Category Archives: feeling old

The Cycle of Life from the Perspective of the Middle-Aged.

I’m now at this stage in my adulthood where I’m watching my younger peers grow up. The twenty-somethings I partied with when I was a divorced thirty-something are now becoming divorced thirty-somethings themselves. The ones who stayed together seem to think their seven-year-old kids are sooooo blasé (I’d have the same, querulous look on my face if my parents had tried to impress me with a “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along in the minivan en route to soccer practice). I’m watching them trying to cling to cool or trying to act progressively in the wake of the shitstorm of resentment and confusion that awaits them once the papers are signed and their new normalcy begins to settle in. Marriage, kids, divorce. It’s the cycle of American life. These days, I just watch it. My court dates are over. My second marriage is solid. My stepkids are becoming independent young men. Last week, my husband voiced a retirement dream. When you start talking retirement, well, you’ve officially entered the realm of the observer.

My recently-divorced friend has decided to share the family house with the kids while she and her ex-husband take turns entering it once a week and being single parents. Somewhere outside of that house, they have dwellings that they occupy during their off weeks. They pay for a mortgage, and they pay for rent, all so the kids can grow up in one house. Seems a wholesome idea on paper until you consider the human element of such a compromise—the adults, the parents, in this scenario have denied everyone the right to move on. First, divorce has always been a financially-crippling institution, at least for one of the parties involved. Now, the parties have grown progressive enough to financially cripple everyone. Who’s saving for college when you got two rents to pay? Additionally, these kids will grow up in a far less idyllic environment than their parents think they will because they will have no idea what kind of lives their parents lead outside of the shared house. Traditionally, when parents divorce, the kids grow accustomed to two households—Dad’s and Mom’s. They might like one more than the other, or they might dislike the back-and-forth, or they might figure out the perks in each, but they will always know that their divorced parents lead different lives and that they are a witness and a part of each of those lives. How’s that work when the kids live in the “family” house and Mom and Dad live elsewhere? What’s the scenario? It could be one of total deprivation, or big mystery. Their parents’ “home” lives could become big secrets to them like the lives of headmistresses at boarding schools during weekends and vacations. And let’s not ignore the elephant in the room—thirty-somethings will marry AGAIN.

Yes. Divorcees tend to do that at any age, but especially in the wild thirties. I remarried when I was thirty-eight. I didn’t have any kids of my own, but my new husband had two. He never asked me to spend half of my time in his apartment and the other half at the family house. In fact, I only entered the house where he and his ex-wife had started their family twice. Why should I have lived there half the time? With her pictures on the wall, and their utensils in the kitchen, and their mattress in the bedroom?   How else you gonna do it when you rotate shifts into the family house? My friend… is fucked. I wish she had been a closer friend now because I then I could have been there from the beginning. But she wasn’t. She’ll just have to figure this all out in the upcoming decade. Hats off to the new divorcees. Hats off to my friends who still have kids in car seats. I’m gonna sit back and watch and maybe say my piece (if I think it’ll make a difference), and the rest of the time I’ll keep my eye out for tricked-out travel vans that my husband and I can live in while we explore the highways, post-retirement.

Boring Shoes and Good Housekeeping

I spent the coffee portion of my morning reading the May issue of Good Housekeeping, a subscription that my mother had bought for her mother until Grandma died and then passed on to me. There was a lapse in between of about fifteen years when only my mom received the issues, and whenever I visited her house I read them with a sense of guilty pleasure. Now, I just read them. There’s no sense of irony or guilty pleasure. I’m not out of my league here. In fact, I am solidly in the demographic that considers GH’s reviews on anti-aging products and foundation that clears up skin blotching. This morning, I even checked out an ad for super-comfy sandals with the pillow-type soles. I never would have considered these shoes six months ago, before I inherited a pair of my mother’s Sketchers On-the-Go loafers in a conservative tan color (Tan really does go with everything.). These shoes have become my go-to pair. I wear them with skirts, leggings, and jeans. My husband’s ex, whose fashion choices have always had that tired “mom” look to them, recently complimented me on my very comfortable pair of tan Sketchers with the white marshmallow soles. They’re like walking on air.

