This story is by Valerie Meyer and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
I-95 is unusually vacant for me. Of course it would be because it is 7:30 PM and not during my routine and mundane commute. I am on my way to a teacher’s conference in Atlanta. (At least, that is what I told my husband, friends, and colleagues.) What I am really on my way to is a new life. According to my therapist, I am in the middle of a midlife crisis.
My fifieth birthday is next week and I have taken a full inventory of my life. I have come to the conclusion that all aspects need an overhaul: career, job, body, marriage, home. In fact, I am making an appointment to see a doctor about a tummy tuck, face lift, and Lasik surgery. Yes, I will appear to have my shit together; however, inside I have a void that I am trying to fill before I fear that I run out of time. Turning fifty scares me for two reasons: 1.) I am getting closer to 100 and 2.) Both of my parents died at the age of fifty.
So, I am proceeding to take a sabbatical from my fifieth birthday. Pretend that it’s just another day. I will not be home to celebrate it with my family or friends. I cannot. It is too painful to face my mortality. Or to see wrinkles, grey hair, and flabby thighs. No, this weekend I will be someone else. Someone I haven’t seen in a while. ME. I will not be a mother, sister, employee or whatever title I am to everyone else. I will take my life inventory and view it as it truly is. I do not want any input from family and friends, who will project onto me their opinions of who and what I am supposed to be. That is not how this will play out for me. I am the age of my parents when they died in that house fire. So fifty is glaring at me now and I want to flee. I am racing away from running out of time.
Well, because I am in a rut and I am bored out of my mind. Marriage isn’t exciting and hasn’t been for a long time. We don’t make time for each other because of our schedules. I see my family at sunrise and then at sunset. I am tired because menopause is on her way and the intermittent hot flashes and mood swings, make me such a ray of sunshine. So much so that my husband has taken to sleeping in the spare bedroom. Along with my personal inventory, I need to make a list for Bradley, my spouse of twenty years. He needs to lose weight, go on a vacation alone, and learn to become more adventurous. Yeah. I’ll give him a list so that he can work on a few things to better himself.
I got married later in life. I put off my pursuit of a lot of my dreams in order to help my spouse realize his own. He wanted a career that he could advance in and make a name for himself. As a dutiful wife, I put my life on hold to help him reach his dream. The US Air Force put us in Europe. Yea! Four deployments for him and trips for me. I traveled to Paris (check off the bucket list), Rome (check off the bucket list), Prague (check, check). Then trips to Munich, Stuttgart, and Luxembourg. (Check. Check. Check).
Motherhood was the most rewarding experience of my life. I added “mother” to my bucket list. These babies were gorgeous, full of life, and very creative. As they aged, so did I. I am looking at my babies grow up and I am suddenly aware that their time with me is fleeting. They are maturing and asserting their independence. More sand in the hourglass pouring out against my existence in this place. Damn! Where did the time go? How much time do I have left with them? Is this all there is to life?!
The children are the next ones on my ‘let’s fix everything’ list. My eldest daughter is getting married to a nice enough young man who tends to be too rigid. Out of frustration, I scream “Live while you can! You are TOO young. He will stifle your growth!” every time she mentions the wedding date. Recently, I shared with her my list of what THINGS I THOUGHT SHE NEED TO DO before she walks down the aisle. I have a feeling that after she reads my list, I might be uninvited to their wedding.
Most people expect men to go through this and their wives are seen as innocent, patient bystanders of this particular passage of manhood. Waiting for the husband to either come to his senses and they grow together into the old age sunset. But no one tells you that women go through the same thing. We suffer in silence, complain to our friends, or take up gardening. Not me. Not ever.
My mental bucket list became a things to do before I am fifty. Now it’s a true bucket list. Things I need to do before actually die. Things such as writing a book, getting published, tattooed. Or start bodybuilding, having a fling with a stranger, taking a cruise to the Mediterranean. See The Globe Theatre in England. Being in the world. Taking in sights, sounds, and tastes.
My reverie is abruptly ended when the GPS voice indicated ‘You have reached your destination’. I opened the car door and began walking. Just then my cell phone rang.
“Where are you?” Bradley said teasingly. “You left when the waiter brought out the cake.”
“Did you need to keep announcing my upcoming age to everybody and their mother?”
Chuckling, “It was a joke. Since when is it a crime to tease your wife?”
“I need to go, Bradley.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“A while? How long is this conference?! Couldn’t they have sent someone else? You are not twenty-five anymore. You are fifty with a family, you know. Act your age.”
“Goodbye, Bradley.” I said as I hang up and walk towards the British Airways ticket counter.
The young man smiles and asks me, “How may I help you?”
“I’d like a ticket to London, please.”
“Round trip?” he inquires.
“No. One way.”