After death, divorce or being dumped (the big 3 Ds in starting over), life puts you alone in a little Smart car (not so sure about that “smart” designation), slams the door shut and points you down the Road of Life toward a place called “New Normal.” Just where the hell this place is, I couldn’t tell you–I’m personally still looking for it. (I think it’s rather elusive though—and not visible from the road. One of those places you don’t realize you’ve reached—until you actually do.)
Ok, necessary backstory: I married young—pretty much out of college. I went from roommates to a husband. Married for nearly 36 years, I raised 3 sons and helped care for my first grandson. I knew where “Normal” was because I was living there. Over 3+ decades only the street address occasionally changed. As our family and dreams grew, so did our houses. First a 1,400 sq. ft. tract ranch that backed up to an alley, then a 2,300 sq. ft. split-level with a greenbelt, and finally a 4,000+ sq. ft. semi-custom on a lake. (Of course, in Arizona, “lake” is a pretty loose label. Think man-made hole with a filtration system.)
Somewhere, though, along my Road of Life my happily-ever-after train derailed. The particulars really don’t matter much. But to think that two people who marry young can—and will—continue to grow on parallel paths is sometimes a long shot that doesn’t pay out. I changed. He didn’t. There were other factors as well. Again the particulars really don’t matter much. I was the one who filed for divorce, so the blame is mine? Regardless, our once fairly happy home became a dwelling divided into his bedroom downstairs and hers up.
Not to say there weren’t potholes all along. But I did a good job avoiding them when our sons were safely strapped in their car seats riding with. Maybe too good a job. Since after the fact, they said they’d never realized. (Indeed, they’d taken pride in being anomalies among their friends—theirs were the only parents still married!) But friends who knew us, knew. Ergo, ours was not a relationship for which announcements of divorce elicited shock and statements, ala “Wow! You guys seemed like such a happy couple!” Nope. When I informed those in the need to know, I got a nod and a shrug and a “What took you so long?”
But the point of this post is not to direct blame or to take a turn onto Woulda Shoulda Coulda Boulevard. I wasn’t happy. So I made a choice. It wasn’t a choice without regrets, however. My biggest is that my ex and I never had the opportunity to get past the pain and anger. He died 2 months after the divorce became final. I would have liked to have been able to move from animosity to amicability—and even reach that friendship level some divorced couples achieve as each makes a new life. Certainly, too, I regret the pain and upheaval it caused my sons. No longer little boys or gangly teenagers, but grown men—married themselves—it still was not easy, especially the aftermath.
I also regret I’m not necessarily happier. Living on my own and alone for the first time ever in my life has been an interesting journey with detours and side trips I didn’t expect. Three months after his death, I moved to Philly. From a house that was no longer a home to a 2 bedroom brick duplex in a blue collar enclave 10 minutes from the Philadelphia airport.
At first I loved it—my “new” Normal–the novelty, the adventure, the newness of it all. I furnished and decorated exactly as I wanted. I had a real office, so I could write again. Although the kitchen and bathroom were small (ok, tiny), I adapted. Less space forces one to have less crap. (Though with 2 full closets all to myself, my clothes and shoes didn’t suffer any cut-backs. Priorities, you know . . .) Furthermore, I no longer had to live with the freakin’ TV blaring 20 out of 24 hours a day. When I cleaned something, it stayed clean until I dirtied it. I could tuck in the sheets and keep the temperature at night right at that sweet spot between “frigid” and “arctic.” I cooked if I wanted, didn’t if I didn’t. No one bitched at me they were out of their favorite 3 pairs of underwear and when the eff was I going to do a load of laundry? No dishwasher forced me to clean up after each meal. (And really? 1 plate, 1 fork?) Truly, the only downside was if something went missing, I had no one to blame but me.
Single, I come and go as I please. See and spend time with anyone I want to. I travel regularly to Europe on vacation, sometimes all by my damn self and sometimes with a girlfriend from college. (There’s something very comforting and special and uniquely fun about spending time with someone who has known you for over 40 years! Girl, you haven’t changed a bit—you still don’t wear flat shoes or pants! Nope. I don’t.) Married to a man who never gave me flowers, I buy them every week. Truth be told, there are days I don’t get dressed at all or won’t brush my teeth til past noon. With an international flight schedule I function mainly on European time (6 hrs ahead of Philly). I’ll go to bed at 6 or 7—and wake up at 2 and write. Like the 1965 song by Leslie Gore says “It’s my party . . .
. . . and I’ll cry if I want to.” Because I do. Living alone after being a wife and mother for 36+ years is not (despite the previous 3 paragraphs) all rainbows, sprinkle glitter and unicorns. My first Thanksgiving alone I cried the entire day. Christmas wasn’t much better. Was I missing the life I had—or the life that was? And there is a difference. Trace Atkins had a hit song years back, “You’re Gonna Miss These Days.” I do. I miss the little boys my sons were. But then again, maybe it’s my own youth I miss—not theirs? I don’t know. I do know as much as I love living alone, I sometimes sure as hell don’t like it. As full as my life is, there’s a void.
Last September a dear, dear friend came to visit with her sister for a few days. One evening after I’d been battling a headache all day, my friend (a nurse) came up from behind as I was sitting on the couch. She put her fingers on my temples and started to rub in soothing little circles. I realized with a bolt of clarity that was physically painful, it was the first time I’d been touched tenderly in 4 months! No grandson cuddling on my lap with a wet and sticky “I wub you, Baba” whispered into my ear. No engulfing hug bestowed by a 6’2” son upon his 5’3” mother. And no lover’s caress.
The experts say you have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else. (I’m working on it.) They say, too, that someone will show up in your life when you least expect it. (That one’s true!) A couple weeks after my friend’s visit I met “someone.” Before I knew it, my “new” Normal changed. (And that lover’s caress thing? Yeah, no longer a problem.) But sometimes along the road called “Life,” someones are only pleasant seasonal side trips or worse, inconvenient and time-consuming detours. I’m starting out again and starting over, back on the road toward my next “new” normal. I gotta tell you, though, the road’s a little bumpy right now—as my emotions just feel what they feel and my intellect counters with logic and fact: Seriously! A 36-year-old Normal is going to take time replacing. Unlike cars, cell phones or the Eagles’ new cornerback (I’m only assuming they signed a new one ‘cause I’m just making a point here—not a sports report.) “New Normals” are not quick! Neither is the surface which leads to them a flat, smooth straightaway.
So, ladies, if you’re on the Road of Life after a big D, headed toward that place called “New Normal,” just be prepared. Sure as sh*t and God made little greens apples (and I’ll bet a new pair of high heels on it) there’s going to be detours ahead . . .