I’ve been watching my physical future paraded past me on the hips and heads of ladies for always, so I’ve known what to expect. Grandmothers then mothers, dusted with age have showcased the changes, some with verve, others with resign–all without choice–and so as a woman in my upper forties, I’ve adapted. I have changed my standards and my expectations and after years of working hard to look okay without clothes, I am now learning of and using tricks and tools to feel good in clothes, lots of them. I use Keatonesque methods of layering and stacking and completely groove on turtlenecks, scarves and a great pair of sunglasses. Every couple of months, I marinate the nickled and wiry shoots of hair in L'oreal Root Rescue No. 4 and after too many long long days regretting the zippers and buttons of stiff blouses and jeans, I have turned my wardrobe into cushed and giving fabrics. In my shower I have the most amazing cheese grating tool for my heels and I now know to watch for and emergency tweeze the one boinging chin hair that resembles a misplaced pube. I am managing; I have solutions and I’m okay with all of this.
Ten or so years ago, while my J.J. was finger painting his way through two hours of morning pre-school, I’d sign eighteen-month Anna over to the YMCA Kid’s Korner and strain toward a thinner me for an hour and a half. There, sweating, squatting, lifting and churning was an athletic and strong older woman who left drenched and exhausted every day but who still looked padded. I remember wondering what she was doing wrong, what she might be eating and how much of it. Now, as I push through my rotation of hikes and runs, squats and lunges I know that right and wrong have very little to do with the softening of her or me or any of us older woman. Once stand-alone body parts have encroached on neighboring areas–breasts to stomach, each thigh to the other, the bottoms of my butt cheeks to the tops of my legs, all slumping and falling into one another like the tiers of a tired wedding cake. But this is all okay; I truly am comfortable with my new outside self.
I also am not one of those unburdened by the annoying hormonal blasts of PMS and for three decades have managed and soldiered through plenty of pre-days with marble size zits, throbbing ballooned breasts, chocolate cravings and cranky reactions. This too has all been okay, I have handled this.
During my childhood, I had some pretty raunchy things happen, giving me plenty of grievances to fill girlhood diaries with and since, more than one friend over wine or a walk, coffee or shopping have asked me intensely interested in how I have been such a survivor–landed on my feet–pulled myself up–dealt with so much–and am ‘normal’. And I have told more than one friend things that I really believe from the very most central place in me. I have said that its all about the boot straps, all the way you perceive and react to circumstances, all in your attitude, everything to do with lifting yourself up and the power of positive thinking. I’ve talked about hope and being hopeful and about focus and acceptance. I have said these things because I have proof to know their truth and have patterned a personal religion out of my conviction to these things.
So, when November and December of my forty-seventh year are not okay, I reel in the surprise of my helplessness. I am first surprised after a tiring week in early November. On a Saturday morning, I stare into the wash machine basin as the stream of Tide thinly then fatly blue-rivers our white bath towels and I cry. Fast flowing tears, I think because this laundry job, this chore, this peril bores me and my family, the people upstairs don’t help me; I cry. Later that week, I drive through the grossly gray slush of winter and I cry. These trips back and forth to school and practices exhaust me and my children, my adolescent passengers ignore me; I cry. Again in early November, at the grocery store, I am tarped by the thought of deciding, picking and concocting what will be dinner and so, I cry and because I can’t stop, I pull sunglasses from my purse and leave the store with nothing.
During this time, five days is my no-shower record and I realize that I like no one except my dog Maggie. My kids do not put anything in the dishwasher, they tap their IPhones flapping birds and clashing clans before doing homework; they leave wet towels on dry carpets and lose water bottles, gloves and forty dollar sweatshirts. These everyday minor transgressions now have me struggling for calm.
For years, during the work week, my husband and I have checked in with each other mid-day, but now, when he calls at lunchtime, I am sure it is to make me feel guilty because he is showered, dressed and getting paid and I...am not. Now, dreading this daily interaction, I build a tower of resentment where I snap my “YES?” from when the phone rings. All of November and December it takes great effort to playact my way through conversations with my children, husband and closest friends; I just want to be alone in my slothdom and I am amazed at the depth of my disdain as I react to things from my emotional house of mirrors.
I dread 2:30 when my work time is up. I produce nothing except worry on these deep winter days. I know for sure that all other writers are galaxies better at this impossibly difficult act of placing words together and so, for these two months, I troll employment websites and panic as I move backwards away from professional composure and self confidence.
Sticky dishes and crumby floors become assaults that I vear around and ignore. I do everything slowly or not at all. Dinners become Chalupa and Gordito Supremes and my kids learn that the friendly Taco Bell guy is Brad and that his crabby twin brother Jeff works only on the weekends. One night as they unpack the lukewarm globs wrapped in wax paper, JJ and Anna are fighting over who ordered what. They pingpong snippy insults at each other until I slam my hand hard and loud onto the kitchen counter and scream for them to stop their “fucking fighting.” This stays in our kitchen forever. I scare them but don’t stop slicing at them with mean crazy words. I tell them I am sick of their self-centered greediness and that sometimes I HATE being a mother. Anna quietly cries and J.J. just looks at me with disgust and says, “Gosh mom, we’re sorry.” That night, they stay together doing homework and even brush their teeth side-by-side. They align themselves against me and speak soft and privately. I do not apologize but lay in the bruise of regret and shame after they fall asleep. Damn me; I was scared a lot as a girl.
