Now. I accept the fact that I could be over sensitive. I admit that I can get hung up on semantics at times, and I understand people mean well. So I’m going to dial it back a bit and not correct people when they say the following to me:
How’s it feel to have an empty nest?
But right here and now I’m going to explain why that question makes my skin crawl.
You see, to me the concept of empty next is like this: A couple creates a home in order to raise their family there. And they do raise their family there, together. Nothing’s perfect. Everybody has issues and ups and downs but for the most part things went according to plan. The Empty Nest Syndrome is a term that describes a sadness and emptiness parents feel when their kids move out.
That is not my situation.
This was never a nest.
If you’ve read some of my other posts you know that when I acquired this home it was basically a hoarders’ house. And I bought it because I could not afford to stay in my other nicer home in a friendlier neighborhood because of divorce. From the get-go it wasn’t me happily building a nest for my baby chicks.
We were in survival mode. I built this home for the purpose of fleeing it.
It was never a nest. What I have here is a foxhole. Yeah. Think about it. We left what would have been the nest and were set off to war conditions — divorce. We dug a hole and survived. Made do with whatever rations and provisions we could find. My little soldiers were sent out for small battles (various life functions) and came back to the foxhole. And now? They finally made it out long enough to have somewhere else to lay their heads (A dorm can be a lot like a barracks — also temporary housing — but safe).
During these past years in our foxhole I have lived one step ahead of bill collectors while my career took a big hit. The only thing about the foxhole that makes me sad is that I still owe money on it and have not built enough equity to flee. I weep because I need a new heater and a sump pump.
I feel like a sergeant screaming — Go Go Go Go! Whilst I hunker down and try to figure out which bill gets paid next.
I know we are blessed to have had a roof over our heads. We have had some happy memories here.
Soldiers will tell you of good old war stories and lifelong friendships –But they don’t want to go back to the front lines!
The kids and I have funny stories. Remember when we didn’t have a toilet? Good times, good times.
Also, I’m a divorced, custodial parent. This is the kids’ only home and all their stuff has always been here, but they did visit their father. This ain’t my first time alone in my house surrounded by reminders of the children while they are somewhere else. I have already felt that pain and emptiness. Been there. Done that. Over it.
For the record, most people have it backwards. Back then people assumed I was happily enjoying a “break” from my kids when they visited their father. No, that separation was gut wrenching, because they were just kids, I missed them, they missed activities, and none of us had any choice in the matter.
Now people assume that because the kids aren’t home with me full-time, I must be sad. No, this separation means I did my job, and the kids are somewhere they chose to be.
Empty nest? No. It’s completely different for me.
Now I just need to plan my escape.
Just Me With . . . a college graduate and four college students, a mortgage, and various other forms of growing mountainous debt, water in my basement, a heater and water heater on their last legs. And no one to combine income or share expenses with.
P.S. I promise to dial it back when people ask about the empty nest, though. I really do.
*This is a long metaphor or twisted analogy. It may not work, bear with me. You’ve been warned.*
Imagine you were in a horrible car wreck, broadsided by a drunk driver. You were seriously injured. You lost mobility, time, and a sense of hope. You gained scars, fears, and pity.
Imagine you rally, survive, and for some reason, want to punch fate in the throat by training for a marathon, something you had never considering doing before, having usually enjoyed team sports, or the arts.
Imagine you train, battling old injuries from the car wreck, acquiring new injuries from the training,. You run to the soundtrack of self-doubt announced from the voices in your head and repeated on loud speaker when you get home by the real people closest to you:
“You don’t have to do this. You can’t do this. It’s too much. Just being able to walk is good enough. Why run?“
Imagine you also battle financially because of lost time, work, and pain and limitations from the injuries, and a lawsuit that finally settles for minimal damages, because your pain and suffering are not visible or quantifiable. You have, reportedly, recovered from your injuries. The drunk driver was not injured. He was not prosecuted and retained his license to drive and does so without restrictions.
