No matter how many birthdays come and go I’ve always felt in my mind that I was 26. The reality hits me whenever I pass a mirror and I think to myself “You don’t look so good for 26”. Now the fact that my oldest child will be 42 soon, you would think I would up my chosen internal age but I think I will stick with 26. Every decade in my life seems to have a theme of sorts and along with the age there were unique highs and lows. But the one constant in my life is I have never feared aging. Frankly, I learned at a young age that it is all relative.
When I was four years old there was a little girl lived down the street from my Grandmother. Whenever I stayed with my Farmor (fathers mother) I spent many happy hours playing with little Sherry. One day we asked Farmor how old she was and she replied that she was sixty seven. Frankly that meant very little to us as four year old’s so we asked just how much was sixty seven? To which Farmor replied, “It’s nearly one hundred”. We knew one hundred so we went away satisfied. Not long after, the Boy Scouts were holding a pancake supper fundraiser and the community turned out in full support. Farmor and I attended as did my little friend and her parents. When Sherry saw us she introduced my Grandmother with great excitement. “This is Cindy’s Grandma and she is nearly one hundred years old.” In our defense my Grandmother looked old to me. Chubby lady with grey hair and old lady clothes. I watch the Golden Girls now and they seem so old to me but in reality their television age is much younger than my true age. Blows my mind.
When I was sixteen I was dropping something off at my brothers house across town while my boyfriend waited in the car. I was in a bit of a rush so somewhat annoyed when my brother asked me to go next door and borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbour. But, I did it and my annoyance grew when the neighbour laughed and escorted me back to my brothers house. Throughout the entire episode I became more and more bothered. It was obvious there was some sort of private joke going on but I was in a hurry and frankly I wasn’t in the mood for the silly games. My brother, his wife and their neighbours were all early thirties. Turns out they had been talking one evening about my brothers bachelor days when a young lady used to come to his apartment asking for a cup of sugar. He continued to give her sugar without questioning her motives. Everyone thought it was hilarious that he just couldn’t get the hint that she liked him. The neighbours were two bachelors and one had mentioned that he found me attractive. This is what prompted my brothers little joke. When it all came out I am sure that my disgust was written all over my face. The man was thirty one years old. I was sixteen. Gross. Even now at sixty it is still gross. There was a beautiful six foot blonde blue eyed nineteen year old waiting for me in a hopped up 1969 Black Beaumont. I ran to that car so fast. What were they thinking? Now I see a thirty year old man as not much more than a child. My youngest child is weeks away from being thirty one. See? It is all relative.
As we go through the ages we learn lessons as well as wisdom. I loved being young and free. Personally my childhood was mostly unexciting but calm and happy. There were a few more bumps in the early teens. The gawky years. Junior high. But lots of fun and excitement with more and more freedom. Parties and dances and concerts. Growing up. High school with late nights out. Cruising with friends. Again freedom was the name of the game. Life was lived on the fly. Cruise main and when a party pops up the word spreads. Drive-in theatres from dusk to dawn. The lack of responsibility was intoxicating as we drifted along. Falling in love over and over. I admit I never really looked too far forward. When I was in University people would ask what I was going to do when I graduated and I would just make things up. I had no idea. They were making small talk so I did too. I admit life was fairly hedonistic back then but I think it is for most young people. And then I became a mother.
Responsibility is a big thing when you are a parent and while I adapted to the role, I still blared the stereo and danced with abandon. I acted as the young woman I was. And then one day my six year old daughter lied. She told a boy on her baseball team that I wasn’t her mother. I was her aunt. That was the first time I knew how a child could break a mothers heart. But it wasn’t the last. I was twenty five years old and I embarrassed my child. Because I looked and dressed like a twenty five year old. The other Moms were all much older and my daughter was the only girl on an all boy baseball team. The young lads aged six to eight thought I was a hottie and it bothered her. She was a tom boy and I was all girl. A teaching moment for both of us. Later in the evening when she told me about it I told her it was okay. She hugged me and went to sleep and I crawled into bed with my husband and cried and cried as he held me. For my daughter, for me and for my Mom. All the times I was embarrassed because she was old.
