I’m fast approaching my 48th birthday. I’m not sure what that means to me, if anything. But I feel a sense of restlessness deep within me, like I’m searching for something.
I look back on the past 47 plus years of my life and feel a sense of wonder. My life is nothing like I expected but in many ways, it is perfect and I can’t imagine it being any different. Sometimes, sometimes I think my experiences have honed me into a very unique individual and there are places in me, parts of me, that very few people can understand. And sometimes that is a very solitary place to be, even lonely.
I have learned to find solace, joy even, with inanimate objects and pastimes: writing, books, music, movies, reading and solo athletic endeavors like running where I can decompress and revel in the adrenalin pumping through my body and I can stretch my body to its limits.
My writing frees me, heart, mind, and soul. When I place my fingers on the keyboard, I feel like I am tapping into a limitless realm, and the words pour forth. Writing feeds and, at the same time, soothes my restless soul.
I chanced upon the following: “My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me. I attend to everything, dreaming all the while.” Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.
I feel like I am at a point in my life where every cell in my body is holding its collective breath. Let me explain.
I am a Survivor. Of chronic illness. Of bullying. Of verbal abuse. Of morbid obesity. Of ridicule. And I have learned to protect myself. I have carefully constructed the ramparts that safeguard my head, heart, and soul. My salvation has been my fierce, White Russian nature: I am determined, outspoken, assertive, and proud. I am strong and have always believed in myself. But I’ve let few people in. As I developed more socially, I drew more friends and many more acquaintances. But truly letting my guard down has been a challenge for me. The cost was too great.
But I feel like, in this 48th year, that I’ve reached a turning point. I have remarkable, wonderfully close friends who have taught me what it is to trust and love, and what it is like to hang in for the long haul. I have a family that has evolved through significant challenges and who loves and supports me. And I have learned to love, trust, and support them all back.
So what about this restlessness I am feeling? What is driving it? I feel like I am about to surge forward with something, about to make a big change.
I think there are things that I have been holding onto, that I have let define me and that have comforted me because of their familiarity. And maybe it is time to let them go.
Letting go scares me. And saying something scares me, scares me. I don’t like admitting to fear, it makes me feel like I am admitting to a chink in my carefully built facade. Like the ground beneath my feet has suddenly become unsteady and I reach out for balance, for equilibrium.
But the air is sweet and the breeze is cool on my face outside of my fortress. The possibilities are endless.
And then it strikes me that maybe this state of unquiet awareness is good. That I will be open to opportunities, that my heart will be open to prospects that Life chances my way. That maybe a bit more risk-taking in this 48th year is my birthday present to myself. And that this will be a very good year indeed.
It’s official. My new phone is smarter than me. And I didn’t even get an actual smart phone, just one of those basic phones that makes calls and enables you to text. But I upgraded from my ancient LG flip phone that I’ve had for years and now I have a bright, shiny touch-screen phone, complete with slide out Qwerty keyboard. So far, I.hate.it.
Put me in front of a laptop or any computer and my fingers make rapid-fire music across the keyboard. I can key like crazy. But this phone stops me dead in my tracks. My fingers suddenly become bumbling and clumsy on the touch screen and words get misspelled, texts get sent before they are completed. I give up and try the Qwerty keyboard, first pecking painfully with my index finger. “No, no, use your thumbs!!” my editor admonishes me. I like that idea; with my old phone I could make calls and text like crazy with my thumb.
For some reason that old dexterity doesn’t translate with this new device. I find myself squinting at the small keys, searching for the right one to press. Frustrated, I abandon the task of texting and set about exploring Ringtones.
Wait, no “Doorbell”???? I MUST have the “Doorbell” ringtone! I have one person, and one person only, who is designated that ringtone. I know I sound like a die-hard romantic but for me it signifies the sound of my suitor calling, showing up at my door and ringing the bell.
I Google free ringtones online—download a “doorbell” ringtone, problem solved! Ok, I’m getting the hang of this. The new phone might be fun.
