It’s another hot day. A hot Florida day, I might add, which would be bearable, even pleasurable I suppose if I were on a beach somewhere. But . . . I’m not. I’m sitting on a park bench beneath a canopy of shady Weeping Willow trees writing these lines as quickly and as intently as possible while my granddaughter Meghan sleeps undisturbed in her carriage, a few inches away.
Every few seconds my eyes lift to check on her. Such a lovely creature, my thoughts and chest swell with pride as I take in those soft rolls of baby fat lacing about her naked arms and legs making me instantly forget how tired I really am.
My world is now this world. That of a baby, their every whimper is the only call to which I beckon, leaving me ragged come the end of every day with no time to devote to anything else. Let alone me.
Interestingly enough though it does afford me a great deal of time to think. To ruminate about the universe, about myself, who I am, and all those changes, those amazingly scary, difficult-to-digest events that have brought me here. To this particular place, to this particular moment.
“Life is a process of becoming,” said the percipient Anais Nin, “a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”
I’ve always believed that nothing is without purpose. It takes many lifetimes meshed with many dramatic transformations we need to go through in order to get to where we need to be. And by sitting still . . . we’ll never get there.
Had I been a different person, had I not approached life in the “unusual” manner I did, taking a vacation from one life to start another, packing up, leaving all behind, re-inventing myself over and over in search of a new life, love, until something spectacular finally emerged, I wonder . . . would I be here at all?
I gaze into the carriage. Would she?
In the beginning everything was an adventure. But then again, I was still naïve, barely twenty-one and fresh from suburbia where an exciting night to me consisted of locking lips with my boyfriend under the bleechers. What did I know?
So with college behind me, I threw my dreams to the wind and made my way to New York City. That seventeen-square-mile piece of bustling real estate where the worlds of finance, fashion, and food collided. And to every single girl everywhere: Utopia. Yes, I had arrived. In no time at all I blended into the scenery, I’d assimilated into the part of that fast-talking, fast-walking working girl. From the top of my Chanel beret to the bottom of platform shoes, the pieces of my plan quickly began to fall into place like pennies from heaven. I partied at The Bottom Line, I shopped on Canal Street, I spent summers at the Hamptons and winters in Vermont and for a long time in my mind, things were good. I took pleasure in this life I’d created, even the quiet, consistent things that moved my daily world. The homeless man grounded to the sidewalk, the boots crunching in the snow, the typewriter at my desk, the coffee cup, the stack of yesterday’s newspapers.
But then like everything else that time touches sharpening those imbalances of what we refuse to see, the luster began to fade. My individual slice of the apple didn’t look so shiny to me anymore. And by then feeling slightly whittled away by years and a blur of romantic liaisons not worth mentioning, I found myself in an older and somewhat wiser position with my sneakers back on and running. Running and running as fast as I could, thousands of miles away to Guadalajara, Mexico where I next fell into the arms of Mr. Medical Student, who eventually broke my heart as it’s never been broken before.
By the time I landed in Miami, the place where tacos weren’t the only thing on the menu, I was twenty-six and my Nikes and emotional fiber were already showing signs of wear and tear. I tried to view this next stop as a fresh start, but it was difficult in the face of my surroundings which stated loud and clear just how badly things were turning out for me. The reality of constantly reinventing myself had sunk in . . . but good. And while I’d allowed my life to breeze by with the giddiness of discovering the world and growing up as only I believed I should, I could also see that by continuing down this road like rootless tumbleweed with nothing to show for all my troubles, what I wanted to achieve from life, might not be what I was going to get.
So I did the unthinkable: I hung up my running sneakers. Then let the next thirty years run its course.
I married Mr. Bicycle Man, had two children, added a catalog of professional hats to my resume until the next blow. One so big it knocked the shit out of me. Divorce. Oh yes . . . I saw that one coming a mile down the road but instead of acknowledging its imminent arrival I pretended it was happening to some other lucky couple. At least for a little while anyway, given the weight of running a household, a business and grieving the loss of a beloved sister all within that same fragile space of human wreckage.
I remember sobbing a lot in those days. I remember mourning the passage of my youth slipping through my fingers like a mist. And that sudden prospect of facing life alone with two small children to care for, never felt more devastating.
Yes, I was fairly certain that if a rock bottom existed, I was there.
The truth was I’d suffered through ten years of a loveless marriage. I’d sacrificed my sense of self-worth all for the sake of a plan, a dream. A silly dream that anticipated the life I wanted: a house to have a family in, a husband to grow old with. That was the vision I’d created for myself as a girl. And as the years passed, when those things didn’t materialize, I began to feel the dream also starting to leave me like the sun setting in the distance and did the only thing I could: I brought those things to me. I forced a life that in reality wasn’t mine, taking without feeling the love that should have been there, before all else.