Imagine you sign up for the marathon anyway. It’s the big kind of marathon, similar to the Olympics where runners start and end in a stadium full of people. Most of the real work takes place on a journey through lonely, winding roads, though, with very few spectators.
And imagine running, without a partner, not part of a pack, and certainly without an endorsement deal. No one really gets why you’re doing it at all. You do get encouragement, however, from unlikely sources – complete strangers you pass on the road. They clap, they call out to you,
“You can do it. Way to go. Looking good!”
Imagine thinking that they are wrong, you can’t make it, that no one really expects you to make it, that it is ridiculous to even try and that your time would be better spent on more traditional endeavors for people like you.
Imagine wondering if stopping halfway might be good enough. Imagine knowing that no one would blame you for simply walking it, “It’s the finishing that counts, you don’t have to finish like the real runners,” the voices say. Imagine a cramp, then another, imagine feet on fire, imagine pain in joints that had never been there before.
Imagine continuing to run, regardless.
Imagine entering the stadium after over 26 miles and starting the last lap around the track to reach the finish line.
Imagine feeling suddenly and surprisingly overcome with emotions as the crowd cheers, because some people there know that in the recent past you couldn’t get out of bed — let alone run or race. You also know that some of the cheers are coming from people who don’t know a thing about you, but they recognize a woman fighting not only to finish, but finish in objectively solid time regardless of any personal struggles.
Imagine the emotions taking hold so suddenly and with such intensity that it causes you to stumble as you take your last steps. You stop dead for a moment and put your hands on your knees, trying to catch your breath and blink away sweat and tears.
Imagine seeing out of the corner of your eye, a flash of color? Another runner trying to pass? Is your mind playing tricks on you? Are the cheers for the other runner? You raise your head, wipe your eyes and try to sprint, hoping that your pumping arms will convince your legs to rise from the dead, but you have so little left. Still, you begin to run, the end is in sight and the crowd, pardon the overuse – is going wild.
Imagine right before you cross the finish line being wrapped in a blanket — covered by the flash of color that had come alongside of you. The flash of color from the driver, the same drunk driver who had broadsided you and put you in the hospital.
Imagine looking up to see his fist raised in the air and his smile as you are reluctantly led across the finish line by him, being robbed of the opportunity to cross on your own — which you would have done, which you could have done, had you been permitted. Had you not been intercepted. Had you not been broadsided, again.
Imagine seeing your unwanted escort in running clothes, but without a bead of sweat. He did not run 26.2 miles. He was just one of the thousands in the crowd, and, from the smell of it, he had recently eaten a hot dog.
Imagine the crowd on its feet, those who know the story — cheering you not for finishing the race despite the odds, but for your obvious show of public forgiveness by allowing the embrace of the drunk driver who had taken so much from you and caused you so much pain.
Imagine the front page newspaper story, showing a photograph of you in visual defeat, being assisted across the finish line by the man who inflicted the injuries you fought so hard to overcome. Imagine looking at yourself as you’ve now been memorialized to others, as a woman lost without his assistance, a woman who could not have finished on her own. Your mouth is open, seemingly in a cry of gratitude, but you know that is was a cry of despair that no one heard above the roar of the crowd,
“No! Let me finish. I can do it. He didn’t run. He wasn’t there. I did this. I did this!“
Imagine the newspaper headline:
They did it! They did it! They did it together!
* * *
Imagine my son’s graduation from high school, with honors, and six college acceptances later, headed to a very selective college — accepted there because of his grades, test scores, challenging course load, essay, and leadership in many extra-curricular activities in both the arts and athletics. His accomplishments, not mine. But such accomplishments were not achieved in a vacuum, or even from a partnership, but achieved in a home atmosphere of encouragement, physical, psychological, emotional, and visual support created by me (and my supporters), coupled with a belief that we are just as good as everybody else. No excuses. I wore myself out making it possible for him to have opportunity and yes, the expectation, to achieve.
But now that it’s time to celebrate, imagine being hijacked at the finish line by the guy who, on one snowy night long, long ago said to me, his long time wife and mother of his five children, simply, “I have to go.”
