(I wrote this essay twenty years ago. I published it here for the first time six years ago. This Mother’s Day, I share it again.)
I married when I was forty.
It was amazing at that age how many people asked me if we were going to have children. No, I’d say, We’re not having children. What is amazing to me now is that I thought I was lying. Keeping a secret.
Of course we would have children. Forty is still young.
I’m lucky. Lucky in my career, first of all. I am immodest enough to know that my business success is largely due to brains and hard work, but I am also honest enough to know that a part of my success is the result of just too much time on my hands. I work hard because I have no place better to be. I’m not so much ambitious as simply trying to pass the time as interestingly as possible. People at the office listen to me, value my opinion, and pay me pretty good money. How ungrateful I am to rather have a baby.
And on top of a great career, I found a husband at forty. A nice one. Those horrible statistics say I have a better chance of being hit by a meteor. And I want a baby too?
My husband never quite felt the same way. He’s a few years older than I, and was married before to a woman who could not have children. He got used to the idea years ago that children weren’t in his future. He has no experience with kids. He doesn’t think he’d be a good father.
He’d be a wonderful father. I’ve seen how he adores and protects our little cats – feeding them treats from the table, gently untangling knots from their coats, bragging about their exploits long after his audience has lost interest, and, in time, building small cedar coffins through his tears.
When we married, he knew I wanted a baby. He just couldn’t know the completeness of my desire
Early in our marriage, I was late with my period. My anxiety and happiness overwhelmed me. I found myself sitting still for long stretches, holding my breath, counting the seconds until my life changed forever. Two long weeks. I was terrified that it wouldn’t be true; I failed to see that my husband’s fear was different. A baby would be great…but…financially, things are tough right now, it would be career-limiting for you, we’ll be retirement age when college tuition is due, we could die leaving a child for someone else to raise… I never really listened past A baby would be great. When my period finally came, I was quietly devastated. My husband was kind and sweet, but woven through his condolences were the unmistakable threads of relief. I spent all day in bed with the shades drawn. I’d feel him every so often watching me helplessly from the doorway, as if he knew he could not enter my grief. I guess it would be nice to have a baby, he said. I know how happy it would make you.
I am the most selfish person on earth.
The following month my doctor recommended a fertility specialist. I put the referral in my purse, knowing I wouldn’t call.
But even without professional help, I was sure I would get pregnant. Every month I was sure. For ten years. I still cry when I get my period. I try to keep this private but sometimes my husband sees. He comforts me, and I hope he thinks that it’s just hormones. At my age, it probably is.
I am very jealous of mothers. I am jealous of teenage mothers. I am jealous of older mothers. I am jealous of women who get pregnant the first month they try. And I am jealous of women who finally, finally, after miscarriages and disappointments, have their babies.
And now I am fifty. We’re not having children.
Not having children doesn’t take any big adjustments. I am already living a childless life. Now it’s just permanent. It’s a very good life, and it will continue exactly as before. I just have to make some minor modifications of my imagination.
For thirty years I’ve watched mothers with their children and stored little scenes for my own future. I have stolen other women’s moments like a shoplifter who keeps all her pilfered items in the closet, afraid to wear them. My closet is full.
But these clothes don’t fit me any more. It’s time to pack up these images likes bundles for Goodwill.
The first day of school, Mother’s Day cards and macaroni necklaces. Ice skating, singing Old MacDonald in the car. Chicken pox and computer games; soccer practice. Tantrums. Cheerios in the sofa cushions, bicycles in the driveway.
They are such little pictures. Insignificant really. Someone else’s memories. Time to give them up. We’re not having children.
At the restaurant a young boy rests his head for a moment on his mother’s breast. She smooths his hair. He returns to his pizza. Last year I would have certainly snatched up that moment. But now I have no place to put it. I let it go.
There is an emptiness where my vision of the future used to be. But not forever. I am a women with aspirations after all. So I know that there will be new images. Maybe warm fireplaces and good books. Fresh flowers on the table. Beaches. Sunsets. Conversations. Porch swings. I tend to think these new dreams will be quieter dreams, but I know that they are already waiting for me.
