Sorry, Fonz… the advice wasn’t good in the 50’s, nor was it good in the 70’s when Happy Days was first aired on television. And it sure isn’t good now. The saying that a burden shared is halved has more value in today’s world than it ever did.
Big girls don’t cry.
Never let them see you sweat.
Suck it up…
Men were never allowed to show emotion, as it was a sign of weakness. Women were told to be subservient in order to “get” a man, as if they needed their protection. The antiquated mores are so ingrained in our psyche, that to resist them is contraindicated by our own culture. Anthropologists would tell you that it is part of our DNA to behave this way.
It does not necessarily have to be. Exactly when are we, as human beings, permitted to experience the human condition authentically? (I mean, without repercussion?) We’ve seen the beginnings of it in the past two or three years with the #MeToo movement, with backlash for bad behavior, with a crusade on behalf of our better angels.
But what happens if you’re pockets aren’t lined with gold? What happens if you’re not a Gold Medalist in Olympic Gymnastics? What happens if the person who tried to rape you wasn’t a Supreme Court Nominee? What happens if you haven’t won an Oscar for a movie you made?
Then you are more like me and most women, who have had life happen to them but who have had neither the big stage nor the big name to fight your battles with or for you. And like me, many women have snuffed out memories of some of these horrendous experiences and tried to live normal lives without making any waves.
Guess what? Big girls do cry. They sweat, too. And after a while, they can’t suck it up nor hold it in any longer. If you’ve ever held a spring down long enough, eventually it has to bounce back. The energy amassed from holding down can be explosive. Some of us handle it well, some don’t.
I didn’t. Somebody had to tell me that a burden shared was halved. Somebody had to stop me from blaming myself and being angry with myself and being unkind to myself. You know, when you bang your head against the wall long enough, it feels good when you stop.
I stopped. I stopped, and then I started writing about it. To date, I’ve written three fictional novels about some of the demons women deal with in life. “A Life, Well… Lived!”, “Okay, So I Lied!”, and “Voices from the Ledge” all deal with topics that women find it hard to talk about. (Sexual abuse/assault, sexual identity issues, addiction/alcoholism, suicidal ideation, etc.). All have been written in light fiction, approachable fashion so readers can identify with the heroines.
In essence, I’ve shared my burdens through fictional characters, in hopes that women like me will find solace in the fact that they are not alone. There is always hope. So PLEASE, don’t sit on it…
And three years later, it isn’t any easier. Situations change but the bumps are still there.
Nobody said life was easy. In fact, nothing about it has been actually EASY. Even the things I thought I at which I would be good, and the things I would love… those too have proven to be challenges at one time or another. Nothing goes smoothly.
A prime example of this was the smack in the face I received when I became a parent. I never had any real career aspirations. I only wanted to be a mom, because I thought I would be really good at it, and I knew I would love it. Within the first sleep-deprived, spit-up filled, post-partum week, I found myself asking myself (sometimes out loud), “Is this somebody’s idea of a bad joke?” I can say, 28 years later, that most of the ride has been absolutely wonderful, with only a few minor glitches along the way.
Parenting is a major example. Something…
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I usually use that expression when something is extremely upsetting or unbelievable. In this case, however, I’m using it as a salutation in a letter. A business letter, in fact, because I’m ready to get down to business. I’ve been on this earth for sixty-one years now, and I have been preached to, told that, prevailed upon and flat out smacked down to believe that everything that happens in this life is God’s will.
So, let me start this letter again.
How’s it hanging? I know you’ve had your hands full lately. There have been hurricanes and fires, wars and mysterious murders. There have been shady elections and strange bedfellows. There have been floods and pestilence, riots and treason. My goodness, you would think that you would have come a bit closer to perfecting the human race by now. Or is that not your goal?
Although I’ve been told that ours is not to question why, is it okay if I ask you a few other questions? Like, for instance, what is your goal? Quite frankly, God, I can’t understand how a loving god can let some of this crap go down?
A few more questions, please? When will Mueller’s investigation be over? Are Daytime Soaps ever going to come to an end? For that matter, is there a reason the three-minute story lines are cast over a period of three weeks? Do you really have to wait thirty minutes after eating before you swim? Did Trump collude?
I digress. My real question is this: What’s the real reason I’m here? Let me tell you a bit about me, although you’re God, so you apparently already know.