I own ten pairs of wedges and nine pairs of heels. In the past six months, I have worn wedges or heels exactly two times—a pair of stilettos for my mom’s viewing, and a pair of wedges for her memorial. And I have some wedgey boots that I wore from time-to-time, but certainly not often. In part because I gained a lot of weight in the last couple of years and don’t fit into most of my clothes, and in part because I’ve started to value comfort in a way that I never valued it before, I tend to wear a lot of yoga pants, t-shirts, and sweatshirts these days. Sometimes, I even find a way to dress these items up enough to wear them to work.

What is happening to me? Was it really that long ago that my writing professor suggested I submit my work to More magazine, and I hesitated because I didn’t think I was old enough to share the perspective of the More-reading audience? Sigh. Yes, it was. I long for More magazine these days; but unfortunately, that sophisticated periodical that applauded older women—their second acts, their successes and struggles, their graying hair—is gone, and I’m left with reading material like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens instead. They’re not so bad—I’ve gotten great recipes and decorating tips from these selections—but they’re not More. These magazines have the sophistication of a tan pair of Sketchers On-the-Go. And, I’m afraid, at the age of forty-six, I do as well.

America’s Next Top Something or Other

I’ve immersed myself this evening in episodes of Friends and America’s Next Top Model. They give me such a giggle!

First, let’s take a look at Friends. I didn’t watch the show in the nineties because I was your typical nineties nonconformist who didn’t believe in stuff like television or fiction or capitalism. Basically, I was an asshole. But now I think Friends is a pretty funny show.

Anyway, on tonight’s rerun of Friends, Rachael turned thirty, and her five peers tried to cheer her up while she wallowed—just a tad—in some self-pity. I hardly remember turning thirty. Maybe it was bittersweet. I don’t know. It was so damn long ago that my only memory of it was opening up a birthday package from my mom in the hall bathroom. I don’t know why I was opening packages in the hall bathroom. I’m not even entirely sure the package was from my mom. Might have been from my ex-boyfriend. That would explain the hall bathroom. In that package was a coffee mug that said “Yikes! 30!” which I still own.

Thirty. Hah hah HAH. Someone seasoned like the administrative assistant at my college who has been there, done that, and dealt with everything from death to illness to job loss and plumbing issues should have sat me down that night and said, “Sugar, you’re only gonna get older and older and OLDER, so open up your eyes right now and take all this in and remember it.” As it is, thirty was just a blip.

Then, there’s ANTM, another show I never watched, not til this season. This season, we got big girls and old girls and hairless girls in the mix. I can’t stop watching. There’s a 42 year-old woman competing this season, and here’s how she deals with the twenty-something hormone drama in the model house in LA: she doesn’t. She keeps her mouth shut, and she stays out of it. Smart woman. That’s my forty-something girl. Tonight, she wore a very stupid outfit to elimination, some gold coverall shorts with a frilly white blouse—very Goldilocks—but I will forgive her for that because she hasn’t modeled since like 1996, and she’s still a little confused and has a tough experience ahead of her.

My forty-something–the only woman on the show who doesn’t make me cringe or giggle with her imaginary insecurities. At our age, the shit that makes us cry isn’t imaginary.

Babies and Grief

OK, my cousin is temporarily staying at her sister’s house where she can play with a baby, and where her puppy can interact with another dog, and where she can be around other people and their normalcy for a time. I’m satisfied that she’s taken care of, at least for a week.

Babies are living antidepressants. The day my Mom died, a ragtag group of people descended on the house. There was my brother, of course, and my aunt and my nieces and my nephew and his wife. And there was the guy who owns the auto body shop down the road, the one who has been friends with the family since he and my brother took auto shop together in high school in the seventies. He’s plowed my parents’ driveway in winter, fixed their cars whenever they hit a deer or a traffic cone on the highway. Sold my oldest brother more refurbished auction cars than I can count on my hands. He’s always been there. And so there he was, at our house on the day my mom died, with his wife and his daughter and his little baby granddaughter.

This guy. This guy is one of those people who doesn’t have the words. He’s kind. He’s affable. He’s witty. But he doesn’t do speeches or drama or serious. A week before my mother died, when I first got to town, I stopped over at his shop to say “hi” like I always do. He just stood there and looked at me. No dumb jokes, no silly banter. I would have found it awkward, except that I’ve known this guy, literally, for as long as I can remember. So we just stood there in his shop for awhile, amid the dirt and oil fumes of gutted cars that brings me back to my childhood, hanging around my brothers while they tried to resurrect vintage Chevy products in our driveway. And then I left. This guy only has one channel—friendly and light. If he can’t be tuned to that channel, he just slips into quiet. And I am grateful for that.