All these years I have been saving money for a rainy day that was secretly a college education. But we’re not having children. The money has been redirected.
My husband and I are building a home in the country. It’s a wonderful home on a breathtakingly beautiful piece of land. We designed the house ourselves. So it has almost everything we ever wanted.
Remember the movie, Grand Canyon? I don’t think the critics liked it, but I did. In one storyline, Mary McDonnell is out jogging and finds an abandoned baby in the bushes. She keeps it. Her husband is not crazy about the idea, but he is Kevin Kline and fabulous and their relationship is perfect and they have such a healthy outlook on life that you know it will work out beautifully.
Sometimes when I am out walking, I keep my eyes on the shrubbery.
I just spent all day writing a long piece on the end of a friendship.
I decided not to post it.
Because I realize that after 1500 words, what I wanted to say wasn’t there.
Here is a short version.
A year ago, a friend ghosted me.
She broke dates, stopped calling, stopped returning my calls. I blamed it on the Pandemic.
We were not soulmates. But I don’t believe much in soulmates anyway. I know from decades of family, friendships, and marriage, that even those closest to you don’t always understand you. And that dear friends can get on your nerves as easily (if not easier) than strangers.
But I also believe that you don’t need to be soulmates to be friends. That sometimes friendship is a matter of proximity and convenience – and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Just think back to childhood when your best buddies were the kids who lived on your block. You played with them because they were THERE. And not only was that okay, it was probably good for you. You learned to appreciate people because you needed a friend, and they were right there, ready to accept you too.
I appreciated this friend’s accessibility. We had some things in common and some things not in common. But she was there.
I am also confused and hurt.
Because she “ghosted” me.
One day, I went to her Facebook page, and all her posts had disappeared. She had not “unfriended” me. But there were no posts to see except her cover photo.
It took me another month to realize that she hadn’t deleted her Facebook posts. She had excluded me. With Facebook, you can “unfriend” someone, and you can “block” them (which is worse). But you can also “restrict” them. You don’t have to unfriend them. You can just exclude them from seeing anything you post. That’s what my friend did.
After writing all day about what I may have done wrong or what she may have done wrong, I realize that it doesn’t matter.
Because what I keep thinking about – all these months later – is how sad it is to be excluded.
Ghosting is a cowardly thing. The ghosters never explain why. They just disappear.
I am 70 years old. I have learned over these many years that not everyone will like me. I want to be liked. I sometimes crave approval. But I also know that it won’t kill me if I don’t get it.
I want to grow. I strive to become a better person, no matter how old I am. But I also have come to like myself as I am. It’s no small accomplishment.
Ghosting haunts me, though. (I like the word “haunts” with “ghosting,” by the way. It’s perfect.)
I keep thinking about teenagers. People who aren’t 70. Who don’t love themselves yet.
If ghosting hurts me, when I am in that stage of my life when I have achieved some level of self-assurance and self-love, how does it hurt those young people who are so filled with self-doubt? I think about this because I know that ghosting is a common tactic for young people.
My audience is not young people. I have no way of reaching out to them. I want to reassure them that exclusion is survivable.
I can perhaps reach a few of their parents. I need to tell them this about ghosting:
It’s awful. Exclusion is awful.
Don’t minimize it to your kids. Don’t tell them it’s nothing. Don’t say it doesn’t matter. It’s silent bullying and it hurts.
Maybe you can tell them this: That you know an old lady who got ghosted and she says it sucks. You can’t fix it, but you can acknowledge it.
Someone asked me if I ghosted my ghoster back. I did not. I refuse to use that weapon.
Start young. Make sure your little ones send Valentine cards to everyone. Make sure they bring enough cupcakes on their birthday. Make sure they invite the lonely kid to sit with them at lunch.
For a whole year now, I have felt like everyone got a Valentine’s card but me.
Well, last week I
bitched commented about how the interior design game I chose for my new phone wouldn’t let me win.
I took a positive attitude, describing how it was teaching me worthwhile lessons about whether to please myself or please others.
