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.
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?
Last night I went to a jam session. I took my kids and one of their friends. I have hopes that someday my kids will participate. They take lessons, they have some chops, but they don’t have the confidence or drive to get up there. So last night they were there to listen. Still, something beautiful happened. They clapped . . . for me.
I played multiple times, I took solos, and after each, they clapped . . . for me. (In case you’re wondering, they weren’t the only ones.) But as I look back on it today, the fact that I got applause from “those people I made” is something I really needed. They were there, in my element, watching/listening and clapping at the appropriate times. They showed genuine appreciation for the music, for me, and for the other musicians. They may never get up there. But they know their mom can, does and loves it. They know I have credibility with other musicians — something which has nothing to do with them or being their mom.
I’ve had a hard time with my particular situation, the demands on me, my current place in life and the journey that brought me here. I’d been feeling a bit beat-down lately. Periodically, or sometimes consistently, leaving the “me” behind to meet the needs of my children and be there for them had been taking a toll. I’m a sensitive person, but you gotta have a thick skin to raise people, and sometimes, it’s well . . . hard. But last night, things were different, so different things were almost upside down. I wasn’t one of the many supportive parents taking pictures and cheering my kids on at a school performance or sporting event. They were there watching, clapping for and taking pictures of — me. And it was good — to play music, it was good to have a respectful audience, it was good to back burner the “mom” nameplate yet still have the children with me. In short, it was good to be Just Me.
After a while it was getting late, and they were ready to go, as was I. As we got up to leave I was asked to play one more set. The kids didn’t seem to mind that much. I played. They clapped. No complaints. At the end of he night I thanked them for coming. (Mind you they did get some food out of the deal.) But the lack of eye-rolling, whining, fighting and squirming — and their applause . . . they don’t even know how much I needed that.
Sometimes a girl just needs a little applause. I may call my mom and just clap for her.
Just Me With . . . my music and my kids . . . . just being me.