When asked recently by a new friend how I managed to come out of a divorce from an impostor after 30 years together and still have a smile on my face, I said, “What a difference three years make.” And I laughed so loud that the people at the next table on the restaurant patio looked at me, startled.
I can’t speak for my brothers and sisters out there who have walked in my shoes (and I hear about someone on a regular basis who’s divorcing an impostor after 20, 30, 40 years of marriage), but I now know I’d spent my life preparing for the bitter end of the life I thought I had. When I was 18, I was pretty sure I had it made as a freshman at the university of my choice (there was really no financially feasible choice beyond a state school, but it was 2 hours from home and I’d live in a co-ed dorm–yippee!) pursuing a journalism degree: First semester honor roll grades, dates with an Italian boy who happened to be the starting quarterback (exotic and sporty all wrapped into one hunky package!) and riding around in the back seat of a convertible, my long, parted-down- the-middle hair blowing back with abandon.
Imagine my disorienting downward tumble when I came home for Valentine’s Day second semester–and woke up to hear my father screaming for an ambulance after he’d found Mama lying in a pool of her own urine in the hallway of our home, dead of a cerebral hemorrhage at 50. Less than two years later, Daddy died a day after surgery for pancreatic cancer–a day that I had refused to believe was even possible–so I went to Shakespeare class while he was being wheeled into surgery with the plan to be at his bedside by the time he woke up. He told me the night before, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” and this Daddy’s girl believed him.
So decades later, after I’d kicked mr. invisible out of the house and I didn’t think I could get out of bed or shower or eat or see happy people holding hands (always the holding hands that got to me) or enjoy the crimson and copper leaves on the oak and maple trees in my yard, I thought of that girl who was 20 and had no parents. The one who didn’t know where she would live when she couldn’t pay rent on an apartment. Who didn’t know how to bake the special chiffon cake that Mama made for my every birthday. That girl who still thought there was some magic recipe for washing jeans and underwear together so that everything didn’t turn a grungy shade of gray.
The fact is, there is no magic recipe except this: Unless it’s black underwear, separate the dedicates from the jeans and use cold water for good measure. I digress.
I’d been preparing for the demise of my marriage for years without ever knowing it. I’d kept on top of the family finances, so when it came to lawyering up, I had within arm’s reach every account balance down to the decimal point. When it came to friends, I’d encouraged and nourished those relationships, having the real conversations through the years about kids and jobs and disappointments. They must have noticed, as they circled the wagons tightly around me, always reminding me of how I’d persevered before.
Although I’d felt like little girl lost after my parents died, the fact is that I made the adult decisions about selling houses, showed up at probate court to protect what was mine from greedy relatives, and found a job where I could still finish college. I managed.
I actually did more than manage–but it involved being thrust unceremoniously into adulthood and taking things verrrrryyyy seriously, and being uptight and punctual and wearing my shoulders as earrings from the stress of carrying all that burden on my young back. It was a far cry from those golden girl days in the back seat of that convertible.
BUT, I survived and became educated, had a child who is now an adult who has given me three gorgeous grandbabies. I had shaped my life around people who cared and I cared for, so that when the circle broke and my life shifted from married to single, I knew at the churning depths that I’d survived the ride on a giant tidal wave before–and that I’d come up breathing after this one.
These days, I tell my new friend, I laugh out loud a lot. I sing to myself while I’m on my walks around the ‘hood. I prefer dangling earrings to wearing my shoulders as a pair. And when I look up to the streak-free azure sky and out at the snow-covered mountains, I marvel that I’m surrounded by their sturdy embrace. While each day isn’t perfect, not one compares to that day I walked down the stairs in what I thought was my forever home and opened mr. invisible’s computer–and my world tilted on its axis.
So when it’s one of my bestie’s birthdays, I pull out the sifter and the big mixing bowls and Mama’s recipe for chiffon cake–I found the spattered recipe card tucked into the pages of her tattered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook about six months after she died. I used her ancient harvest gold hand mixer to beat the eggs, sugar and flour together every time I made that cake until it finally sputtered and died about 25 years ago.
About the same time the mixer bit the dust, I also re-wrote the recipe after the ink on the original card faded to nearly nothing. When I did, I re-titled it Louise’s Yellow Angel Food Cake, in honor of my mother. Now when I make it for someone I love, they need to know this: There are decades of love, and longing and heartbreak–with a heaping dose of resilience and a smile for this new happy life–in every last bite.
Click to read the next post: “Miss Kitten”
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