But in truth, I was pretty
I am here today with updates.
I have won. A couple of times. It’s very satisfying. I win fake money to enter more contests. It’s very wonderful fake money.
But more often than not, I continue to lose.
But I have learned a couple of new lessons.
The first is that the folks who cheat are not just lucky – they are blessed. Because the way to cheat is to text your friends with photos of your designs, so they will know who to vote for. These guys have friends that will vote for them even if their designs are awful. Those are some pretty good friends. How nice is that?
And the second lesson is even nicer.
Because I have learned that sometimes (maybe even often) I have lost because the other designs are ACTUALLY BETTER than mine. That sometimes I am not the best. Sounds incredible, right?
But it’s very good to know.
And applicable to,
Just About Everything.
PS – Amazon is offering the Kindle version of my latest novel, SISTERS, SECRETS, AND THE JUNIOR PROM, for just 99 cents for the next few days. If you thought the sixties were groovy and that high school was confusing, this might be the book for you. And it has a few important things to say, that I snuck in there while making you laugh.
You know how we translate age for dogs and cats? Like “Old Jasper is 82 in dog years…”
Well, if there is not an age-equivalency term for electronic equipment, there should be. Maybe we could call it nano-years. “This old phone?… It’s 107 in nano-years” – which in human chronological terms means: it’s three.
So on to the story…
My old phone was 347 in nano-years, and a few weeks ago, it sent me a text message saying, “That’s enough, lol” (my phone thinks it has a sense of humor) – and turned itself off. For good.
Now I get swindled all the time by salespeople, because my hereditary niceness makes me a poor negotiator. And also because I am an old lady, and old ladies get taken advantage of as a matter of normal business practice.
So my husband brought me to the phone store that gave him a very good deal, determined to get me a good deal too (which I did not have with old GrandpaPhone).
The sales associate was a nice Hispanic woman. Right away, I was relieved. Those young conceited techno-geeks that usually work in these places always make me feel like I have to pretend to be knowledgeable or something. When down deep, I am sure that all this stuff inside my phone and television and computer is a bunch of magic sauce.
I didn’t have to pretend to understand what a gig or a ram or a cloud might be (although I am partial to the puffy clouds over the stringy ones). I could let my husband pretend. He may actually know, but I have no way of checking this out, which probably takes the pressure off of him too.
The nice saleswoman asked me what I wanted, and I said, “I want it to have a very good camera because my dog Theo is a Twitter celebrity.” Since my dog is more famous than me, I figured it didn’t hurt to name-drop.
“Okay,” she said, “what else?”
“Well,” I said, “my old phone was all filled up, so I would like one that is roomier.”
She didn’t laugh at me, like a techno-geek would have, although she may have stifled a chuckle. “Understood,” she said. She pointed to a phone. “This one.”
“Okay,” I said, using the sum total of my negotiating skills.
So I have a new phone!
Since it’s much roomier than my old phone, I decided to add something I was never able to download on my old phone: a game.
I looked at a bunch of different gaming apps, and I chose one that looked interesting. It’s an interior design game. They give you a room, and you pick colors and textures and art to enhance the space. Other users vote on the best designs.
But there’s a problem (besides being a huge time-suck). I suck at this game.
I am becoming increasingly frustrated. My designs are beautiful – but no one else thinks so.
I am ready to delete the game.
However, just yesterday, I realized that this game is important. It’s a perfect metaphor for real life.
It’s amazing, really.
First of all, there are no penalties for not playing by the rules. Because no one voting knows what the rules are. One particular competition may say, “One item should be pink.” But then the designs are shown to the voters with no explanation. No pink, no problem. In real life, people often win by ignoring the rules.
Next, there’s an advantage to playing it safe. The winning designs are almost always beige. Or grey. Oh yes, better fit in, better blend in. Stand out too much and you’ll look weird.
Then there’s money. You have to buy the paint, curtains, upholstery, rugs, art, vases, and pillows. They give you a considerable amount of play money to buy your stuff. But – all the good stuff is locked, and you can’t get it unless you upgrade your status – with REAL money. I am not paying real money to win fake money. So I have to use the same boring materials over and over again. Just like in real life, rich folks have an insurmountable advantage.