As I mentioned, I’m a sixty-one-year-old woman. I grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, with both parents and three older brothers. I’m blessed to still have my mother with me. I was thirty-nine years in the workforce, most of which was spent in the not-for-profit world, working on behalf of those less fortunate than me. I earned a degree in journalism and wielded my skills writing speeches, PR releases, and marketing pieces all at the behest of others, while raising money and consciousness of various causes, mostly geared toward the elderly.
All during this career, I was and remain married to a man, and raised two children. We had a united front in raising our kids. My philosophy had been that of my father’s: to throw them in the pool, and their survival instinct will teach them to swim in their own way. I won’t let them get drowned, because I will be there to support them all the way, but they will learn to make their own way in this world. In other words, we were NOT helicopter parents, yet we did instill a strong sense of morals and values in them. As a result, we raised two relatively well-adjusted, free-thinking adults. Also, as a result, they forged their own paths that have taken them far away from home.
Almost three years ago, I was forced to retire early, as my employers were unwilling to work with me with regard to either telecommuting or keeping me on as a consultant. The drive time to that last job took, without exaggeration, three or four hours round trip, depending on traffic, and I had taken on the responsibility of caring for my mother in my home. I could no longer be away ten to twelve hours every single day.
I use the time at home well, I think, as I have taken to using my writing skills in a way in which I have always dreamed of doing. I have written and published three short novels, all of which contain subtle messaging for women who have dealt with some of the same issues I have. Although the stories are all fictional, the vignettes and the messages are true and strong, and they are all things about which a lot of women find it hard to talk. It has been a release for me, and a lot of fun. I only hope they help someone, any, if only one woman, somewhere.
The problem, God, is that I am a sixty-one-year-old woman with absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to do now. I have no job, my kids are gone, my mom rests most of the time and my books aren’t selling much.
Since we did such a good job parenting and my children are out there doing good deeds and both in professions that help others, we (my husband of 36 years) and I no longer have anything in common. During the time we were concentrating on raising the kids, they were our focus. Everything else about us was at opposite ends of the spectrum. We used to laugh about the fact that opposites attract; about things like the fact that he was a Miami Hurricane and I was a Florida Gator; he liked his meat well-done and I liked mine rare; he was raised as an Orthodox Jew and I, Reformed. But now, it isn’t so funny that he is a Conservative Republican and I’m a Democrat. (notice I didn’t say Liberal, because in fact, I’m closer to center than most). I wonder if I can sue Donald Trump for being the root cause of our divorce?
I’ve lived an honest, righteous life. I’ve never cheated on my taxes. I’ve never been in jail. I’ve looked to the stars for answers. I’ve talked to pictures of my father who left us way too early, at age 69, in 1999, but he didn’t answer back. I spent most of my career doing noble work for little pay. One of my employers used to call it “the Lord’s work.” Don’t take that personally, God. I mean I could have said your work, but that wouldn’t have been a direct quote.
I imagine I could have simplified this whole thing by asking one question. What the hell is your will for me? Sorry, I didn’t mean to use profanity. But really man, what am I supposed to do? I have to confess, although you probably already know this, I’ve been extremely depressed lately. I almost took my will back from you and came to see you earlier than I think you intended. That was last month. I think you were busy with the midterms, or the fires or something.
Yesterday I got a mouthful of sass from my daughter, undeservedly. It made me weepy when it shouldn’t have. I had yet another misunderstanding with my husband because we just can’t seem to communicate well. My physical well-being is teetering. So, I’m feeling kind of like taking charge again. Unless God, of course, you can send me some kind of sign, by return mail, by a text or some kind of sign…
With warmest regards,
Born in Camelot
I was born in 1957, towards the end of the Baby-boom. When John F. Kennedy came into the White House, they called it Camelot. The early sixties was an upbeat time, full of hope and growth and movement to suburbia. When I say growth, I mean it. I was the fourth of four kids, in an upper middle class family outside of Philadelphia. Camelot, or it was at least, until November of 1963.
Raised in Mayberry
It was a simpler, safer time. Neighbors not only knew each other but were friends, and looked after each other’s kids. Doors and cars were left unlocked; nobody had to x-ray Halloween candy; the neighborhood grocer would deliver your regular order to your back door, and the milkman and bread man would deliver to your front door. Doctors made house calls, and then called to check on you later in the day. We played outside until long after dark. There was no digital world.