Imagine sharing the podium with a runner who didn’t run — and who, previously, had broken both your legs.
It’s not uncommon for distance runners to vomit after a big race.
Just saying . . .
Just Me With . . . graduation festivities around the corner.
Could somebody get me a bucket?
Related: Misplaced Praise of a Father
Last week I had another surprise interaction that touched me, deeply.
I was leaving my daughter’s basketball game and was stopped by another mother who I’ve been acquainted with for at least ten years, meaning before the separation and divorce. Our oldest boys went to pre-school together and are in the same activities now. Our daughters play the same sport. We’ve never socialized outside of school events, though. She’s married, well-to-do (understatement), attractive and always stylish, and I suppose I always thought we didn’t have much in common on a personal level. But unlike some of the downright snobby parents I’ve met, though, she’s always been friendly, genuine, and approachable.
That day, she approached me, and we chatted about some upcoming events. Then she got personal. She asked about my ex-husband’s new family. Apparently he’d brought them all to a game recently. I wasn’t there. She must have been. Seeing them must have made an impact. She asked if I spent time with him, and I answered honestly, “No, we do things separately.”
She paused a moment, took a deep breath, then shared that her father had suddenly left her mother when she was a child, and that it had deeply affected her mother and the whole family and does to this day. She spoke of eventual healing but said that according to her mother, who had no choice but to accept the situation, it just “wasn’t what she signed up for.” She offered her support, saying that women should help each other more, but often we’re left feeling alone, just holding the bag.
She looked me square in the eyes and said,
“This must be hard for you. And I want you to know that I know that.”
And, standing there in the high school gym, I felt like it was okay to admit that, yes, it is hard for me. It felt good not to pretend otherwise, for just a moment.
Just Me With . . . support, from an unlikely source, who knew just what to say. I was deeply touched.
Other kind words:
I’ve written previously about an encounter with Marla, the deli clerk, who had asked me point-blank why I got divorced. “Why Did You Get Divorced? The Dreaded Question.
I saw Marla again over the weekend. I was alone, the store wasn’t busy, so we had time to talk.
Marla, an older woman, is petite in stature, slim in girth. She manages to look quite stylish in her grocery store uniform, which is a brightly colored tee-shirt, smock and visor. Her hair is curly, worn pulled back as required, but she always has wavy tendrils hanging down and framing her face, and she sports side bangs. I’ve never seen her without full make-up on her olive skin, including heavy eyeliner and blue eye shadow, and she wears big dangly or hoop earrings.
I felt differently about chatting with Marla this time, because this time she didn’t ask about the divorce. She asked about me.
She wondered what I do for myself, asking whether I’ve been getting out, having any fun, doing something other than taking care of all the children.
Again she launched into a series of compliments, saying that I’m so beautiful and have a great smile and I’m so nice, that I work so hard for all my kids. She commented on how difficult parenting is, queried whether my ex-husband gives me a break, noted that men don’t want independent women like us, etc. She said, not to worry, all things come around.
Then Marla said, pointedly — really, she actually pointed at me with a crooked finger,
“You’re gonna have it all. Mark my words. This Gypsy Lady says you’re gonna have it all!”
Whoa, she’s a Gypsy?
Now that’s a whole different take on things.
Just Me with some good fortune coming my way, because the Gypsy Lady told me so.
Recently a fellow tweeter had lamented about having been asked the question, “Why did you get divorced?” It truly annoyed her, being asked such a personal question. I came up with some snappy comebacks but admitted that I am rarely asked. I’m not sure why this is so, but I live in a small suburb and it was big gossip for a while, and I think most people my ex-husband and I know already have heard some version of why so there is no need to ask.
Just the other day, though, while I was getting some cold cuts at the grocery store that I stop by two or four or five times a week, the counter person, a woman maybe in her 60’s started chatting away. By the way, I hate guessing ages, so much depends on factors other than the number– hard living, for example, can make a person appear older, she very well could have been younger. I see this woman regularly, she knows my kids and she’s commented on the twin thing and always has a kind comment or pleasantry.