A week before Thanksgiving, as I plod through unpacking the dishwasher, my husband mentions casually that he wants to take the kids to his sister’s on Thanksgiving day. Like it’s nothing. Thanksgiving is our holiday, mine, I cook and our house has the smells and the people, not Aunt Janet’s. I throw a cup and it shatters in the sink; I tell him this is so damn hurtful and mean. I hornet down to the laundry room where I put my head in my folded arms, lean against the cold metal and sob and because my whole body gets tangled in my anger–I shake. I am deeper than sad.
In December, a week before Christmas at the dog park, I run into a friend of mine. Amy speaks like harmony and is kind beyond comparison. This day, she doesn’t have a hat on and the wind swings her mass of curls across her face as we walk in our pack. I am quiet while Amy talks lightly about a half renovated house, one daughter just out of day surgery, her family’s temporary housing, no heat, how she can’t find the Christmas tree in storage...her real troubles are stacking up in the conversation and I swerve around them and blurt out that I have been so so down and how I can’t shake it. She is a couple years older than I and responds with an immediate, gentle, melodic, “Oohh, ya.” We move above the sound of snow crunching and I open. I tell her how this is beyond my understanding, how I really have nothing significant to be down about but how I am worried and scared all the time. She listens and nods and then takes my arm and promises me that this will for sure go away. She says that it will probably come back unexpectedly and that it will suck every time but that it will always go away. I drive away with Maggie and leave her declaration and assurance with her and the wind because I believe only in the low that I live that day.
One of these days, driving home from school drop-off at 7:45 a.m., intending to be home writing by 8, I am overcome with the idea of a BLT and I swerve my car into the Pick-n-Save parking lot to buy bacon. Although, before this I have spent exactly zero time thinking about bacon or a BLT–this quest aligns perfectly with my new inappropriate obsession with mayonnaise. At home, I putty toast with it, pile on lettuce, out-of-season tomatoes and a double layer of bacon and then, I am chewing and eating so fast that I almost choke on the bread that pastes up as I swallow. After, I am sapped and cold. I pull a black, fleece throw around my shoulders, drop onto the couch and stay there for too many hours because I am crazy and tired and I hate my dirty house. A week later I will butter a chocolate chip cookie before eating it...I’m not kidding.
During these months I know I am completely fucking bananas. I want to grab myself by the shoulders and shake away the dread and drear. I tell myself everyday that I know better than this but now, my positive mental attitude is PowerPuff playstuff against this Herculean dire. It is not even a contender, I cannot rouse it nor hope–not any of the threads of truth I have made my blanket of religion out of and so I drift through all of November and December with my heart greyhounding inside me and I have a very real fear that this perpetual pulmonary panic is going to kill me and most days, I’m not even sure that I’d care.
A Marlboro Light is the single most calming thing I used to know and I am just senseless enough during this startling winter to take the leap from my smokeless life to the Mobile station to my garage where I light one and draw the chemicals and the nicotine expectedly into the chaos that has become me. I want calm and serenity. I want relax, and so I try. The thing is that even this potent and powerful drug-shit is not a contender, but instead becomes an add-on to the lunacy package. For exactly nine days, I am a full-on closet smoker, again. Hiding when no one is home, I smoke in the freezing cold garage with the intense urgency and desperation of an addict trying so so hard to gain or stop or change something. The calm never comes–only another thing to amp the worry that is smothering me and so, after these ten days, I again put the Marlboro Lights aside because my children do not deserve a raunchy childhood.
On Christmas I tell my brothers and their wives about the crying and the cup, about swearing and snapping and being mean. But it is Christmas and there are candles and warmth and red wine and we are all laughing about it and they joke saying that they are for sure taking my kids home with them so that they can be spared and my husband says, “Hey wait, what about me...don’t leave me behind!” And it is very very funny that night. But then, everyone travels home and it is not a holiday. The Christmas tree looks shitty, dry and thin. The outside lights come down, we toast 2014, the kids go back to school and I resume my driving back and forth through the grossly gray slush of winter. All the while my heart never stops its crazyrace.
And then one day in early January, I want to clean the bathrooms and I do it better than I ever have. I actually unclip the toilet seats and take them down to the laundry tub, soak them in bleach, and then work corner to corner to destroy every scummy germ in the yellow-green bathroom. As I do, I remember the day that Anna and I picked and painted this citron, when she was young enough that I had her strip down to her TUESDAY undies and handed her a roller. And, I’m smiling in the beautiful smell of Pine Sol and the remembering. Without thinking, I move down the hall to a fresh bucket of water and the kitchen floor and I am light and relaxed and on this day, I can’t wait until school pick up time, to get JJ and Anna back with me because it seems so so long since I’ve been here at home with them.
That was months ago and as I cross off the days on our jam-packed calendar, some while singing along in the car to Katie Perry with Anna or laughing with J.J. about his sweaty hands at his first girl-boy movie, I am very aware that I have work to do during this comfortable high time, that I must prepare myself to do this better next time. And this toilet day is now what I will have to draw on and what I will take energy from when this weighted, black, racy, worry seeps out of whatever hormones are fluctuating their way to menopause and my fifties. And, I’ll live through it next time aware of the clearing–aware that it will lift as dear sweet Amy promised it would.