But here is the critical life lesson: What am a willing to do to win?
I can play the game to please myself. Choose the materials – however limited my selection – that excite me, and use them in ways that make me happy. And lose.
Or – I can study previous contests, determine what other people like, and design something that will please the voters. And win.
That’s pretty much what I have been doing my whole life. Subjugating my own desires to please others.
Which is okay, I guess – I like that I am a very nice person.
But this is a game. Do I really have to tweak my personality for a phone game?
I think I will continue to be a loser who has fun.
my losing design
An old friend from work is in a very messy situation.
She’s a wreck. Her family is a wreck.
And there is no way to get around it – she brought it on herself.
I’m sure you know someone like Maggie. If there are two choices, she will pick the worse one every time. It’s as if she confronts every decision by saying, “Oh, this way will probably screw up my life, but I’m going to do it anyway.”
And the “anyway” NEVER works out. I wonder if maybe there was a time, way back before I knew Maggie, when a bad decision did work out for her. When she skated away from a mess. Perhaps it was so exhilarating to come so close to disaster – and escape – that the thrill of a bad decision is irresistible.
Honestly, though, I don’t think so. I don’t believe Maggie makes terrible decisions because they are exciting. I think the answer is more mundane. Maggie has no capacity for prediction. There is no “cause and effect” gene in her. Simply stated, she has no imagination.
Imagination is a necessary skill in decision-making. We need to be able to see what could happen. And Maggie’s lack of imagination is specific. She can’t imagine the bad outcome.
Most of us excel at picturing the worst. That’s why we worry. I wrote once that my mother turned worry into an art form. I named it “Ditch-picturing.” No one could conjure up more vivid images of loved ones lying in a ditch than my mom.
But Maggie can’t picture the worst. (It’s probably one of the reasons she has so many friends, despite our frustration with her.) She never sees the worst when it is right in front of her, never mind imagining future troubles. She has no idea why her life is such a mess.
Oh, we friends advise her. We try to steer her in the right direction. But Maggie is like the Titanic, moving inexorably in the direction of disaster. We may say, “Why don’t you take care of that now, and we’ll help you, instead of missing another deadline?” And she says, “Oh, thanks. I will.”
But she doesn’t.
And the authorities, whoever they are at the time, eventually come swooping down with demands and penalties and blame.
Of course, she deserves it.
Every lousy thing that has happened to her in the years I have known her is her own fault.
There are bills not paid, calls not returned, forms not filled out, jobs lost, cars abandoned.
And yet, what I feel for Maggie is not blame.
Talking with a mutual friend recently, the friend said, “I can’t feel sorry for Maggie any longer. She brought in all on herself.”
I understand how my friend feels. It’s maddening to watch someone make the same mistakes over and over. We help Maggie, but is it helping or enabling? Can she ever learn to save herself if we keep rescuing her?
And yet. Empathy.
I see that Maggie has made a disaster of her own life. But I also see how easy it is for small disasters to pile up. Or to accept that your life is a mess, and just go with it. To turn a blind eye to your own complicity in the mess.
I can still feel sympathy for Maggie, even as I recognize her responsibility. If someone had cancer from a lifetime of smoking, wouldn’t you still feel sad that they are in pain? Can we find the same sympathy for a person who cannot manage her life decisions as we can for a person who couldn’t manage her physical addictions? Both made bad choices. Can we love them anyway?
Can we forget blame?
Can we forget about what people deserve?
Or at least give people the kind-hearted thing we all deserve – to recognize their humanity, their imperfections, and their pain.
Empathy without blame is a good definition of Kindness.
A big one.
Dear God – could that even be true?
I’m not sure what 70 is supposed to feel like. But I didn’t expect it to feel like this.
I just received a card in the mail from a sweet cousin. It made me laugh out loud.
Oh, it’s true. It’s too late to be young.
But – entirely unexpectedly – I don’t want to be.