I turned sixty one recently. My girlfriend says this is a special year because I was born in 1961 and I am sixty one. I have navigated a life with very little planning and even less looking forward. My hubby was the one who wanted to prepare for the future. The careful part of the marriage. I was the one who lept from idea to idea. Looking back over the last two years I feel like I am just emerging from a fog. Rene’ died just before Covid and it is his death which caused life to become somewhat meaningless for me. Grief has a way of doing that to a person. Covid in fact helped me to heal in my own time as people were kept away and I was able to grieve without interruption and judgment. People mean well I guess but frankly too often they do what they think is expected, which is often not what we need. Not long go I was at the hospital emergency triage and the admitting clerk was asking questions. My marital status. What was it? I just looked at him. He kept probing. Was I single? Yes. But then as he wrote it down I thought to myself, “Should I say widow?” Technically that is what I was so I corrected him. But no asks me that usually and it is hard to change when your automatic answer confuses you. I still feel married. After all, this wasn’t my choice and it certainly wasn’t Rene’s choice. But here I am.
One day about ten years ago my husband and I were talking about change. He said I was a very gentle and kind person when I was young but I had grown a bit jaded. I had an edge of sorts. My oldest daughter, the one who doesn’t like me calls it my “Fuck You Attitude”. I knew what Rene’ meant. I realized that I had put a wall up in order to protect myself. Until I got married most of the people in my life saw me for who I was. Not a lot of stress but also a great deal of freedom to just be me. It was easy going through life. I wasn’t prepared for marriage into an alcoholic family. I didn’t have the skills to deal with things I knew very little about. So in time I fought back. I lost a bit of that young girl. I also let the hurt and fear drift into my life in other ways and in time I was angry. I fought back when someone was mean. I remember saying to Rene’ I tried so hard to change who I was so the in-laws would like me. But they never treated me any different. They still didn’t like me and I began to dislike me as well. I missed who I was but it takes time to reflect on who we have become and why. I can’t blame them. They are a product of their environment. They didn’t like themselves. It had nothing to with me. The fact that they chose to pretend everything is ok, well that isn’t my problem. It is not okay.
So I now have to journey yet more uncharted waters. A little older. More wrinkles. Some extra weight around the middle. But I am really the same gal who is moving forward through time with very little idea about where I am going. It is strange in so many ways. There is no one to tell my newest thoughts to but there is no one to stop me from just doing whatever jumps into my head. Since he died, there has been an exodus of people from my life. One daughter has turned her back on me and I am no longer allowed to see her family. Gifts to her kids are returned and an email was sent asking me to stop. She is hurting and she must traverse these waters her own way. On another note I no longer see many of my husbands family who have brought so many years of heartache and interference. The truth is though that when you hit bottom you retreat inside yourself. The less stress there is, the better. Its hard to heal when shit goes sideways around you. So I am glad for the time to retreat and now I am glad to be emerging for a new start.
I have a girlfriend whose political ideas are so far removed from mine it is hilarious. She is one of the true joys in my life along with another sweet sweet gal. Those two have made my journey through grief so much easier. My daughter mentioned one day that she was surprised by how I act when my friend gets excited about an idea that conflicts with mine. As Drew says “If that was anyone else you would tell them where to go”. True, but the young me would accept and listen. You see I realize that not only is my grief subsiding somewhat, but distance from people who stress me has brought the wall down. The old me is still there. There is no enemy. No one to push back against. Life is sweet. It is filled with sweet people. I love my two gals and the fact that we differ in many ways gives us a chance to learn from each other in a peaceful and accepting way. It is so lovely how we are the same in many aspects but it is even better that we are different.
I met with a friend from the past last week. She filled me up with such good feelings and I realized how much I missed seeing her lovely face. The time passed too quickly and real life got in our way but there is always another coffee down the road. I hope. I may be getting older but I truly am starting to come to life again. A new page in a new chapter. They say one sign of depression is when you stop looking forward to things. Well I found that was also a part of my grief. I don’t know when it happened but I started to look forward to the future. I am excited for what is to come. I wish more than anything that Rene’ was here to explore with me but I know he is watching and waiting. He is everywhere I am and I know my life can be wonderful. It is a choice I can make. Filling it with kind people is the best way forward. Luckily I found many in the last sixty one years. Some have been waiting patiently for me to make room for them. Thank goodness for that because I need them now more than ever.
I learned a very important lesson from my husband. He used to say “If you think you can or you think you can’t… You’re right” Right now I think I can do anything!