On this store visit, I only had one kid with me. In our house we call that — pretending to be an only child — but I digress . . . The Deli Lady, whom I’ll call Marla, saw us and immediately gave a loud and sweet hello, like we were old friends. Nice lady. Then she remarked that she saw my “hubby” with the kids a few days ago, that he must have been giving me a break. I may have shuddered a bit, feeling the ick.
This remark was icky and irksome to me for many reasons. First, he’s not my husband, no, he most definitely is not my husband. I have papers and forcibly spent $35,000 and counting in the process of making him not my husband. Second, the cutesy term of endearment “hubby” is antithetical to this man to whom I am decidedly not endeared and I no longer see as “cute.” Third, my “hubby’ wasn’t giving me a break, he was seeing his children pursuant to a court custody order and he was shopping at “my” store — most likely picking up food to take home to his new wife for her to prepare and serve to my kids. So, no, my hubby didn’t have the kids to give me a break. See Weekends Off.
Understanding that these are my issues and not hers, I was going to just let it slide, as I often do with people I don’t see often, but she continued to talk, asking where I was when he had the children. Considering that I see this woman a few times of week, that she knew me by name and was trying to learn the kids names, I might as well stop the happy marriage train.
“Well, he’s actually my Ex-Husband,” I offered.
“What? He’s your Ex? You’re Divorced? ” She said, shocked, truly shocked. Leaving me to wonder, had he allowed her to think we were still together?
At this moment, I wished I’d said nothing. The one kid I had with me was the one who had the most lingering hostile reaction to the divorce, and didn’t like to hear about it or talk about it. I sometimes refer to this kid as The Angry Child, i.e. She Wants To Break Me, but she’s been so much better these days. She really has. As luck would have it, as I turned to see if she was listening, she’d flitted off, probably to find her favorite snack to throw into the cart.
Good, I thought, I can get this conversation over with.
Marla, was shocked, still, by my revelation.
“Divorced? . . . . Why?”
And there is was. The question I am rarely asked. I thought of my Twitter friend, and wished I could channel her support in my head. But, I was In Real Life (IRL if you only have 140 Twitter characters) and I didn’t even have my phone out. Plus, Marla was waiting for an answer. She wasn’t even slicing my meat. She was waiting.
I think I kind of stammered and shrugged my shoulders, rolled my eyes, and said, “Well, you know.” I understand that this is not a definitive answer. But I thought my body language and facial expression would have been enough to change the subject.
But Marla apparently needed a real answer, in real life, right then and there.
She asked again.
“Why did you get divorced?”
Now all the snappy comebacks I’d joked about had left the building like Elvis. I had nothing. Actually, my snappy comebacks were mostly to put the other person on the defensive. I figured it they can ask me something personal I should come back with something just as personal, like,
“Well it’s a long painful story. How much did you make last year? And are you having regular sex?”
But I didn’t want to be rude to Marla. And I couldn’t even come up with, “I don’t want to talk about it.” It was a deer in headlights situation, for sure.
Marla is good people. I like the banter I have with her and many of the people I see in stores while carrying out mundane tasks. Marla is funny, friendly and compliments my kids. This makes her royalty in my book. I didn’t want to insult her or put her on the defensive. And, unlike my snobby ex- neighbor, see Holiday Party post, she wasn’t judging me because I am divorced. Marla was genuinely surprised, really surprised.
So, I finally answered, leaning close to the counter, “Well, he was a bit of a player.”
This isn’t exactly true. There weren’t a lot of other women, to my knowledge, but you know, there were more than there are supposed to be, you know . . . when you’re MARRIED! Still, I figured this shorthand answer would do the trick and end the topic of conversation before my kid got back.
But it didn’t.
