One year ago today I sat in my car in the dark crying to my mom on the phone. She had spent our regular Sunday-night conversation trying, to no avail, to get me excited about my upcoming birthday. “You’re so young!” she said. “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” “Twenty-five!” I wailed in reply. “I’m going to be twennnnnty-fiiiiiiiiiive.”
Calmly, she said, “Baby. What’s wrong.”
What was wrong was that I’d just consummated a love affair that had gone on long-distance for almost a year. I’d spent two and a half days in the arms of a man I was wildly in love with, a man who also happened to be wildly in love with me, and then we said goodbye, he drove back to his state, I stayed put in mine (no small feat), and in a phone conversation a few days later, he accidentally called me by his wife’s name as he was declaring his undying love for me.
And I was left in this desolate place to contemplate my past year, my upcoming year, and the goals I’d hoped to achieve by the ripe old age of 25. These goals have been, pretty much my entire life, to 1. have a job I love, 2. be married to the man I love, 3. own a house I love with the man I love, and 4. have babies with the man I love. Lots o’ love.
Instead, I 1. had a job I barely tolerated about half the time and drove me crazy the other half, 2. was married to a man I didn’t really know while being crazy in love with a man who was married to someone else, 3. which was why I had backed out of buying that house on the last day of our option period several months earlier, and, oh yeah, 4. I still wanted babies but saw no foreseeable way this would ever, ever happen, with either man. Some love, yes, but not in a way that made any sort of sense for anyone involved. Especially me.
From the outside, it looked like I was close to having everything I’ve ever wanted. But there on the lonely, isolated inside, I saw that I was further away from it than I’ve ever been.
I cried because not only was I falling seriously short of my goals, but, as I saw it, I was actually moving in the opposite direction of my goals. It would’ve been easier if I didn’t have a husband at all rather than have a husband I saw a bleak future with. My single friends, I told myself, could meet someone tomorrow and fall in love. Me, I would have to untangle myself from Cautionary Lover, tell Cautionary Husband that I’m in love with someone else, try to make it work with him if he wants to make it work with me, and then come to a fork. In one direction, I would get a divorce, mourn, and, finally, move on, start over, and maybe find someone else to build a life with. In the other, Cautionary Husband and I would finally begin our lives together and, yes, maybe look into buying that house and having those babies.
My mom, when she was 25, had all of those things. She was married to a man she called and still calls to this day the love of her life. She had borne him a son and had a daughter soon on the way, and she was, by profession, a homemaker and mother, which was the job she’d always wanted to have. They owned a house in Connecticut.
However, fast-forward a dozen years and he’s leaving her with four children and no skilled work experience to speak of, so she’s taking a job working the housewares department in Dillard’s. And then fast-forward a dozen or so more, and she’s engaged to marry a man who finally treats her the way she deserves to be treated, she’s got one kid left living in a house she’s worked hard to buy with her own money, and she’s consoling her soon-to-be 25-year-old daughter because her life is such a wreck.
Honestly, I don’t know what any of us is thinking with all this goal business. Even when we do seem on track to meeting our goals, we have no idea how much worse things can and will get, or how much better. We are all in a constant state of losing it all, and then finding it. Losing it and finding it.
I’m now one year older, facing another birthday, and my goals are still nowhere in sight. But if I look back at the past year, I see that I have moved forward, however slightly. It turns out that Cautionary Lover accidentally calling me by his wife’s name was exactly the concentrated dose of pain that I needed to admit that the situation simply wasn’t working for me, and would never work for me. I told Cautionary Husband the truth. We began working on our marriage. We haven’t quite hit the fork yet, but, halfway into our six-month separation, we’re closer to some sort of clarity about our future, whether it be together or apart.
I’m not sure how I survived the one-two punch that was last March. But, as I feel the punches again this year, slightly muffled but still very much there, I can remind myself that I did, in fact, survive it. And even if I hadn’t moved at all from the place I was last year, this knowledge that there is something strong inside of me that, eventually and in my own time, gets me where I need to go in spite of circumstance would’ve been worth an entire year of going absolutely nowhere. But I didn’t go nowhere. In fact, I now believe that I’m closer to living the sort of life I’ve always wanted to live, my own life, on my own terms, with my own goals, based on my own happiness, than I’ve ever been.
Twenty-six. I’m going to be twenty-six.