I have spent the last ten years – or perhaps fifteen – trying rather desperately to stay young.
But I turned 70 anyway.
And to my amazement, I kind of LIKE the idea of being old.
It feels …
Certainly, it will be easier to look old. Not that I don’t love fashion and makeup and being in style. So I’ll still be stylish – just ‘old’ stylish. I’m not exactly sure what that means yet, but I’m pretty sure being stylish at 70 has got to be easier than being 60 trying to look 40.
For one thing, I don’t have to weigh what I weighed in high school. Or wear stilettos. Or give a minute’s thought to the perkiness of my lady parts.
More importantly, I feel the burden of ‘accomplishment’ falling from me. Oh, I can still have goals, and I do. But I don’t feel much pressure to accomplish anything more in my life. I wrote and published three novels. I think there is a fourth novel in me – but three is good enough. A fourth will be a bonus. A pleasant surprise if it happens. But I am not a failure if I don’t write it.
In retirement, I’ve rediscovered the joy of painting.
My watercolors please me. They are even profitable. But the second they stop being a pleasure and start being a chore is the moment I stop. I don’t anticipate that happening, but I don’t fear it either. When I paint a portrait, sometimes I don’t succeed. It doesn’t stress me out. It is paper and paint and a little bit of time. I throw away my failures and try again. Did you know that you can try as many times as you want? How easy is that?
No one cares if an old person’s house isn’t spotless. No one cares if an old person’s hair needs a trim. No one cares if an old person’s library books are overdue. And if by any chance there is someone out there who DOES care – well, they just can offer to help out. My mother’s neighbors fight over who gets the privilege of shoveling her drive. I will let my neighbors fight over me.
I will ask for a senior discount on everything.
I will laugh when I want to laugh and cry when I want to cry, and say no whenever I want to. And everyone will love me anyway. Because everyone loves old people.
Not so, you say? Old people are invisible, you say. Well, I’m okay with that too. If no one can even see me, I can do whatever I want.
Except for maybe the neighbors doing my chores, it seems that I could have had most of these pleasures long before I turned 70.
I just didn’t know it.
I’ve been writing this blog for nearly ten years. And every year, on my birthday, I post an unretouched selfie.
I’ve always said that the reasons are two-fold:
1. To say that getting old isn’t so bad
2. To say, “Screw you, Mother Nature!”
But I find that I am down to just one reason, since Mother Nature and I have reconciled.
Getting old isn’t so bad.
Recently a friend directed me to a story on Medium.com. (I publish there once in a while too.) My friend’s friend had posted a little writing exercise that I just adored.
An ABECEDARIAN is a 26 sentence story, with each sentence beginning with each sequential letter of the alphabet.
It’s a fun exercise that really gets those creative juices flowing. Although I admit I am being lazy using a cliche like ‘creative juices flowing.’ How about this: the structure both confines you and opens you. How creative can you be and still stick to the rules?
Go ahead and give it a try. You may surprise yourself .
Here’s the link to the story by Amy Selwyn that inspired me: Amy’s Abecedarian story. It’s marvelous – I hope you will go over to medium.com and give it a read.
And here is my crazy little exercise. (with additional thanks – and perhaps apologies – to my Kentucky librarian friend.)
THE LIBRARIAN’S SECRET
A librarian in Kentucky had a secret.
Brainy (is there any other kind of librarian?), Laurie pursued art history and medieval icons.
Cathedrals had been visited.
Dostoyevsky had been read.
Every one of her co-workers knew that Laurie’s brain was better than Google.
For arcane trivia or political significance, they knew who to ask.
“Go to Laurie,” they advised all the students looking to pad their research papers.
However ridiculous the request, Laurie smiled and answered.
“I don’t mind,” Laurie said, aware that the other librarians had nothing much to do.
“Just as long as I have Sundays off.”
Keeping secrets, thought the staff.
Laurie hoped she had kept her secrets well.
Many had tried to discover Laurie’s mysterious Sundays.
No one had succeeded.
One day, however, Laurie made a mistake.
Perhaps she was just tired of the secrecy.
