This story is by Deborah Lukovich, PhD and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As I settled into my usual seat at Jack’s Tavern, the bartender proudly set a happy hour priced glass of Cabernet in front of me before I had a chance to order.
“Thanks!” I smiled.
I was awaiting DJ’s arrival. Twelve months earlier, the self-aware male version of millennial, had been reporting to me in my role as nonprofit director. Now, he played just one role, that of friend.
“Are you excited?!” he asked as he hung his jacket on the back of a barstool and ordered a beer. “It’s like you’re on an adventure.”
I wanted so badly to say Yes! But I just couldn’t. I could no longer answer those questions in a way that seemed to serve no other purpose than to reassure the questioner.
I had begun to experience the kind of coming out of the closet that other women who have reached midlife talk about. They begin to take off the armor of fitting into the wounded masculine culture, their new nakedness manifesting as the freedom to tell the truth, especially about themselves.
I wasn’t sure how much time passed before I responded to DJ’s question with, “Well . . .” I didn’t know how to explain the disorientation I was feeling, after what felt like the cutting of an umbilical cord between me and a way of life that was supposed to nourish my sense of self.
“It’s like I’m in this doorway, between someone I was and someone I’m going to be,” I attempted to explain to DJ. “I love the idea of becoming someone new, but for the first time in my life, I don’t have any idea of who that is and how to make it happen,” I added.
Another friend had recently offered an observation, “Deborah, I’ve known you for twenty years,” followed by, “You have ended up living a very conventional life, and you are definitely not conventional.”
It felt like a punch in the gut for someone who prided herself on being a nonconformist. I had resisted the temptation of trying to be super woman. I was happy to be good enough at motherhood and some kind of professional role. I thought I had beat the system.
“Hmm,” was my response to the undeniable irony behind her observation, and then our mutual chuckle morphed into a pensive pause in conversation.
The year prior had been filled with anxiety, caused by the uncertainty that permeated every aspect of my life. I had left the highest-paying job I ever held, without having a new job to take its place, for the sole reason that I knew my soul would die if I didn’t leave.
My lack of trust in where my soul was leading me seemed to manifest as panic, which led me to pursue reasonable opportunities. I caught myself feigning excitement about jobs that were merely attempts by my ego to save me from the fright associated with following the path of my soul, the specifics of which had not yet been revealed to me. The number of times I almost got a job illuminated my soul’s morbid sense of humor.
It was now clear that convention would no longer be an option.
Just four weeks before my meetup with DJ, I had closed on the sale of my home, and moved in with a friend before I was to get in my car and drive down to a beach town in Florida, to start my new life. I wrestled with one inner voice that said I was abandoning my adult children, and another voice that said that my leaving was going to be good for them too.
I wanted to feel liberated as I drove towards my first stop – Nashville – halfway to my destination. For hours, I was overtaken by an emotionless hypnotic state, like what I imagine a tightrope walker requires to avoid plunging to her death. Nashville as a ghost town – it was the day before its first attempt to reopen during COVID-19 – felt like a symbolic reminder of the in between state of my existence – between here and there.
“I’m here,” I thought,” when I arrived at my new home in Florida, an apartment complex that looked more like a vacation resort.
“But who is it that has arrived?” percolated right below conscious awareness.
The first two months of my new life were filled with attempts to ground myself and relax into a new way of experiencing life, these attempts constantly undermined by my old way of existing in the world.
“You need to find a job,” my inner lawyer scolded.
“Why the rush? You’ve got enough money to pay the bills for a year,” offered my inner child. She had escaped my shadow during the reconstruction that followed my midlife unraveling.
“You should be saving that money for your next house,” my inner lawyer retorted.
“Oh my gosh!” my inner child shook her head, clearly exasperated by my excuses.
There’s a spiritual saying that suggests whatever you’re struggling with is the thing you need to stop resisting. I consciously began to develop a muscle for feeling secure in an insecure situation and for relaxing when I didn’t think I had a right to relax.
A new part of me started to emerge. I felt as though I was back in my twenties, with my entire life in front of me, but this time, I didn’t have that arrogant self-confidence. It felt so much more personal and purposeful now, perhaps a side effect of the humility that comes from decades of life experience.
As I let go of the reins and became more open to what life had to offer me, strange coincidences began to occur, one after the other.
“What?!” I panicked after clicking the payment button for the eight-week writing course, that would culminate in the launching of myself as a writer. “Yikes!” was my first thought when I realized the focus was on fiction. Then, I remembered my soul’s sense of humor.
Without knowing what I was doing, the writing of my first short story brought the same joy that my first post-divorce soulmate relationship had two years earlier. The same sexual energy that allowed me to transcend a physical relationship and bring me into contact with the Source of creation, now manifested through my writing.
Something had been unleashed in me.
In hindsight, the two weeks following the unleashing brought to life C.J. Jung’s suggestion that in order for this unleashing to happen, something else had to subside, or even die. Afterall, there can be no rebirth without death.
“I feel like I’m losing a piece of my mind,” I said with panic, thankful that my sister answered my call at 1am.
“What do you mean?” she calmly asked, guiding me to walk over to the sink to drink a glass of water and then leading me out to my screened porch to inhale some fresh air into my lungs.
“I don’t know . . . It’s as if I’m trying to grasp onto something, a memory or something, but I don’t know what or which memory. I just feel like I’m about to lose something,” my words full of fear.
In the morning, I knew something significant was happening to me.
Night after night, for the next two weeks, as I settled into the darkness of my bedroom, I was visited first by a preoccupation with getting breast cancer, then three nights of waking up with my arm asleep. Finally, a rather calm contemplation of the possibility that I would not wake up the next morning caused me to make a note to remind myself to write an, If I Die Letter to my children.
Then it happened . . . a shift that was felt in the deepest part of me, an openness to, and complete trust in, the creative intelligence that was seeking expression in the world through me.
“I’m a writer!” I began spontaneously saying aloud, usually followed by a giggle.
“I finally feel it! Excitement for my new adventure!” The realization was dramatic.
I laughed out loud as I recalled DJ’s question six months earlier.