It actually opened an opportunity for her to share her own personal life which included two husbands and four children and the proclamation that she will never marry again, which, had we been in a coffee shop or at a bar would have been good girl talk. But we were on opposite sides of a deli counter in a grocery store in my hometown, and where, apparently, my Ex-Husband still shops — while on his visits with the children.
I added with another shrug while I perused the meats that, “Yeah, well, he’s remarried now, so . . .” I don’t know why, but I thought that information would help end the conversation.
But it didn’t.
Marla shared more about her life. I found out about her ex-husband’s new ex-wives, and how one of them told her what he’d said about her, and how his other children are no good, etc. Then, the conversation turned back to me, as I hoped it wouldn’t, but feared it would.
“Divorced? Really? And you’re so pretty . . . and smart . . .” Now, I’m not trying to blow my own horn here or provide self-gratuitous comments, but Marla went on to compliment me very highly, noting that I am slim (not the healthiest comment for me to hear, see Confessions of a Skinny Mom and Angela Jolie posts) and she thinks I’m brilliant, which, considering our only interaction is at the meat counter — I find to be very astute — heh heh heh. I took her compliments in kind, though a little embarrassed, being at the deli counter and all. But, hell, it’s nice to be appreciated.
While finally cutting my meat, Marla added, “Leaving a girl like you. . . . I don’t understand it.” And she just shook her head. “I just don’t get that. You are something. I think you’re great.” And she smiled, looked me up and down, and shook her head again.
Now this tugs at my insecurities.
In my tortured mind Marla is thinking, “There must be something wrong with her that I can’t see.”
My damaged self asks: Is Marla trying to figure out what dark secret or hidden insufficiency I must have which caused my husband and father of my beautiful children to leave me? Is that what everybody thinks — that there must be something wrong with me that they can’t see?
I wanted to scream, “I’M GOOD IN BED — HONEST!!!” But that didn’t seem appropriate.
So there it is, my problem. And it truly is my problem. Not Marla’s and not my Ex-Husband’s —- and I’m working on it. I need to slow down and control those ill-informed, overly chatty people — not the ones in the grocery store — the ones in my head.
It’s simple, really. I don’t like being asked why I divorced because it’s personal and I don’t like to talk about it unless I bring it up. But more than that, I don’t like being asked because of all the time I spent crying on the kitchen floor Amy Winehouse style wondering why I wasn’t enough for him.
Truth is., he was done. It really doesn’t matter why now, and it shouldn’t matter to my lunch meat friend. After a excruciatingly painful period in my life, I’m done analyzing why and I’m done, too. Unless I have brought it up and I am in a place mentally and physically where it is appropriate to talk about it, my final answer actually is, “Well, you know, whatever.”
(In my head I’ll say it’s because he’s an asshole. I’m not a saint.)
My daughter eventually flitted back with her cheese sticks and Marla had the good sense to change the topic, asking my daughter if she helps me out at home, which, I pointed out, she does not do nearly enough, prompting a devilish smile from my girl. A smile, not a denial, mind you. That kid is lucky she’s cute . . . but I digress.
Just Me With . . . American Cheese, ham off the bone, Southern fried chicken breast and some discomfort and insecurity . . . sliced thin.
Special thanks to @CRobbieLV for inspiring this and sharing her experiences with — The Dreaded “Why?”
Postscript: See Good Fortune and the Dreaded Question, Part II
I think I’m done. I’m done agreeing with the generalized small talk and factually inaccurate praise of the mere suggestion of the presence of my Ex-husband in our children’s lives — like he’s some kind of magic man.
People who know, know better.
An ex-neighbor dropped by yesterday. I hadn’t seen her in over a year. We don’t have much in common and she does not read people well. She’s had four husbands, yet when my husband up left me and the children and I was visibly devastated, dehydrated and malnourished, she went on and on about how we should stay together and that maybe there’s hope.
“I wish I’d tried harder. Don’t give up. Maybe he’ll come back. I hope you can work it out.”
That’s what she said to me. She said this to me, though she knew that my husband had, suddenly, cruelly, left me. Now that I’m thinking back, it is quite possible that this woman is a nut job.