Quite possibly, she was proud of her hobby.
Really though, Laurie just momentarily forgot her reputation for being esoteric and sophisticated.
“Star Trek,” she said one day, when a student asked her for the definitive reference for space exploration.
“That old TV show?” the student asked, and the other librarians suddenly got very interested.
“Unequivocally,” Laurie said, as she unbuttoned her smock to reveal the Star Trek uniform underneath.
“Vice President,” Laurie explained, pointing to the flyer pinned to the bulletin board, which advertised the Sunday Star Trek fan club.
“Wow,” the kid said.
“Xenophobia,” Laurie whispered to the kid, nodding towards her co-workers.
“You don’t know how hard it is to be an alien, until you live in Kentucky,” she added conspiratorially.
“Zany,” said all her co-workers, and Laurie was happy they were right.
My latest novel, SISTERS, SECRETS, AND THE JUNIOR PROM, is set in high school in 1969, which, by sheer coincidence, is where I happened to be in 1969.
The book is fiction. Untrue. Made up. Has no basis in reality. Except, of course, like all fiction, pieces of my life weave in and out of the story.
How could they not? If I need to describe my protagonist’s favorite outfit, well, I had a favorite outfit in 1969. And a favorite TV show. And a smart little brother. And nice parents. And two wonderful sisters that I could easily merge into the best sister ever.
Even in fiction, you write what you know.
Although the major storyline is invented, it also has some basis in reality. A favorite teacher is sexually inappropriate with his pretty female students. This did not happen to me or my sisters, but it happened in my school.
Oh, we heard rumors. I think everyone in every school hears those rumors. And we don’t want to believe them. That teacher is amazing. We all adore him. We don’t want to know.
But gradually, reality insists.
My graduating class has a Facebook page. We reminisce and share photos. We keep in touch with our friends, celebrating their successes and, especially now that we are older, grieving their losses.
Recently, a classmate posted a memory about a favorite teacher, and asked people to add their own anecdotes of their beloved teachers. Among the responses, one guy posted his fond memories of a teacher – the same teacher who was sexually involved with several of the girls, over a period that spanned many years.
And one of our female classmates responded to the post.
She told our classmate that this teacher had pursued her relentlessly. He called her; he came to her house. And that she was not the only one. Only one of the many who had refused his advances. And that there were several who did not refuse. Years later, this man’s behavior was finally revealed, and he was fired.
Why did the girls not come forward at the time? I can tell you why they kept quiet in 1969. I was eighteen then. Girls were supposed to be flattered by sexual attention. Almost anything that men did was the girl’s fault -you were just too pretty, or immodest, or you teased them. You needed to ‘control yourself’ – and also to appreciate any male advances – at the same time.
Confusing? Contradictory? Of course.
But I know there are still the remnants of this attitude today.
As for the man who wrote the flattering post about the despicable teacher, and got the true story: To his credit, he said that he did not know this was happening. (And I believe him – we girls kept our secrets well). And he said he was so sorry for the woman and for other women that they had to experience something so terrible. He said he was wrong about the teacher.
I think of this now as I see how hard it is for people to admit they were wrong.
No one ever wants to admit they were duped. That they believed lies. Someone (some say Mark Twain) said, “It’s easier to fool people than convince them that they have been fooled.”
That’s why con men so often get away with it. Because it seems to be human nature to feel shame that you were cheated. Instead of being angry at the liar, you are ashamed to have believed the lie.
For some, it means that the lie cannot be admitted. In the face of overwhelming evidence, some will still choose to believe the lie. It hurts too much to admit one was wrong.
And so I come back around to women who keep their terrible secrets.
It’s shame that keeps people silent.
Maybe the hardest thing for humans to say is, “I was wrong.”
And whether the lies come from a teacher, an advertiser, or a politician – we need to learn how.
Click here for the Amazon link to SISTERS, SECRETS, AND THE JUNIOR PROM.
I am a daydreamer. I come from a family of daydreamers. We’ve been quite happy being daydreamers.