I told my cousin this story. Because sometimes there are no words for tragedy and grief. I’ve told my cousin she’s young, and because she’s young, I’d like to see her feel better, eventually. But I never assured her that it would get better. I never told her to get back out there and start over, or to start dating again. That’s absurd. In the face of grief, you have to choose your words carefully, or just don’t say anything at all, like my brother’s loyal friend, the guy with the auto shop down the road, and the cute grandbaby that he brought to my parents’ house on the day my mother died.

There we were, a distraught family that was feeling some weird kind of relief and release because the suffering was over, at least for Mom.  And then there was this baby, a little thing in a tutu and a bow with big brown eyes, a child who was just beginning to comprehend the world around her. She didn’t know any of the yucky stuff—sadness, grief—she just responded to sounds and lights and color and smiles. Her granddaddy made goofy faces, and she smiled and laughed and shrieked, and he imitated her shrieks. And I enjoyed this baby, and I got FUCKED UP.

Later, after everyone left, my dad said, “I never understood how people could laugh and have fun in the face of tragedy. Now I think I get it. It’s a release.” It’s catharsis. It is. It’s like taking a long hike in the woods. It’s like hanging out with a baby. It’s like being with people who want or need nothing from you. They’re just there, like they’ve always been, with nothing new or profound to say.

My poor cousin. My cousin who gave up everything—her community, her friends, and even her family—to follow this dreamer (or maybe con artist) into the wilderness. She needs something. She needs the guy who owns the auto body shop down the road. She needs community, and she needs a baby. I hope this week she gets it.

 

 

Gen Xers–Are We Sages?

My hiking buddy and I spent the early afternoon scrambling along and up and over miles of natural rock formations, pausing along the way to take in some of the most gorgeous views that our part of the U.S.A. can offer. She and I make a great hiking duo. We choose a different trail every time we go out, so we always encounter a surprise or two. The fact that we needed to use our upper bodies to traverse this trail that my app labeled “moderate” was today’s surprise, a moderate surprise as compared to some of the other situations we’ve gotten ourselves into. In the end, though, we always laugh. We laugh at ourselves and whatever behavior the hike inspires in us. And we laugh just to laugh, I think. I love days like today.

I talked to my cousin last night. She’s a mess—walking around in a daze, wearing her dead husband’s clothes and shoes, sleeping with her arms wrapped around his urn. Grief has taken hold of her and isn’t letting go any time soon, especially since she drinks all day. If she were working, which she isn’t due to a ruptured disc or something, I think she’d be a bit more in touch with her surroundings. She might have a chance to break out of the depression spell. As it is, she spends all day, every day, alone with a confused puppy that her husband bought her shortly before he left this earth, and drinking.

What can I do? I’m forty-six. I am also plagued with grief and troubles, but of a different breed. I recently reviewed a series of journal entries from 2012 in which I discuss my struggles with drinking, my worries over my cousin, and my fear that I might lose my father. Six years ago, I was where I am now, except for one difference—I was preparing to lose a parent. Fast forward to now. I’ve lost the parent, just not the parent I expected to lose first. While I circle the wheel of same-old-shit-different year, the unexpecteds sometimes throw me off my course, wake me up. I need that. Who woulda thought Mom would go first? I didn’t, but I was prepared for something big. Ultimately, I was prepared for death. My cousin wasn’t.

My hiking buddy told me that this same-old-shit-different-year scenario that I am stuck in is a result of unwillingness to compromise.

“We wanna be able to drink when we want to drink and eat what we want to eat,” she said, “yet we also want to be svelt and fit.” It just doesn’t add up. We gotta compromise. Then she joked about how we can’t say the word “svelt” without feeling like a Jewish mom: “Oh, she’s so svelt!” And we laughed like we do.

That’s what my cousin doesn’t have anymore—the laughter. She gave her whole self, her whole identity, over to that husband. He, in so many words, told her where to live, who to hang out with, how to behave, and what was funny.

