Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dear 40-year-old Me

Dear 40-Year-Old Me,

You are both older and younger than you think. Probably, you are about at the mid-point of your life. What do you want to do with the second half? Those babies won't tether you to the hearth forever, though I know it seems like that now. And the husband, while it seems he would never leave you, look a little closer. The moments of strain in your relationship now will gradually grow into days of disquiet. Later  days and nights will meld together into a shadow that hangs over your household almost constantly. Already priorities are shifting. His are not yours. Yours are not his. You see it, the writing on the wall, don't pretend you can't read it.

Dear 40-year-old Me, you are dramatic (he would add a prefix.) You worry over what he thinks of as little things. You're still in hippie mode half the time and he's going corporate. It's not going to last even if you throw out those overalls in the back of your closet. And, no, he's not going to move out of L.A. Not to Minnesota. Not anywhere.

Your family is finished growing. You won't risk another pregnancy after the miscarriage. He doesn't bring it up and neither do you. Now is your chance. The children are in nursery school. Get a job. Take a class--just one, at least. Yes, your life will be a juggling act, but beg a friend to help you. Hire a full-time nanny--he'd go for that, but do something because he's going to leave you, and when you lose your marriage at the same moment your nest empties, you are going to fall into a million pieces. You are going to be smothered by depression, and the drinking won't help, but you'll think it does, so you'll drink a lot. You'll lose your home. Your dogs will die. You'll live alone for the first time in your life and then, dear 40-year-old self, you'll wish with all the aching bones in your body that you had a career, a job, a purpose, your own pension, fabulous health insurance, and people around you every day who love doing what you love doing.

Because otherwise you will sit staring at your computer for hours when you are almost 60, wondering if you should really should push the button that says, "submit application now." And if you push it, you'll wonder if the people who read  the application at some university in a far off city will find you completely and utterly ridiculous.

Dear 40-year-old me, you knew this, but you were a master at "un-knowing," so I forgive you. Mostly. But you knew. You knew.

11 comments:

Wrinkling Daily said...

Denise,
I could have written this. Almost all of it - if I could have been as honest with myself. Wow. I did, didn't do almost all of those things. All the signs I ignored, the back-up plans I didn't make. Did I know? I think I might have, but before reading this, I would have sworn that I did not. Now it is time for some real soul searching. This was pretty powerful, thanks for sharing it.

Elizabeth said...

Dear Sixty Year Old Denise,

I am eighty year old Denise, and what I see is an extraordinary transformation that happened to you shortly after the half century mark when it seemed like everything had fallen apart. I saw you writing some of the best material of your life. I saw you taking care of your aging mother and your aunt. I saw you reveling in the beauty of your daughters and modeling for them what it means to be authentic and honest, both in good times and bad. I saw you supporting your friends -- both good ones and acquaintances, supporting them with words, with food, with money. I saw your incredible generosity and dogged sense of humor. From my elderly perch, I see that your life blossomed and got better and better and better and that now, it's as if I am living a dream.

Lovingly,
Eighty year old Denise

Steph(anie) said...

I guess this is the last thing you want to hear, but I would trade my "career" for being home with my kids in a second. But my role is the bread winner. Unless I want to leave my husband and find one who's better at making money. Tempting, but no.

We can't change the past. Hindsight is 20/20. Blah blah blah. We do the best we can with the cards given us at the time... What you have is now.

Anonymous said...

I scrapped (as in scrapbooked) a double layout similar to this (20 things I wish I could tell her - thanks to Cathy Z. of 'bits and pieces' for the original layout.) It was very sad but at the same time a good reminder of all I have left to look forward to & that not all the years of my unhappy marriage were lost time.

Like you, I applied to an MFA in Creative Writing (one of those things I'd wanted to do for years, but was told by my ex-husband that I'd never complete/ it was a waste of time & money/ I wasn't a writer etc. etc.) and graduated last year. And now? I've just started a PhD in Creative Writing. Good luck with your second MFA application - all my fingers are crossed for you.

all the best,

a fan

Ms. Moon said...

Oh honey. This is so painful to read. You did what you needed to do then. I love Elizabeth's comment. She said it all.
We don't all grow at the same rates.
Look at you grow. Look at you blossom. Look at you opening your arms wide now.

Lilith said...

Be kind to yourself woman. Forty year old was doing her best.

Milky Tea said...

Ah yes. We all knew. We carry good and bad within us all the time, projecting our idea into reality. Because good and bad happens in sequence we believe that they exists one after the other, when the truth is we simply lapse between knowing and as you succinctly puts in 'un-knowing'. To overcome this illusion of good and bad, to see failure and success as really the illusion that they truly are, is often an undertaking of a lifetime and more. I therefore can understand where a little of the reasons Hindus and others believe in reincarnation.
But the aspect of 'knowing' and unveiling of our mistakes is also reincarnation.
So congratulations on your reincarnation. And congratulations on you being the 40year old you, for had you not been that, you would not be at this place where you are now... And we would have sorely missed out on a pretty damn good writer!

Happy sabbath!

Taufiq.

Marsha Pincus said...

Dear Denise,
I love this piece. It opens up so much. I love how you think, the questions you raise and the language you use. It moves me greatly. My life has been somewhat different from yours though we were born on the same exact day. I've remained married ( for better or for worse.) I had the career. The rewarding feeling of doing good work in the world for and with others. But then one day -- almost out of nowhere - it wasn't enough and I knew if I didn't stop doing it I would die. I am going to do this... write that letter to my 40 year old self... and try to love her and her choices even though from this vantage point, I can see that she betrayed the twenty year old. So much to recapture on the journey to wholeness... and so grateful to still be alive to do it. Thank you so much for sharing yours. Those who read it are enriched and affirmed.

N2 said...

Heartrending writing, in the best way.

You are already on the road to that MFA. You just need to find the right community. If you don't get into this next one, I recommend the Whidbey Writers Workshop
I've been attending there as a residency only student for the past 4 years. Such a useful program and great community of writers.

x0 N2

A said...

Very sobering, and rightly so. We always start from now, trailing histories.

stephanie said...

This is fabulous.