At the end of the day, I paid dearly for that dream. Of this I had little doubt. And once the karma gods saw fit to forgive my transgressions, I began to grow in unexpected ways, bolder ways, vowing never to short-change myself ever again. Those days of turning myself inside/out like some ridiculous human pretzel in order to please someone else, were over. And from that point forward the manta became: to thine own self be true. No matter how lonely, how harsh the world around me became.
For all this confidence, the credit was not mine alone. Looking back, had it not been for the wonderful support system of friends and family I had in place, I know things could have easily gone in a whole different direction for me at that precipice in time. Those compassionate faces helped me stand back up, find that footing I’d so foolishly misplaced along the way and made me realize that I still had a whole life in front of me to live.
Yes, I was lucky in that respect. I had people in my corner who cared.
I also just turned fifty-five. An age when most people viewed their empty nest as the perfect time to take actions like fixing up the house or selling it, finding a new hobby, or investing smarter with thoughts of retirement versus traipsing off somewhere they didn’t know another soul and starting all over again.
Over the years I didn’t really talk much about why I picked myself up like that and just left, other than to say I was looking for something more than what I had. In those early years of taking vacations from life to life, I wasn’t sure I could articulate that type of searching to anyone, even if I wanted to. But the truth was I think I was simply running away from the person I was, in the hope of becoming someone better.
Yes, that was me six years ago. Runaway mother and bad daughter with a one-way ticket in hand at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport bound for LA, sneakers on, an apartment already lined up in Santa Monica and ready for anything. And why shouldn’t I be? I was heading to the entertainment capital of the world, the place where glitz, glam and bling oozed from every nook and cranny, where unbelievably it never rained, no one ever grew old and darned if I could figure . . . you could always find a bar open when you needed it.
Suddenly as if shedding a layer of skin, I felt alive again. Exhilarated by what I saw, what I did, every sense was on overdrive. My days were spent exploring while my nights were spent eating, drinking and forgetting that I was no longer twenty-five. Shops and restaurants weren’t simply shops and restaurants to me. They were Spago, Gucci and Louis Vuitton all rolled up in this magnificent experience as though an affirmation that the decision I made to trade in a life of balmy weather and bad hair days that left me looking like Sideshow Bob’s sister for one of sleek do’s and the certainty that my next date would be with someone that didn’t remind me of my grandfather, was by far the easiest—if not the best—I’d ever made!
I knew there was life after menopause. I also knew dating, once over a particular mile-marker, was a whole different animal. No more braving the bar scene or any scenario similar to that where I’d be surrounded by a sea of perky-busted twenty/thirty somethings with not a hint of cellulite or wrinkle anywhere. That was not my idea of fun or anyone else’s for that matter endowed with more brains than chutzpa!
No, if romance was in the cards for me, well, then, it would just have to come find me. In my new environment I suddenly found myself playing catch-up with all those things I used to feel passionately about: painting, writing, visiting all of LA’s museums, art galleries as well as attending the theatre as much as my pocketbook would allow. It seemed as if all at once my world felt full. So full in fact I didn’t even notice that the dinner dates and coffee dates that were once an almost weekly affair had slowly dwindled down to a big fat zero.
The strange thing was in all those years of searching, not once did I give up on the idea of love. But I couldn’t help but think somehow it had given up on me. I’d already invested more years than I cared to discuss in pursuit of it and despite its elusiveness, I somehow still found myself plodding along, perhaps though a bit more sluggishly in search of this mythical Holy Grail that might or might not even exist, believing should I find it, all those missing pieces of my life would finally, miraculously fall into place.
What I didn’t realize was that they already had. But not in any way I ever imagined.
My daughter became pregnant. She was alone and three thousand miles away. Without a doubt I felt blind-sided by the news. Gobsmacked! The idea of grandparenthood suddenly thrust into my lap like hot coal was about as alien a thought to me as living on the moon. I hadn’t even joined AARP yet for Christ’s sake.
No, no, no! I definitely did not want to be this person, this grandmother person, I kept telling myself repeatedly, frantically until I heard nothing else except the gentle, creaking sound of one door closing and another opening.
Six years ago I hopped on a plane. Continuing this extraordinary process of becoming in search of that perfect life, that perfect man and that perfect home. A quest that had taken me from one end of the map to another, one lifetime to another. But somewhere in all my searching, all my wearing out of leather soles and door mats I failed to grasp what I should have known right from the start: that home is only a word, that four walls are just that—four walls—and what matters most in life and in love, is what’s contained within.
Yes, that’s the good stuff!
Some people always seem to know exactly where they’re going, while others take forever to figure it all out. Perhaps I’m one of those that fall somewhere in the middle. And even though my long vacation stints are now officially over and my running shoes tossed away, as I stare at this remarkable sleeping bundle licking her lips getting ready to wake, I’m here with open arms for whatever falls into them next. Because I know life is always going to be a surprise. Oh yes, a wonderful, wonderful surprise. Even for those wayward dreamers like me.
Photo credit: Steven Guzzardl on flickr