And I have to admit, phone calls sound clear-as-a-bell on the new phone. And the nifty camera that came with it takes pretty interesting pictures — you can even use cool effects like changing your picture to black and white. I figure all this out while I’m at work, supposedly w-o-r-k-i-n-g. I practice taking arty shots of my coffee cup, of my laptop, of my phone, then sending them to my editor. Neato.
Oops. Conference call coming up in 20 minutes. Time to put my intriguing new toy away. Maybe it’s not such a bad phone after all…
I’m 47 and I have never been married. It’s not that I’ve never dated or been in serious relationships, I have. But not a lot of serious relationships, at least not for someone who has been single her whole life. In fact, I have been in love a total of two times. I’m discounting of course, all of my teenage infatuations and the preteen crush on David Cassidy. I’m also discounting the boy I dated for over a year in college because it was a Big Woman on Campus dates Big Man on Campus situation. I was infatuated with our popularity, his sunny smile and blond hair. Coming off the heels of my wretched grade school and high school experiences, my new found popularity at university and active participation in school activities was quite literally a palpable high for me and I basked in the glow for all four years. Tim was just a part of that. So, no, he doesn’t count either.
So I look at the two men I have really loved and who’ve said that they had loved me and try to figure out why I’m still single. I spent a lot of time on this over the past few days, it has been a time of reckoning, of realization.
My impression of marriage came from the first couple I encountered in my life, my parents. I was the oldest child, so I remember the early days when my parents were so happy together. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and I clearly remember her powdering her nose, applying lipstick and fixing her hair in anticipation of my father coming home from work. She was so excited to see him. My bright eyes took this in and this is what I thought of as “marriage”.
The later years have been filled with bitterness, constant bickering and stony silences. My mother confided her unhappiness to me and I felt uncomfortable and stifled listening to her complaints. They are married to this day and still don’t know how to communicate like adults to each other. It breaks my heart and they have become a cautionary tale of what not to do.
As my friends began to get married in their twenties, I would attend their ceremonies and watch them walk down the aisle. Unbidden to my mind would come the thought, “this is where I’d run for the hills!” As much as I romanticized about that perfect wedding, that perfect man, I would feel a chill go up my spine watching the bride go down the aisle. I had started to think of all marriages as turning out like my parent’s.
Interestingly enough, my parents are an anomaly. I am surrounded by a surprising number of happy couples. My sister and brother are both in well-grounded, very happy marriages. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few of my friends who have gotten divorced; most are still happily married.
My sister points out that I am nothing like my parents; I have learned well to reasonably speak my mind, handle issues with sensitivity and maturity, to listen with empathy and respect. So why does the uncertainty linger? Why do I feel that faint lick of panic when I seriously consider linking my life permanently with that of another?
It’s funny, with the man I thought was my true love, I had it all planned out. I knew what my ring would look like, I knew which song would play as I walked down the aisle, I knew we wouldn’t get married in a church, I knew it would be simple, unassuming, tasteful. I knew I would love him forever.
I also knew that I felt enormous relief when we both agreed that we were rushing into things and needed to take a break. Not at first. Initially, I was hurt that we weren’t on the same page. But I felt the presence of another emotion that I didn’t quite recognize at first–until I found myself bouncing around the house, answering the phone cheerily. Feeling almost…free. Like a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Free from the wondering if he was going to uncomplicate his life. Free from the wondering if we were going to really get married (could I truly walk down that aisle??). Free from wondering if I could really be the priority to him as I had made him in my life.
And suddenly, I. Just. Let. It. All. Go. Just like that.
It was a revelation. Partly, because, I realized, I wasn’t ready to get married yet, if ever. If I did contemplate marriage with someone, he would have to be patient, there would be no rushing the altar for this girl. I’d need to settle in with the idea, get comfortable. I wondered if what I really wanted wasn’t so much marriage but companionship, someone to love, trust, travel with, share my life with. Have the kind of emotional and physical chemistry that makes your toes curl and the hair stand up on the back of your neck. So when he walks into the room or you find him standing at your door, your breath catches in your throat, still, even 25 years later.