I remember many years ago when my brother was in elementary school, my mother attended a parent-teacher meeting, and the teacher told my mother, “Tommy is a daydreamer.” My mother replied, “Yes, we’re really proud of him.”
Because there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming. That’s when you find creative answers to questions. It’s even where you find creative questions.
On Christmas Eve afternoon, I was daydreaming as I drove home from visiting my mother. My sisters, my brother, and I had a careful, socially-distant little lunch with Mom to celebrate the holiday.
Cars are an extraordinary place to daydream. We all do it. How many times have you driven somewhere and were surprised when you arrived that you had absolutely no memory of the drive?
But – daydreaming in the car is dangerous.
Not too far from my mother’s house, a post office truck had stopped in the street. I don’t know if it was making a delivery or waiting to make a turn. I didn’t notice. I was daydreaming.
I realized the truck had stopped way too late. I slammed on the brakes, but there was no chance of avoiding disaster. I hit the truck hard.
Fortunately, the old BMW I drive (and I mean old – 20 years and 240,000 miles) was built like a tank. Unfortunately, the USPS truck WAS a tank.
The whole front end of my car was demolished. But I was not demolished. Fortunately, I was wearing my seatbelt, and the airbag sprang out like it is supposed to. Unfortunately, the combination of seatbelt and airbag hit me like a hand grenade to the chest.
I didn’t lose consciousness. The first person to approach me was a teenage girl. I remembered seeing her, just moments before, in my daydreaming semi-attention, walking with a boy at the side of the road. My first thought was that of pure relief that I didn’t try to avoid the truck, which would have perhaps steered me into the kids instead. But there she was. Peering into my car. She was terrified; I could tell. She had probably never seen such a bad wreck take place right in front of her. But she was there. She wanted to help despite her fear. I opened the door – the car was full of smoke from the airbag propellant. I tried to speak. I managed a croak that said to her, “The airbag hit me hard, but I think I am okay.” She attempted a halfhearted smile and disappeared.
Then there were fire trucks and police cars and an ambulance.
Some guy – maybe an EMT – came to the car and got in on the passenger side. I had by that time turned the engine off, but I had not shifted into park. He did that. Then he tried to collect all the stuff from my handbag that was all over the place. I asked him to hand me my cellphone. I called my husband. “I’m in an accident. I’m hurt,” I said. And I tried to describe where I was.
By this time, the guy on the passenger side was a police officer. “Can I open your glove compartment and get your registration?” he asked politely.
An EMT was then at my door, asking me if I could get out on my own. I thought I could. It was painful, but I did it. I cried a bit as they put me on a stretcher, but not too much. I watched it all like I was a spectator. Maybe I was still daydreaming.
I caught a glimpse of the car as they wheeled me to the ambulance.
“Oh, my poor car,” I said. Someone said, “Don’t worry about it.”
Then I remembered. I hit the Postal truck. “Is the other driver okay? Did I hurt anybody?” “She’s fine,” someone answered.
The ambulance took me away. On the ride to the hospital, the EMT asked me how old I was. He asked me more than once. I remember thinking, This is because I look so young. He doesn’t think I’m as old as I’m saying. He thinks I must be confused. Oh yes, I am that vain.
The EMT said, “You were going 30, right?” That was the speed limit on that road. He was trying to save me in more ways than one. “Yes, I think so,” I said. And that’s what he recorded. I have no idea what speed I was going.
The ride took a long time. I was in my home town. I have driven that route a thousand times. It is not long. It does not have as many turns as we seem to have made.
At the hospital, they put a mask on me and asked me Covid questions. Oh no, I thought, they are already overworked and now they have to deal with me.
The police officer who followed the ambulance came in with my registration. He gave me only a written warning for following too close. A Christmas gift. “That car is a 2001!” he said. “Wow. It really held up. I am going to get myself one of those!” “My poor car,” I said. My poor husband, I thought.
And sure enough, there he was. My husband. I have this image of him pushing his way through the corridor, saying, “My wife, my wife!” But of course, I didn’t see or hear that. It’s just that he would do that. I know.
The ER nurse could not get me out of my top to put on a hospital gown. My chest hurt too much. She said I would get a CT scan.
