March 27, 2009

Two women walk into a consignment store...

Sometimes when I am at work, I feel like I'm living behind two way glass or that I'm invisible or a robot or a child or otherwise not considered an adult citizen worthy of notice. This is not to say I disapprove entirely. Mostly I like it, I don't want people to notice me, I'd have to give up some of myself, my resources, stories or sympathy. I am selfish and they are mine to keep.

Having this state of semi-person-hood I tend to overhear or eavesdrop on various conversations going on in the store. It isn't very large and isn't a place for private conversations but they happen anyway. Sometimes I get really struck by the things they say, one time in particular it was two women who came into the store. They were late 20s early 30s and were chatty in a way I don't normally pay much attention to, but then the shorter stouter one mentioned to the taller prettier one that she was in 14 weeks pregnant.

The pretty one told the stout one that she was so happy and excited and jealous because she just so wanted another baby but right now wasn't the right time for her. They went on to talk about the various merits of different shirts and other things I don't care to remember and then came the bit that struck me the most and made me remember these women. I had managed to gather that they both already had more than one child and the pregnant one said to the pretty one that her pregnancy wasn't planned but that she was very happy because she was already 30 and her and her partner had agreed to not have children past the age of 30. The implication being that it was much too old. The pretty one agreed emphatically and added that it was because of her own advancing age that she was so jealous of the stout one's pregnancy.

First I thought they were small minded and a bit ignorant. Then it sort of dawned on me like a blow to my head. Here I am working in a shop like I was when I was 17, sitting on the edge of my 27th birthday, no plans for marriage or children in sight. I began to feel a keen sense of loss for a life I would never have, a choice I implicitly made without realizing. Later that day I thought about when I was 19 and I dreamed of a life where I was married by 22 and had all my children early and well. I would have a little house with a tree swing where the children's father would push them. I had a man in mind, but not in body and that dream and many similarly romantic dreams of my future passed away amid the ashes and smoke that was the year 2001.

More than the twin towers went down in flames that year, my family life and personal life also spectacularly exploded in ways I'm still paying for and trying to clean up after. I switched schools to be closer to a home I would never be able to grasp again and to be present for people who no longer wanted me. I changed majors because I found out I wasn't going to be Indiana Jones, I was going to be underemployed, underpaid and bored out of my mind. I had imagined I would be telling stories. Reality was I would be endlessly sifting data desperately, endlessly trying to come to no conclusions at all.

Those women brought me to a startling clarity that I will never have a life where I am young and married with children. I will probably never have a life where I am married with children at all. It isn't to say that I want these things, in the past 8 years I've become harder and more selfish, perhaps more aware of my damaged and self centered nature, resigned that no good would come of me having children to care for when I more than occasionally resent the responsibility of the cat. So I grieve a little for the loss of those choices that used to be so brilliantly shining in front of me. I think about the choices I made without thinking I was choosing. There is a little mourning, too, for a person who could want those things, by the person who runs screaming afraid from them.


Anonymous said...

Beth, you are so very poignant. But you make me sad.

Elizabeth said...

Don't be sad. At 27 you are still so young you can't even imagine. My daughter said she never planned to have children, but she married last year when she was 32 and is expecting her first child in July. Even if you don't have children someday your life can be completely fulfilling. At my age, I still feel like I have time to accomplish something-- plus soon I'll be eligible for the senior discount.

Matt said...

Whether or not that potential is actually dead, it or some other will die soon. I also grieve for Beth the glowing young mother of old potential. I grieve for this fictional woman's non-existence far more than I could for the misfortune of some stranger (like you): a real person that I do not and will never know*. I grieve because I am also 27. And (yes) this is not too old, but not too young to have shut some doors forever. Beth-mom may not entirely be a shut door, but I have many. Shut doors. That are my spitting image, or just a bit more handsome. This doesn't make them less painful to look at.

But enough rubbish about me and metaphorical shut doors. I, a complete stranger, bring you shocking news of our mutual friend. You may be surprised to know that I have met glowing Beth-mom of the Midwest. Or at least Shut Door sickeningly-successful-writer-Matt of northern California met her last week. She was at a Starbucks in Tienanmen square, ordering a double decaf half-calf** mocha-chino with extra cinnamon, hold the foam. She and her husband Bill, the sculpture professor from the Art Institute of Chicago, were visiting Beijing for a public-sculpture commission he was applying for. She'd left her kids back in the US because this was going to be a short trip, and you just don't want to put kids on a 13 hour flight if you don't have to. Writer-Matt had simply materialized in Beijing for the purpose of this encounter, as he is want to do from time to time. It's lovely being made of past-potential.

Anyway, glowing Beth-mom was doing pretty well. Her kids were shaping up to be bright and independent. She had none of the neuroses or other personality blemishes that flesh-and-blood people have, except for those that made her interesting. She was as perfect and odd and healthy as Writer-Matt, and she was a joy to meet. This is not one of the benign lies you wrote about in your last post. It is a suspension of disbelief and a pleasant diversion, but it is as >true< as anything I know. You should trust that all the details here are exact, even if you have your own Beth-mom that is a little different. Mine was really happy, and she would want you to know. If you had given up your current life to be glowing Beth-mom, you could not have fared so well because the glowing Beth-Mom I met is impossible. Certainly, had things been different, I would not have met her, would not be writing this, and would not grieve with you for a glowing, highly-caffeinated mother who does not exist. Thank you for introducing me to her.

*I feel guilty about this, but it's the truth. Fictional people are more dear and important to me than real ones I don't know. I am closer with them than many people I do know, in fact.
**I assume this was a clever way of saying "half and half" or something like that. I'm not big on coffee, so sometimes my imagination doesn't make much sense in coffee houses. This is despite having worked as a Barista for longer than I care to admit.