Wow... Have I really lived sixty years and a day? Amazing. Amazing that my babies are all grown up now--one with her own babies. Amazing that I have been married three times... Amazing that I lived in Westchester County--a stone's throw from NYC. Amazing. Or not. Is it? Or is it just a life, with the usual vagaries, the ups and downs and changes that we all go through.
My first day of kindergarden... I was terrified. You may not believe this but I was painfully shy as a child, scared of everyone and everything. I lived inside my head, looking out at the big scary world, watching, always watching. My mother, in her usual no nonsense way, handed me over to the teacher and said, "Go on, you'll be fine." She left me standing there crying with the teacher trying to comfort me.
Fourth grade, and a huge, terrifying male teacher, Mr. Ellenburger. Oh my, stern of face and firm of character, the word about school was enough to make any child of my demeanor scared of him before even stepping through his door on the first day. There was an African American girl sitting next to me right in the front row. Now I had two things to be scared of--the teacher in the front of the room and this strange creature next to me. I had never seen anyone who looked different from me. She leaned over and asked me if we were supposed to have a certain book. I was too scared to answer her; scared of the teacher who would yell at me for talking during class and scared of the girl because she was so alien. Mr. Ellenburger came right over and yelled at ME for not helping the new girl in school --Says something about his character that I couldn't see as a child.
I was in 6th grade. I had walked down my hill and up the next hill to meet some friends at the lake. When I got there, only one other girl had arrived yet. She started asking me if I liked Debbie better than her. She started pushing me on the shoulder and taunting me, "You better not like her better." She was only at our school for that year--she was new to the area and no one had ever bullied me--or anyone that I saw, before this. I was terrified. I capitulated and agreed that she was my best friend and I couldn't stand Debbie. I am sorry Debbie, I just did not have the moral fortitude to stand up to Sandy, but I always did like you better.
When I was nineteen I dated a man who was 5 years older and not in school. He would pick me up after work and already be smoking a joint in the car. After a month or so of dating I finally realized this guy was never not stoned. He smoked when he woke up, on his breaks at work, on his lunch hour and immediately after work. He was a big talker who had big plans and was going no where fast. I broke up with him, gave away my little bag of weed and never smoked a joint again. I was not following him down that path.
When I was twenty, I was in a very low spot in life. One night I sat crying somewhere near the Miami River, and a police officer stopped and talked to me. He thought I was there to commit suicide. I wasn't, but he couldn't know that. The fact that he talked to me for twenty minutes or so, gave me his phone number and encouraged me to find help, was enough. Someone cared. I made changes and became happy again.
I met my first husband when I was almost twenty-one. Even though the relationship was not to last, it changed me and helped me to become who I am today. I learned to value myself from him. He helped me to discover that I could choose my life, rather than just be pushed around by life, reacting to the events that occurred.
When I was in my twenties, I walked into a small health food store I had been frequenting regularly and the owner was there sitting on the counter, crying softly. I hadn't really connected to her before that, but in that one moment, we did connect and I am forever changed by this relationship. She was my first true woman friend. And she has inspired me, prodded me, enhanced me in myriad ways. I am not who I was before I met her.
I had my first baby in my twenties. It was 2 am and I was suddenly awakened wracked with pain, I thought I was going to die. My husband was sleeping, not for long though, as I couldn't do this alone. Sixteen hours later my baby girl lay in my arms, looking straight into my eyes, my heart... my soul.
In my thirties I argued with my second husband incessantly, "Let me get two words out before you correct EVERYTHING I say!" We finally came to an agreement--he would choose one thing and ONLY correct that until I had it, and then he would go on to something else. An English teacher with a very limited ability to let poor English go by uncorrected, he helped me become the writer I am today.
Three more babies were born when I was in my thirties. It was a time focused on children with little time for anything else. If my kids felt smothered by me, it was because I was so worried about being like my mom. I wanted to be there for my kids in a way my mother couldn't. I worried about the impact of every single word that passed through these lips. I read books, I joined mothers groups, I led discussions about parenting, I taught classes. I know I smothered.
One of my children went through some very hard times when I was in my thirties. I spent years crying, worrying, feeling helpless. I knew this child would grow up to be an amazing and strong individual and I clung to that hope as if to a life preserver. I knew that I did not know how to parent this child... but I kept trying and I loved. Sometimes that was all I could hold on to. I love you child.
There are actually people in the world who would come to me for parenting advice when I was in my forties. Yes, I can hear all of my children laughing out loud right now, but its true. Some people actually thought I was a model parent. My children and I know better.
I started to realize just how much I was like my mother when I was in my forties. I had tried so hard not to be her and now I found without even noticing... I had slid into her shoes and they fit so well I didn't even notice I was wearing them for years.
Work. Work. Work. In my forties and into my fifties I was a workaholic. Oh so much like my mother; hiding in my work, finding self worth in my work. Things were not good on the home front--but they were great at work. So I stayed at work.
Pain. Hurt. Secrets. Like my mother, I didn't talk about any of it. I held it in. I kept the secret. I didn't even tell my best friend. The fifties were a kind of fraudulent time for me. I looked happy. I smiled in photos. But I was desperately unhappy. I became stuck emotionally, spiritually, secretly.
In my fifties I learned that to keep growing I had to open up to possibilities. I learned to speak my truth. I learned not to keep secrets. I learned to be willing to take emotional risks. Very scary stuff. But I did it. And I blossomed. No more secrets.
I learned how to choose a mate successfully in my fifties. It only took two practice husbands to get it right. I learned to love, to give, to consider, to be thoughtful. I learned the more love I give, the more love I get.
I met my third husband in my mid-fifties. We connected instantly. But I was wary. I had a list, a list of attributes my next partner must have. He did. We did. Happy-Happy-Happy. Happy ever after? Who knows. But I know that I will only be around as long as it is working. No pain, no hurt, no secrets are worth giving up my own happiness.
I moved to Westchester County in my fifties. Only a stone’s throw from NYC. At first I was on this great adventure… but reality soon set in. I couldn’t be a wuss and survive. I had to man up. Or woman up. On my way to the grocery store I saw two men –older men—well dressed, get out of their cars and start fighting. Yes, really hitting each other! I couldn’t believe it. I turned around, went home and stayed inside the rest of the day. I couldn’t even go shopping safely. I learned to not watch the news at night. Every single night there were murders and robberies and people hurting people. It threw me right into fear. I could not live in Bronxville, NY and be happy while constantly being in a state of fear. I learned that there really are geographical places that suit a person better than others and that I needed to find my place.
And now.... here I am at sixty. It is hard to imagine I am really here. Better sixty than not though, right? Sixty seemed so old when I was in my twenties. It seems so young now. When I am talking to people in their thirties, I have to remind myself that we are not the same age... I forget. I wonder if that is early Alzheimer’s...
It has long been my goal to live to be one hundred and twenty five years old. Only sixty five to go. I hope medical science keeps up.