CTs. Cats. And then I thought of some guys who depended on me.
The dogs! The cats! “Go home and let the dogs out and feed everybody,” I said to my husband. He didn’t want to go. “I need you to go,” I said. “When you get back, I will probably still be here, waiting for them to take me for a CT scan. They have to do blood work first and get results.” I had been in the ER too many times with my father. Everything takes forever.
He finally left, and they immediately took me to Radiology. Uh-oh, I thought. They will want to discharge me, and my husband will be home feeding the dogs.
But it all took a long time after all.
Finally, the Physician’s Assistant came and said that everything looked okay on the scan. I was badly bruised, but they would give me some pain medication, and send me home. I wanted to go home. I certainly did not want to hang around in Covid Central.
My husband reappeared around then. He had a bag with him.
“I stopped and bought sandwiches,” he said. “We could be here a long time.” Now that was truly him.
And then the PA came back. He sat down at the end of the bed. “We made a mistake on your scan,” he said. “Your sternum is fractured.”
I wasn’t surprised. I was no longer daydreaming. I knew the pain was real. (I have learned since that fractured sterna are almost always due to car accidents, and almost always happen to old ladies. But I look so young.)
The PA continued, “That’s an injury that just heals itself with time. You can still go home now.”
And so I did.
And so I have been sitting doing nothing for two weeks.
But now I am finally feeling better.
I am painting again – with more rest breaks than usual, but painting. And I am cooking dinner sometimes. My husband is walking the dogs – and I am surprised at how much I miss that. But honestly, they are horrible on leash – I could never handle it if they pulled me hard. But soon.
I think of this accident as a Near Miss.
Oh yes. I didn’t miss the truck. But I missed the kids.
And it was a near miss of MY LIFE.
I totaled the car. I didn’t total myself.
I will always be a daydreamer. But not while driving. If I so much as turn on the radio, or take a sip of coffee, or reach for my sunglasses, someone please yell, “Post Office Truck!”
There is a Facebook page that I follow for its kindness and optimism. I am not alone. More than 5 million people have liked this page.
There is never any criticism in its posts. There is just support, understanding, and acceptance.
Recently, they posted this:
More than 9,000 people responded.
I read the first thirty answers. And then I stopped.
Of those thirty, only three were positive.
“Tell the people you love that you love them.”
“Be nice to yourself.”
“You are stronger than you think.”
Twenty-seven comments – 90% – were negative. Sad, pessimistic, bitter.
“Never trust anyone.”
“Don’t expect people to come through for you.”
“People will not treat you with the kindness you show them.”
“Always expect the worst.”
“Just because they are family doesn’t mean they won’t abandon you.
“Your friends will talk behind your back.”
So I stopped after thirty.
I don’t think these percentages would hold if read all 9,000. I think those who are unhappy or angry were just more likely to respond right away. It’s sort of like negative reviews. If you love something, you might be inclined to post a review. But if you hate something, you can’t wait to complain. Anger is a great impetus.
But reflecting on those I did read breaks my heart a little.
This Facebook page is meant to be uplifting. Its purpose is to make you feel better. I go there to calm my soul. I believe that is why all five million followers go there.
These people who wrote such unhappy life lessons went to that site to be uplifted. But they could not themselves be uplifting. I believe that what they wanted was for someone or something outside themselves to help them feel better.
Maybe writing those dark thoughts was a release in itself, and did help soothe them. Maybe they were just hoping for someone to say, “I understand.”
Certainly, this has been a difficult year. Even happy people are dealing with depression. If one’s life is already a struggle, I can only imagine how hopeless it might seem.
I want to be the person who gives them those uplifting words to help them through their dark times. I want to ease their pain. But that’s just my ego. How can I help?
Can I loan them my dogs for a day? Or my lovely amazing mother? Can I give them a nicer past?
I can’t say “things will get better” – that’s just a platitude in the face of hurt and sorrow. And besides, I don’t know that things will get better. Not for them. Not for anyone.
All I can say is,
I’m trying to understand.