“You got Netflix?” I asked her. “Watch GLOW—great eighties soundtrack. Marc Maron is hysterical. It’s a fun distraction.”

You know what she told me?

“I don’t watch anything anymore that would make us laugh.” US. Us. What does a woman do when there is no more “us”? Is it wrong to think ahead? To sit down with our spouses and hash out life insurance and wills?  Six years ago, I was thinking ahead. I was forty, and my parents were in their seventies, and my husband and I hashed out our wills, and we discussed life insurance, and we discussed moving to a place where my mom could live with us… if the situation required it. Six years ago, I was struggling with my weight and with alcohol, but I was also preparing for this shitstorm that is life after forty. My cousin. She’s gotta get there.

I just don’t know what to say anymore. I wish I had sage answers to life’s questions. Maybe I do, but no one’s asking.

It only gets… worse?

My younger cousin’s husband died today, three days after she posted a picture on Facebook of the Bulldog puppy he’d bought for her, thanking him for his thoughtfulness, announcing to the Facebook community that he was her whole world. If that was really the case, then my cousin lost her whole world today.

No one was expecting it, especially her.

I’m not saying he was a picture of health—the dude was twenty years older, and he lived like he was forty years younger. He drank day and night, and he cooked rich food dripping with butter and fat. We knew her husband would go much sooner than my cousin did. We just didn’t expect that to happen TODAY.

Isn’t that how life and death seems to work over the age of forty? Nothing is guaranteed anymore.

When we’re young, and we experience unnatural tragedy, we have reasons to howl at the moon and cry “unfair!” Now, we can’t curl up into our grief and question the gods and cry “unfair.” Now, tragedy is as natural as some niece or nephew getting married and having a baby and starting this cycle of life all over again. We live in a world in which the younger generation thrives and our parents’ friends die, and we are in the middle. We’re in a place where our parents’ generation dies, and our friends struggle with crises and life-threatening illnesses and death. Sometimes, in this over 40 reality, our friends’ children commit suicide, or our peers’ lovers die quietly on the couch after refusing to see a doctor about their weird heart palpitations.

Shiiiiit… when I started this blog, this 40s are the new 40s thing, I didn’t know the half of it. I thought I was jaded, but this jaded thing just goes on and on. I guess that’s a lesson I’ll take into my fifties, if I’m lucky enough to get there.

Peace through poetry?

It’s a new year. I spent a quiet Christmas Eve with my dad, endured nightmares in the haunted guest room. On Christmas night, I visited my brother and his family—my sister-in-law, their three kids, my nephew’s wife, and my niece’s boyfriend. I woke up many hours later still drunk with a bruised knee on the futon in my niece’s room, my last memory of the evening before was looking up into the crying face of my nephew’s wife. I don’t know why I was looking up. I don’t know why she was crying. I don’t know what kind of advice I gave her and if she remembered it. Probably not. I hear I fought with one of my nephews. Asked him what about the next morning as I teetered on my own two feet in the kitchen, my shaky hands cupping my coffee mug.

“I don’t know,” was all he replied. No one knows, cept for maybe my sister-in-law, the one person in the room who looked really pissed that morning. My dad was pissed, too. He’s a weaker man this season—weak, sad, and confused. He didn’t even know how much I drank right in front of his nose the day Mom died, never noticed that my coffee mug was full of red wine. He never knew I replaced his Jim Beam twice, once getting a speeding ticket while rushing home to shove it in the cabinet before he returned from a doctor’s appointment. So when he noticed I wasn’t in the house on the morning of December 26, he called the cops.

“Sir, was she drinking?” asked the 911 respondent.

“She doesn’t drink,” he said, right before I sent him my text message that I been done-in by whiskey. It certainly wasn’t the first time, but this time it was public. He was so shocked.

“And a HAPPY New Year!” my mother and her friend used to sing over and over, especially after they’d been drinking, on every New Year’s Eve that I can remember while growing up. My parents have spent every New Year’s Eve for forty years with the same couple. I and their daughters enjoyed the freedom of doing whatever we wanted—playing with candle wax, sampling the sweet liquors, snatching food, and playing Atari games into the wee hours—while our parents got drunker and drunker. This friend died in May, Mom in October, so Dad and the remaining widower spent New Year’s Eve together last night, just the two of them going through the motions—shopping for snacks in the morning, eating out, retiring to one house or the other to watch a video. It was the saddest evening I could have imagined for my father, but he wanted to do it. And he even told me today that they had a good time, he and his friend of forty years, eating out and watching a movie by themselves and mumbling from time-to-time “and a HAPPY New Year.”