Someone who is going to be there for me, good times and bad, whether it is convenient or not. If I need him, just to hear his voice, he’s there, on the phone, or in person, no questions asked. Because he knows that for me to ask, it’s important, that usually, I’m resourceful, and deal with my issues on my own, I don’t ask for help, or support. But sometimes, it’s nice not to knock it out alone. Up to last week, I thought I had that. I was wrong.
I don’t need someone around just to make pithy conversation. I’m in Sales, I have pithy conversations with professional acquaintances all day. I don’t need another LinkedIn connection or the equivalent of a Pet Rock—no expectations, no real interaction, everything occurring at arm’s length. Even my friends offer me more than that. I want something, someone, more substantial.
It’s with new perspective that I survey my life and my future. No more orchestration, no more parameters. I have an open heart and a clear and ready mind. I know what I want, what I expect. I won’t settle for less, I deserve the best. And if the best is me, that suits me just fine. I intend to just settle back and enjoy the ride.
I woke up to a day shrouded in clouds, the ground covered with newly fallen snow and a layer of pristine, sparkling ice, even freezing my back storm door shut. It was with relief that I remembered it was Saturday and turned up the heat and ignited the gas logs in the fireplace. Hot coffee in hand, I decided that a bit of plumbing the past was in order.
I ventured into my basement and set about pulling old files and folders. Soon, I had my past spread about me: years of journals and assorted notes and scribbles. As I began to read, the years fell away. Essays I had written in grade school and high school; diary entries from my teenage years; quickly scribbled notes from school chums; journals and notebooks from my years of chronic illness with Graves Disease and throughout my lengthy recovery.
I focused on the earlier stuff. The girlish scrawl, the earnest voice that spoke from those pages, the words from a young mind brimming with imagination and hopeful dreams for her future. I remember being that young girl, so at odds with her surroundings and the other kids. At times my environment felt jarring to me and I just wanted to escape.
There is a theme to my early writing, of feeling isolated, peculiar, lonely and different. If I had stayed on the sidelines, I probably wouldn’t have had as many problems with the other kids, but I was outspoken, fierce even, and participated passionately in my favorite classes.
But I received my due when I would get on the bus, often sitting alone, while the other girls would whisper and snicker about me just loud enough for me to be able to overhear. I dressed funny, my hair looked stupid, I wasn’t “cool”. I couldn’t wait to get home after school. My mother’s cheery, “How was school?” was often received by my cool and deliberate “fine.” Yes, just fine. Peachy. I wanted to fling myself off the nearest cliff.
But I also remember thinking I was meant for better things, and I looked to the Future as if it was a true beacon of hope. Grade school and even high school weren’t going to go on forever and I pinned my hopes on blossoming at 16. To me, that was going to be my turning point, when I became beautiful and all the boys would want me and all the girls would clamor for my friendship.
At the core of it, I was simply a lonely young girl who wanted to connect with someone, who wanted to be understood, who wanted to be loved.
The summer after my junior year in high school, something happened. I trimmed off about 12 pounds with daily bike rides and had my hair coiffed in a buoyant Farrah-like ‘do. I returned to school that September head held high.
And. Nothing. Changed. Oh, yes, I received admiring looks and glances, and one of the “nice” popular boys asked me to a party. But the long-established cliques were impenetrable and when we attended, barely anyone would talk to me, such was the penalty for trespassing.
That was an epiphany for me, that year. I knew I would never let another person make me feel less than who I was at any given time. Fuck them, fuck them all.
Something splashes on my hands and the keyboard and I realize that I am crying. Even now, the pain can reach out and touch me. Sometimes, I wonder why I am writing about this stuff, it seems so useless, like wallowing in the muck. But I’m aware of having a different perception, one of surviving the pain and moving on. In many ways, having a solitary childhood prepared me for adulthood and the challenges that I faced therein. I am resourceful and determined. And I know through experience, that things do get better, and that my tears are as much tears of compassion and release, as of pain.
A dear friend of mine suggested that perhaps this project will be cathartic. I like the analogy of peeling away the layers of an onion until you reach the core. Until you are naked and exposed. I’m feeling very vulnerable with my writing but also excited and passionate. It’s been a good journey so far.