On one level, I'm completely fine with 40. But then there are those sudden moments of clarity that make you realize that much of what you've been trying so hard to change in life was always outside your control. Or, more likely, whatever was within your power to change you either a) wasted; or b) completely flubbed up.
And I think its a time when I feel like my family doesn't really know me. A kind of limbo - you've passed the obligations of childhood but haven't reached the helpless transparency of old age. Older relatives and friends guess at who you are by filling in the blanks with what you used to be.
To the kids, though, you don't have a past. You exist in their moment. And, of course, you'd never dare tell them for fear of losing authority. Illusions must be maintained, at whatever cost.
The other night at dinner we were talking with T.'s teacher about Interlochen Arts Camp, where the teacher had spent many summers as a music instructor. I knew about the camp because, I explained, I had almost gone there as a teenager for dance. "Dance?!", said T.
In my mind I thought, "Yes. Dance. And by the way," I continued in my mind, "As hard as it is for anyone to believe given my commitment to this family, before the knitting, and the sewing, the oil-paint and turp soaked jeans, the band concerts; someone thought I was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen. I went amazing places and wore beautiful clothes. I made huge and dramatic mistakes."
There are other things I keep to myself, the dead letters of the heart. Not because they are "secret", but because I I don't want anyone's input. I want to remember things the way they were in my heart at the time. I made peace with what I could, and everything else I protected.
My mother, I'm thinking, may have taken a similar approach. One of the earliest signs of her dementia was that some of those protective devices began to fail. Every revelation was a bombshell. She's not the person we thought she was. Or...more likely...she was that person, we just never really knew her.The most important one was followed by, "Well, I just wanted to tell you the way *I* remembered it." Meaning, not tainted by the thoughts and opinions of those who were never inside the heart of the matter. I understand that so much better now.
Anne Sexton's poem Courage, is one of my favorites. Sometimes, during the day, I just think the word "love", and then I find myself repeating her words in my head, "...it was love; love as simple as shaving soap." And it was love. But no one will ever understand it the way those two people - at that time in that place - understood it. You have endured great despair and you did it alone. I won't share it because no one can protect the past the way I do.
There is another line from Flannery O'Connor's short story A Good Man Is Hard To Find: "[She] would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."