This is how 2017 ended for my father is his long-time friend. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

A friend sent me a poem today, and I realized, as I read it, that poetry is the thing I need to keep going. I haven’t sought refuge in poetry since I was in my twenties. There’s something about it, about how it explains the inexplicable. Although the theme didn’t capture my sadness entirely, this poem fed my soul today:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597/burning-the-old-year

I think tomorrow, or later, I will try to write one. It’s been decades since I wrote a poem, but during these days of loss and sadness, I think it’s the only way to find peace.

Freaking Shit Holidays!

Marry, Marry, MARRY Christmas! Marry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! Of course, Hanukkah is over. It’s often over by this time, like around Christmas or so, when the good stuff happens—when spy people in convincing camo and 1960s radar gear give the children of America their secret glimpse of Santa’s progress around the world. Just go to www.dot.where.thefuckisSantarightnow?.org, or something like that. At this time, the whole nation is infected with Christmas frenzy. And Hanukkah? Oh, Hanukkah. I’m-so-glad-I-married-a-Jew-and-met-you, Hanukkah. Hanukkah, in our household, sometimes ends with a whimper, but not a bang. That’s alright. I’ve always enjoyed keeping it real.

So here I am. My mom has been dead for exactly two months to this day. Two months of my forty-six years on this earth I have lived now without my mother. I cry when I wander down the aisles at Trader Joe’s and see the candy that she liked so much and can’t buy it now because… who would eat it? I cry whenever I meet another soul sister who also lost her mother this year or the last, or even decades ago. This wound don’t heal. This wound is like a cut on the foot of a guy with Stage 2 Diabetes. This wound is gonna be around for a long, long time. This wound may plague me til my death. I made my hypothetical diabetes victim above a man because I actually knew a man who cut his foot at the pool and had to wear a boot for time immemorial.   I wonder where that guy is today…

Anyway, I’d like to twitter in and ask one of these Santa-stalking fuckers sometime what countries he recently visited. Not the broad strokes—I want details. Did he make it past the Taliban? What about the huts with no chimneys? Doesn’t that red suit get just so fucking restraining around the Equator? And how—this is the question I’ve been asking myself since I was like seven—how does he fit so much shit into one sleigh? Between Hanukkah and Christmas, I think my stepkids alone get enough stuff to fit in a velvet sack in the back of some eighteenth century, pre-global warming, Nordic transportation device. So many questions.

And I always thought my dad was with me in my skepticism. My dad is and always has been “the man.” He’s the oldest brother, the most responsible, the most sensible, the keenest and the fiercest. One look from my dad made me shrink as a kid. My mother always envied that power. My mother also went to church, and my dad didn’t… until two months ago. You know what happened then—the young pastor paid a visit to our house while my mom was dying and gave her some peace. Dad’s agnosticism forfeited to community values. This young pastor has won him. Today, my f-ing father brought me to church! He said it was like therapy. I saw a guy connecting with people across pews. I sat stunned as he wandered up the candles at the altar and lit one for mom. I had NO IDEA what this man was doing because I have no idea what life is like in church. My dad loved my mom. He loved her so much that he has been regularly attending church services since she passed. My dad is coping with grief. I am proud!

I cope differently. Today’s church services were nauseatingly simple. I’ll support Dad, but I won’t drink the Kool Aid.

According to Facebook, Life is Bliss

My husband bought me a load of cooking gadgets for my birthday. Basically, he bought me every cooking gadget that I have asked for over the past two years, which is odd. Ordinarily, we don’t do gifts on birthdays, except for small stuff. We usually treat ourselves to a weekend away or sometimes to nothing at all. We’re not big on ceremony. This birthday was quite different, but it wasn’t a milestone. I guess I’m still drawing a pity card.

