Facing your worst fear
At the ripe old age of 42 I have lived long enough to say “When I was your age” to someone who doesn’t still talk about what grade he or she is in. People who are now adults weren’t even born when I graduated high school.
A friend and co-worker of mine is 23 years old. She has been married for a little less than two years, bought a house and now has a baby boy on the way. Sometimes when I look at her, I think of how I was at that age. In just about every way she has her act much more together than I did back then.
Many many years ago when I was twenty-three… (actually the beginning of a song, an inside joke in my family)
But seriously, I too was married at the age of 23. I had been with my high school sweetheart since I was 17. I was a people pleaser, and still am to some degree. Since I loved him and didn’t want to upset him, I was rather submissive. I was also raised in a very traditional home in which the man was in charge. Between my upbringing and my personality, I relied on my new husband for everything. Whenever we went on a trip, he always mapped the route. When we went to Australia he handled all the currency conversion. He managed our money and paid our bills. He was very interested in hiking and camping. I liked camping a bit, but not as much as he. I liked hiking even less, but I was right next to him on the weekends when we walked on trails and got hopelessly lost in forest. We were so lost one time in some hills in Maine that we had wandered for hours. I remember getting quite exhausted. Night was falling and we were a breath away from becoming a statistic. I could just see the headline…
Young Couple from Boston Lost in Maine Hills; Remains Found After Two Month Search
The endless snowshoeing and cross-country skiing were not exactly torture, but were definitely not my first choice for activities. I never said a word because he was in charge and it was my job to please. My worst fear was that one day he would leave me. I was determined to do whatever it took to make sure it didn’t happen.
And then it did.
He was gone and I was a mess. I didn’t know the first thing about being independent. Who would take care of me now? My dad had always taken care of me. Then I moved in with my boyfriend, who eventually became my husband and he took care of me. For the first time in 11 years I was not part of a couple. I was just… me.
For the better part of a year I was a basket case. Some of the decisions I made during that time make me cringe when I think back now. I immediately went on the hunt to find someone to take care of me. I hadn’t dated since high school. The last first date I’d had was back in the 80s when we still counted “bases.” It was a whole different world. For one thing, people were grown up now. Sex was no longer taboo. AIDS was just a blip on the radar before, but now I had to be careful. I moved into my friend’s basement. He was about 20 years older than me. Maybe he’d take care of me. After all, someone had to. But he didn’t want the job. He had his own problems.
My parents were anxious to help but were unsure how to do so. One day I was complaining to them that I had settled down so early that I hadn’t had an opportunity to do anything “cool”. The friend who I was living with, as well as the other housemates, were children of the 60s. They had crazy stories of all the adventures they’d had when they were my age. I had an ex-husband, my dog had recently died, and my car was on its way to the junk heap. I was alone and boring. My parents very generously offered to send me to Europe.
I saw four countries in a little over five weeks. I went to Scotland, Holland, Italy, and Switzerland. I rode the rails with my eurail pass. I met people from all over the world and found my way from city to city. Each time I entered a new country I had to figure out the currency all by myself. I had to read maps and train schedules. I was forced to… take care of myself.
And during that five-week period the strangest thing happened. I didn’t die. I cried a little. I wandered a lot. I got lost a few times. But I didn’t die.
When I got home, I had great stories to tell. Not only hadn’t I died, I had actually lived! A feeling had washed over me that has remained with me to this day. I had faced my worst, being alone, and I had survived. From that point on, I knew that no matter what happened next I could take care of myself. I have never been quite so afraid again.
In retrospect getting divorced was probably the best thing for me. It allowed (maybe forced) me to develop into a multifaceted, resourceful person. Does that mean getting married when I was that young was a mistake? I don’t know but…
It seemed like a good idea at the time.