She was one of the people I avoided back then. Some people say the wrong things. They can’t help it, they won’t change.
Yesterday, she dropped by unannounced to invite me to her mother’s memorial service. She arrived just as the kids were preparing to go on a dinner visit with their dad. Like before, she went on and on about how that’s so good that he sees them, that –the alternative in her mind — total abandonment — is so bad, and told me a story about how her daughter-in-law’s absentee father showed up on her wedding day and practically ruined it. So she reasoned that my situation is so much better. blah blah blah
I don’t recall asking her opinion at all.
I did not enjoy our one-sided conversation. There are always stories of the most horrendous parents, male and female, but if you set the bar at those folks, hey, everybody looks good. I have one good father and know many more. The fatherhood bar is high in my world, or actually, it’s where it needs to be, but I digress . . . Not only did this woman irk me, but she went on and on while there was a child within earshot. I wonder how it makes kids feel to hear an adult praise their father for merely seeing them? Completely clueless, the ex-neighbor didn’t notice when I tried to change the subject by talking about the children themselves, their accomplishments. I was being polite. Perhaps too polite.
“Bitch, you don’t know my life.” Is what I wanted to say.
I’m sorry folks, I don’t usually talk like that, but sometimes people piss me off.
In fact, I’m a polite sort –to a fault, really, I can make small talk and seem to agree to the most ridiculous statements for the sake of decent society. But sometimes, it seems, this gives a pass and an exaggerated sense of importance to people who don’t deserve it, as well as an acceptance of past, current and likely future bad behavior. And sometimes, it just makes me mad.
As we sat in my tiny living room, on a house on a busy street, in the neighborhood of “The Help” that I had to work my butt off to get the Hoarders smell out of , it seems that no matter what transpired and how well the children have adapted to and excelled in a difficult situation, the most important thing for her to discuss was the seemingly magical appearance of their father.
I call bullsh*t.
So now, instead of nodding politely, I’m going to try to opt out of the small talk that makes me blinding mad. I think it’s better that way, don’t you?
And before I get the “What about the kids?” speech, I’m talking about conversations between grown folks. Children are not invited.
From now on every time some random acquaintance inquires about the time my kids spend with their dad and says,
“Oh that’s good, he still sees them.“
My new response will be,
“Yeah, I hear there’s gonna be a parade.“
And then I will launch on full-out campaign, an attack, if you will, describing the awesomeness of my children in excruciating detail. And I will note that my elderly parents, even at their advanced age, rarely miss a concert and get to many sporting events each season — because they enjoy it and they are so proud . . . and the kids are . . . wait for it . . . AWESOME!
And then I will turn and leave, because, you know, I’ve got things to do. I will not talk about or allow discussion of the perceived importance of the (magical) father’s (mythical) encouragement of said real accomplishments by these awesome kids. His is not my banner to wave, or shoot at. As I said, I’ve got other things to do.
My point is this: It is presumptuous to make sweeping statements about the perceived importance of an absent party, without any knowledge of or inquiries into the actual situation, and expect me, the one clearly in the trenches, to agree.
And frankly, it’s rude.
Just Me With . . . good manners.
The general public’s persistent blanket praise of fathers who may neither be good men nor good fathers is a disservice to men who are both. It’s a disservice to the mothers who are doing the best they can with or without (or in spite of) the existence of “the father.” It’s a disservice to the brothers, cousins, friends, sisters, uncles, aunts, neighbors, teachers, grandparents and whole loads of people who provide support and encouragement and love even though they have no parental ties nor court ordered obligation to do so. It’s a disservice to the kids, the children who should expect parents to do for them, without kudos.
So I’m opting out.
I have other things to do.
For other misinformed comments, see: Weekends Off .
For other misplaced praise, see: The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations
A funny thing happened last night. I was on my way home, driving late at night. Admittedly, I was tired and was forcing myself to stay awake. I was thinking of my gig but was also wondering whether it would be too late to get one more tweet in about my latest blog post. “What Have I Done Since My Divorce.” It’s just some tongue-in-cheek musings about how my life has changed since my divorce became final.
