, you are screwed. It is truly panic-inducing (or is it just me?) and I often find it easier to go without OJ than be forced to prioritize like that.
With the face-fixers, it’s the same thing. Sure, you can have a perfect face, if you can decide which flaw to prioritize. Wrinkles? Redness? Age spots? Crepey eyelids? Dark circles? Shrinking lips? Acne scars? Oily skin? Dry skin? No skin? No one product seems to do it all, yet the time and money commitment involved in covering even a few bases seems mind-boggling.
I decided to start small, with a concealer that has two components. The first one “neutralizes” discoloration and the second layer does, um… something else. I forgot what, exactly, but I know it works because it cost $28, not including the special brush, which was only half that price.
Anytime you become a member of one of life’s many clubs, you’re introduced to new terminology. When you’re planning a wedding, you start tossing around terms like registry and flatware. Parenthood brings forth birth plan and lactation consultant. In the divorce zone, the lingo includes custody, mediator, and spousal support (that last one sounds like an uncomfortable device you might have to learn to live with after an operation, doesn’t it?)
Well, I was thinking recently about some of these terms and how one might want to customize them to suit one’s particular needs. Here’s what I came up with:
I wanted to come up with a third thing in this vein, but I couldn’t. So it’s your turn. What’s your personal fantasy twist on the customs of separation and divorce?
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.)