People had reverence for institutions. School was not optional, respect was required. Nobody talked back to teachers. Nobody carried weapons to school. Schools were relatively free from drugs at least until high school.
Divorce was not prevalent. There was no such thing as aa”modern family.” There was no sex and violence on television. (At least not during prime time). Have you ever actually listened to some of the dialogue on today’s situation comedies? Try raising kids and having to answer the questions that come out of an episode of “Two and a Half Men” or “Two Broke Girls.”
Several generations of families remained within a city area, and cousins grew up together, sometimes ending up closer than siblings or friends. But with my generation, that changed. We became more transient… staying in or near the city or town where we went to college; meeting and marrying someone from out of town; moving across the country to take advantage of a brilliant employment opportunity. It doesn’t matter. Today, families just don’t stay together.
Living in Havana
I came home to Miami after college. There was already a large Cuban population in South Florida as a result of the Castro regime, who came here in the late fifties and early sixties. Most of them “Americanized” fairly quickly, attempting to learn the language of their new home, gain citizenship, and become productive members of society. Did they ever. They brought with them a wealth of culture, art, music, foods and more.
But a short twenty years later, another wave of Cubans made it to shore that did not have the same ambition. Since that time, Hispanic countries and cultures have poured into the United States looking for freedom from poverty, from political oppression, religious obstruction and many other reasons. Proud to be free and American, they have made Miami among other cities, their home, however because of the language barrier, I no longer feel at home. I cannot get a job unless I am bi-lingual. There are parts of town where nobody speaks English, and all of the literature is printed in three languages: Spanish, Haitian Creole and English. Even my Temple has a Spanish speaking Rabbi who conducts services in Spanish for part of the congregation. No Hablo.
Looking for Utopia
I had been in the workforce for over 38 year. I’ve maintained a 36 year marriage, raised a family, kept a home, and have been available to be a caretaker. I’ve done everything that has been expected of me.
Someone once told me that I have successfully lived my life by “default.” Actually, I don’t think I ever really knew what I wanted to do with my life, so living my life by default worked, for a while. Other than raise a family, I never really dreamed of doing anything in particular. I had all the “movie-star” hopes that little girls have. I wasn’t encouraged to follow any dreams. Camelot and Mayberry didn’t lend themselves to girls having ambitions other than pillbox hats and cakes that didn’t fall.
I didn’t know I was good at anything. I didn’t know I had talent. I didn’t know I had dreams. It’s a little late, but now, I do. You see, that same person who told me to stop living my life by default also explained to me a highly technical psychological term. (That, by the way, is sarcasm, in case you didn’t recognize it). She said I have finally begun to “self-actualize.” I’m a late bloomer. But there are things I still want to accomplish.
The one thing I did realize is that I only have one life to live (sounds like soap opera). I want to enjoy what’s left of it, doing what makes me happy, what tickles my heart, what strokes my soul. I know, now, that it can’t be here, and it can’t be now.
Retreating to Disney World
Notice I didn’t call this section retiring to Disney World. I don’t intend to release my inner child, either, although that would be kind of interesting. All I intend to do are three things.
1) Simplify – that means return to Mayberry a little bit. Slow down the pace of my life by moving to a smaller town, to a smaller house and with that, a smaller overhead.
2) Recapture – the days when families weren’t quite as transient. While I don’t intend to become a helicopter mom, I do want to be closer to at least one of my kids, so I can see them more than once or twice a year, with the promise (to them), that I will be there if they need me, but they won’t notice anything different otherwise.
3) Enjoy – the rest of my life, whether its 30 years or 30 days, I want to grow old with the man I married, and do all the things we always talked about but still haven’t had the chance to do. I want him to slow down too, and join me on my journey. He had his own Camelot and Mayberry. We’ve been together since Havana… we both could use a little mouse.
VOTE!!! Tell your friends to vote. Drive them to the polls. Make this election be the one that puts us back on track to be the nation our forefathers intended us to be…
We are the UNITED States of America. We are not the nation we have become under the current administration. We have a Constitution. We live under the Rule of Law. We are a Democracy, that thrives under a system of Checks and Balances. E Pluribus Unum means “Out of Many, One.”