All in all, the divorce date doesn’t really matter. Still, I’ve had to pull out the final decree throughout the year for taxes, banking, other financial matters — you know, when I’ve filled out forms that request documentation of change in marital status. Having just gathered my tax materials I’ve had to gaze upon the piece of paper which legally ended my already dead marriage. And I remember dates, always have — important dates, unimportant dates, dates of good memories — and bad. I remember. It’s a gift . . . and a curse.
It used to really bother my Ex-Husband that I remembered so many anniversaries of events. (I guess that would be the gift part — ha ha). The curse part is that I also recall the cluster of wintertime “Ex Dates” like — our first kiss, when we became a couple, when he told me he was leaving me, when he moved out, and our wedding anniversary, to name a few. So true to my tendency to hoard useless facts today I remembered that this was the anniversary of the day the judge signed off on the divorce. . . and it was on my mind.
For whatever reason, my being tired, the broken side view mirror, a blind spot — I drifted to the right lane too slowly and didn’t see the quickly approaching car behind me. Suddenly, a little black car sped up next to me, too close, forcing me to quickly swerve back over into my lane.
“Okay, now I’m awake.” I said to myself, startled, heart pounding. The little black car was next to me for a few moments. I was expecting him or her hit the horn, cuss me out through a closed window — at least throw an angry look my way. Drivers in my part of the world are not known to be gracious. But the car simply weaved up ahead and I never got a look at the driver. It was dark, the windows were tinted. He or she never even flipped me the bird. I did see the back of the car, though.
Its license plate read: DIVORCE
This time I sped up to catch the little black car to see if I read that correctly. Yes, it said “DIVORCE.”
I exited the highway before the “Divorce-Mobile” did. Though I’ve been known to follow random cars (ask my kids), I was not going to follow that particular vehicle. I’m done with all that divorce stuff, as of one year ago.
Bottom line as to the divorce or the divorce mobile: I didn’t see it coming. It could have killed me. It didn’t. Perhaps it saved me. Regardless, it went on to freak out other people while I took the next exit.
Just Me With . . . life on the highway on the anniversary of my divorce.
Seriously, does anyone else find this an odd coincidence especially given my post before last, “I Went For Coffee and Took A Turn Into . . . The Twilight Zone.” ????
That particular vanity license plate should be illegal. I must call my congressperson.
A related post on my gift/curse of remembering dates: Happy Birthday to My Ex-Husband’s Ex-Girlfriend
Narrator: There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
— The Twilight Zone, 1959, Season One
My narrator: Meet Roxanne, a divorced mother of five who sometimes forgets to eat, or chooses to save a simple breakfast bar for her children rather than “waste” it on herself. It’s an ordinary day for Roxanne, who had left home for her only true indulgence — getting her morning coffee. She didn’t know that when she returned into her neighborhood, she would cross into . . . The Twilight Zone.
Over the weekend we had some icy snow in my part of the world. I was out running errands (in other words: getting coffee). On the way home I was wondering whether I could get my children to shovel the sidewalks for me, doubted that they would before going to visit their father and worried about whether doing it myself would throw my back out again. My Aching Back A neighbor offered to pay my daughter to do hers. I wished that daughter or any of the children would do ours also, without back talk, threats or rewards — and before they had to go. It probably wouldn’t happen. I got my coffee, and while there I picked up my daughter’s favorite breakfast sandwich as a treat, plus I wanted her to get something warm in her belly before going out to shovel the neighbor’s walkway. As is often the case, I didn’t get a sandwich for myself, saving a couple of bucks, not wanting to spend the money on — me. As I turned into my neighborhood, I had my daily thoughts of “I really hate this neighborhood, I don’t like living here.” Followed by, “I wonder if I can figure out a way to move again but keep the kids in the same schools.” And rounding out the trilogy, “Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no reason to move except that you don’t like it here and that’s just not a good enough reason.”