For my birthday, I got a programmable pressure cooker/crockpot/steamer device. I got a convertible indoor grill/griddle/Panini maker. And I got a raclette, which is just SO seventies. Only problem is I’ll have to socialize with people in order to use it. I’m putting that baby on the shelf in the basement where I put all my party stuff that I stopped using—my fancy stainless steel chafer and my big glass water dispenser. God, I’m sad.

I’ve always been kind of sad. Self-deprecation can be amusing, and psychoanalyzing myself can be fun. But these days, I’m not even the funny-hah-hah kind of sad. I’m the too-fat-to-fit-into-any-of-my-clothes kind of sad. I’m the “thus, I wear my mother’s clothes, which are not my style and consequently creep out my husband because, really, who wants to look at his wife and be reminded of his mother-in-law?” kind of sad. To further this unsexy scenario, I cut off all my hair off last month, and it looked good for a couple of weeks. Now, it looks like a lackluster wing hovering awkwardly over my puffy face.   Yup, I’ve got it going ON!

I believe I might be having my midlife crisis now.   I’ll bet ya that’s what it is—the drinking, the death, the complete lack of interest in social activity, the looking like my mother, the drinking. Yesterday, I accidently friended about twenty random people on Facebook because I thought the “People You May Know” scroll was the “Friend Request” scroll. I felt really popular for those several minutes until I didn’t. In order to see what some of my new friends would see upon accessing my profile (new friends like friends of my mother’s and people from high school whom I may or may not have EVER spoken to) I took a journey through my uploaded pics. Wow. Facebook is the Land of Delusion for people who are too health-conscious to develop an opioid addiction. Let me explain…

In EVERY picture that I have uploaded since 2008, I am either smiling, or traveling, or socializing, or looking hot, or all of the above! According to my Facebook uploads, my life is an endless party. I spend all my time globetrotting and being adored by my husband and stepchildren. I look sexy in all those pics because why would I ever share a picture of a bad day? Even now, I can still eek out a pic of two in which I look good. I have a keen sense of style when I want to, and I can hide the mid-life-crisis fat pretty well.   My life, in pictures uploaded to Facebook, is an absolute dream.

I’m not saying my life isn’t a dream. I have no complaints at all with the existence and lifestyles of others around me. Nobody bugs me. Nobody will. I just have to face this whole “being my own worst enemy” thing that’s going on here. If this is a mid-life crisis, then it can surely end. Soon, perhaps, I’ll have enough energy to get on that slow train to the fifties and beyond, where everybody’s happy because they’re still alive.

The New Forties Means our Parents are the New Sixties… at Least.

I interrupt my grief mantra to resume this blog’s original flavor—the 40s are the new 40s. This blog is about the forties, for better or for worse. Last week introduced my 46th birthday. I am finally the age that I have been calling myself for the last year. For some reason, I never even acknowledged forty-five, that middle of middle-age that you’d think I’d want to cling to for as long I possibly could. Instead, I immediately thought ahead, to the years beyond forty-five. I don’t know why, but I have a hunch—I spent my forty-fifth year preparing for THIS.

What is THIS? This is the forties, the real forties. I woke up on my forty-sixth birthday in the same clothes I’d worn the previous day, and the same jewelry, some of which was my mom’s. Like many black-out nights before that one, I hadn’t brushed my teeth because I hadn’t been in control of when I went to bed. On my forty-sixth birthday morning, I completely missed the kids before they caught the bus for school, and my husband both spoiled me with every cooking gadget I’d ever asked for while also reminding me of how much I am slipping.

“Happy birthday,” he said, and he hugged me. Then he said, “Maybe not today, or this weekend, but maybe we can talk about your drinking.” Happy birthday to me—I am a concern to my family.

I guess I am a concern to myself as well. My experiences and memories are sort of pixilated. Sober days are high-definition days. If I take off a ring to put on some hand lotion, I remember to put the ring back on. On a low-tech day, that ring is anybody’s fortune. I never wore rings until my mother died, so if I lose a ring on a low-definition kind of day, that ring is just gone, as is another piece of my mother’s history.

But I didn’t start this blog to talk about my mother exclusively.   However, I have a lot of friends my age who know this kind of grief. It is, in many ways, a product of the forties. I am certain that my focus on the themes of the “new forties” will eventually stray from loss and grief and return to all the other experiences that make this decade so meaningful. For now, I am a skipping record. And if you know what that is, then you know why the forties are NOT the new thirties!