We can no longer allow this administration to continue to drive us apart. We may have different views about policies on taxes, immigration, health care, etc., but we will, none of us, accept corruption and treason, nor should we accept any degree of complicity.
If you really want to “drain the swamp” and “Make America Great,” (IT WAS GREAT BEFORE 2016 – now we are the laughing stock of the world and in danger as we no longer have any clear allies.), then Get out and VOTE FOR SOME NEW BLOOD. GET ALL THOSE OLD GOP CRONIES OUT OF THERE… EVERYONE OF THEM WHO HAS COVERED UP FOR DONALD TRUMP OR BRETT KAVANAUGH HAS TO GO.
What if you discover at a late time in your life that you’ve lived inauthentically almost your entire life? What if, through external circumstances, you find truths that exist inside you that turn you upside down, and leave you floundering in the world around you? Nothing seems right. Nothing seems comfortable or even familiar, even though it has been there all along.
I have been waking up next to the same man for the past thirty-six years. Today he is a stranger. He doesn’t have any idea who I am at my very core. He couldn’t tell me what my dream vacation would be after all this time. He knows my favorite food, but then, everyone knows its chocolate. That’s a lay-up. He can‘t communicate with me civilly. Of course, we always had trouble expressing ourselves verbally with each other. That was always the genesis of any fight we might have, and there were plenty.
My mother, who lives with me now, again, having had a 34-year sabbatical from me, has some sensitivity to my plight, but doesn’t grasp the depth to which it goes. She has the empathy for the reason I am questioning, but not the patience.
I was blessed eighteen months ago, to gain a step-grandchild. I lost the prefix step, because I love this child as if she came from my own bloodline. I marvel at her wisdom at all of age four. What I really enjoy is reliving the days when I was so free inside my own body. I watch her play freely… at home, on a playground… anywhere. She is not self-conscious at all. When do girls lose that? When do they become worried about how they look, or more importantly, worried about what other people think of how they look? When do they begin to feel that desperate need to fit in? When do they lose their self-identity and trade it for the desire to be popular or have a best friend or a boyfriend? My granddaughter is such a joy to watch, because that hasn’t happened to her yet.
My memories of my own freedom are vague and few. I know for a fact when things changed drastically. I don’t like to talk about it, because it involved something physical and someone close. Thereafter, I was quite self-conscious. I knew my body was different than a boy’s body. That was in first grade. It was sad. I didn’t know what happened was wrong until much later. That was even sadder.
All through my “formative” years, things happened that I neither invited nor understood. But they happened anyway. These events changed the way I viewed men and people in general and led me down some interesting pathways. From being raised in a house full of men, to a male-dominated world, (I hesitate to use the word misogynist), to a father who had difficulty showing emotion, to several episodes of sexual battery/assault, I developed not an irrational fear of men.
After an attempted rape in college, it took me several years to even consider dating men again. I even had a relationship with a woman for a year or so in between. I never identified myself as lesbian, or even bi-sexual. I believe labels make for resentments and hate. I just happened to be in love with another person who happened to be a woman. Soon thereafter, I met the man who would be my husband of 36 years. The only reason I let him through my shell is because he was kind, and he didn’t, at the time, place a price on my head, like other men had… I had dated one man whose father said directly to me that if a girl didn’t “put out” by the third date, you’re wasting your time and money.
I often wonder if the “sexual revolution” of the 60’sand 70’s is the reason some men felt they had the right to have their way with women whether the women wanted it or not. Spiking punch in the 80’s all the way through to dropping roofies (the date rape) drug in the new millennium, seem to me to be the generation methodologies… an outgrowth of hormone enraged young men.
Since I was so self-conscious and fearful, I guess I never was invited to those kinds of parties. I was neither rebellious nor adventurous. My Aunt even called me a Goody-Goody when she wanted me to sneak into the seated section at Tanglewood when we had only paid for lawn seats. I guess I should be grateful for being that way, lest I be one of those punch-drunk girls who got taken advantage of.
So today, at age 61, as I look back, I wonder who I might have been or how I might have felt about things or how far I could have gone with my God-given talents had I not been stifled by the men in my life. And by the way, I remember every single one of those episodes like it was yesterday: every one of their names, approximate dates, exactly what the rooms look like, what they were wearing… but most of all, how they left me feeling about myself. Collectively, they ruined my life.