Given all these thoughts rushing through my head it was rather amazing that I happened to spot a woman on the side of the road. She had plastic grocery store bags spread in front of her in the snow, was shaking and clenching her hands and seemed to be trying to figure out a way to pick them up again. Clearly she was struggling to carry her groceries home in the snow.
I stopped, backed up, asked if she wanted a ride. She only gave pause for a moment and eyed me to make sure I didn’t look like a crazy. (Sometimes I can appear quite normal . . . but I digress). It was bitter cold outside. She accepted the ride, put her bags in the back seat and sat up front next to me, thanking me. She explained that she rushed out so quickly to get some things from the store that she had forgotten her gloves. It wasn’t that the bags were heavy, she said, it was that her hands were frozen and she couldn’t hold them anymore. “My hands hurt so bad,” she said.
It didn’t really matter to me why she was in her predicament, I just wanted to get her home. It was too damn cold and icy to walk, especially with groceries, no cart and no gloves. She went on to explain that her brother couldn’t shovel the car out because of his eye. His eye. Huh. I pondered this. Why would his eye keep him from shoveling . . . maybe he’d had surgery? I drifted off to my own little world, thoughts racing for first place in my head.
Then my passenger said, “I’m Roxanne.”
Skid marks on the brain. Thoughts stopped on a dime.
“Get OUT!!!” I responded, perhaps a little too energetically, reminiscent of Elaine from Seinfeld.
“What?” she responded, looking concerned. It was an unfortunate choice of words for my exclamation — I mean, saying “Get Out!” to a passenger in my car! Smooth, Roxanne.
“MY name is Roxanne,” I quickly explained.
“Yes. Really. Wow, that’s wild.” It’s a fairly uncommon name. It was surreal.
Roxanne said that I could drop her at a nearby intersection but I told her, no, I would take her all the way home. During the ride I discovered that we had gone to the same high school, and though I had assumed she was older than me, it turned out but she was too young for me even to have known her from school. She appeared worn beyond her years. I didn’t recall ever having seen her in the neighborhood or around town. It was odd.
So what of my surprise passenger, Roxanne? A woman who shared my name, who was walking alone in the snow-covered street, who failed to think of her own needs while rushing to meet the needs of others. The consequences of her neglect of self was finding herself standing in the snow with frozen fingers, groceries at her feet and blocks from home. For whatever reason– her family was not there to help her and she had to accept a ride from a stranger.
It gave me pause.
I’m that Roxanne, too, coming home with a sandwich for a child so that she could shovel another family’s walk but bringing no food for myself.
I almost said to the other Roxanne, “How could you leave home without gloves? You’ve got to take care of yourself. You’re no good to anybody if you get sick or frostbite.” But what stopped me, other than that being creepy coming from a stranger, is that other people have been saying that to me lately. My therapeutic goals are largely based upon meeting my basic self-care needs without guilt.
“Roxanne, have you been eating and sleeping? You can’t take care of your family if you don’t take care yourself.” I’ve heard often. Too often.
Did the universe send me that other Roxanne to remind me that I need to help myself? I mean, I know that when I get sick, the whole system fails. I know this, yet I still need reminders that protecting myself from the elements, eating, sleeping and yes even doing something just for my sheer enjoyment of it is as important as, well — anything. Somehow, that reminder got in my car that day, and her name was Roxanne.
I dropped Roxanne off feeling good about having helped her, since it was so very cold outside, but I knew that both of us need to take care of ourselves. I need to take care of me.
Maybe picking up a reflection of myself — what I could become, what I have been . . . was meant to be that day.
My Narrator: Roxanne, a functioning, yet melancholy divorced mother who often puts her basic needs well behind those in her care, stops in the snow to assist an eerily familiar woman in distress, a woman who perhaps shares more than just her name in . . . The Twilight Zone.
Just Me With . . . an over-active imagination?
P.S. I told my therapist about it. She queried whether the woman was real.
I’m not even going there.
See the Sequel: The Twilight Zone — Again? Seriously?