After my confession to Gabriel, the only star’s gravitation that pulled my life’s orbit was family. The kids married, got jobs, bought houses, and blessed me with grandchildren. For ten years hubby and I traveled, not just to the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angles, New York but Asia, Europe, South America. Life was good. A few grey hairs, so what? Nothing a hairdresser couldn't fix.
Then came the warnings, hot and cold, but brushed aside. Soon after my fifty-third birthday, however, it didn’t happen. It wobbled, then it was a no show.
My period missed, not one month but the next and by the third I knew, it was puberty in reverse. I was an eggless, post-menopausal woman. I fretted and checked there were no sprouting lip hairs in the mirror and worried.
Am I still a woman?
Compounding my doubts, was hubby's declining libido, from twice a week to once or less, his saddle lacking its firm horn. Uninterested in foreplay, it switched from booty to duty call. He surreptitiously viewed porn to prep himself for his duty.
Can I blame him? Who wants an old woman?
On the plus side, my face expressed fewer wrinkles than the calendar said it should. I didn’t wrinkle up as Mom did. Those who hadn’t seen me for a while remarked about my fountain of youth appearance. I returned their compliments. Theirs’s had an element of truth versus my -often blatant deceptions. Seeing their decay still reflected on my ageing.
To camouflage menopause, personal upkeep was doubled down with weekly hairdresser visits to snuff out grey hair at the root, the makeup table was my morning companion and upscale dresses my daily ritual. My presentation sought attention, but conservatively. Passing men’s second glances confirmed, I remained a woman.
Then a funeral caused another soul search.
What do I want?
The memorial was for an acquaintance, a minor ghost from the past. She’d attended Notre Dame with me but never rode in my Desoto. We weren’t close. The truth, I didn’t like her. She was proud, stuck up, a corridor passerby ignored by me and others because she was a snob.
Years later, she relocated to the Pacific Northwest and looked me up and asked to meet over coffee in Seattle. I wasn’t thrilled to meet her but was curious to know about other former students and agreed.
She’d changed personality to bubbly, to the point of felicity, no longer arrogant. As we reminisced of school days, the café door jolted open, a customer walked in, she jerked her gaze to see who, her shoulder-length hair flitted in a flutter, askew. I saw the hearing aid.
Her curiosity of who entered placated, her attention back to me, I spoke slowly in a soft but audible tone.
“You’re hard of hearing, aren’t you?”
She smiled, looked afar, waited for me to say more, became confounded and finally replied.
“It’s okay. What do you think?
A few more verbal tests, as she fidgeted in ascending anxiety, her insecure replies and attempts to continue a conversation beyond heard grasp, confirmed, she was bluffing, trying to be “normal” when not.
Confronted, she confessed she was hard of hearing and was so at Notre Dame. It explained her proud, stuck up, school demeanor. She didn’t respond because she didn’t hear the hellos. Like when tested over coffee, she’d faked her way through school. How difficult a life, such a terrible card dealt, not being in the conversation, isolated, no one comprehending her plight. She was traduced to classmate scorn, our scathing, clever epithet quips trailing her passage through corridors.
How wrong we were to judge when we knew not who she was. The crude names we assigned her, hopefully at least not heard, as she passed among the student throng, a persona non-grata to the Desoto and slumber parties.
Then another revelation crept up, one about me. Would it have mattered? High school, it’s a time of sycophantic peer pressure. Any association with a pariah is a coup de grace expulsion from the “chosen”. Yes, I would have had empathy. But why? Because I was an outcast once too.
Driving the Desoto for girls' night out moved me to among the “chosen.” I loved my accepted “in” status. I was “in” but not a pace setter. My position was fragile. I was a follower, not a leader. Any attempt to sway “chosen” could result in my expulsion. My sin would be one of omission, silent sympathy while ignoring her plight. As the service continued, I realized.
I’ve committed more sins of omission than commission. Don’t worry about what you do, it’s ++
With a louder than a normal voice, we became semi-friends, but never really knew one another. My funeral attendance was a duty without tears. I prayed she could hear wherever she landed in the other world.
Who was she? Did she have a secret puppet shadow? Deaf and dumb, she was deaf and I, dumb.
Despite her Catholic Notre Dame diploma, the funeral was a secular service. It lacked the spiritual ambiance for the mystery of death found in a Catholic religious service.
Reposed lifelike in her open coffin, dyed black coiffured hair, fingernails polished pearl white, hands holding a red bouquet, dressed in black skirt and white blouse, the impression was, she would rise-up, smile and participate with us. Instead, she was dead, never to move again, a corpse, no longer among us, her body discomposing indecipherably as we watched. The lid, soon to be closed, she so neatly tucked into her coffin, it to be lowered into the damp earth, all to rot.
Oh God, poor Rickie, Mom, Dad what do they look like now?
During funerals for parents and those of their era, my mind dwelt on their life summaries, what they did and didn't do. For those younger, it was their tragedy, of a life story cut short, their story unfinished. This funeral was of my generation, now beginning to be sporadically called to the other world, a pace that would accelerate. As the sterile, macabre platitudes of the secular service droned on, my mind wandered afar.
Death, it’s final. Tomorrow the world goes on without her. She’ll soon be forgotten, like yesterday’s newspaper. Death, the stop button on our life’s tape, a tape soon erased, a fading memory among those who knew her, probably knew her not, now an evaporating mirage.
I shifted to reminiscing about me.
When young, I walked through the Mission Cemetery with Julie, my close school friend. We traipsed among the graves, row after row. Beneath our feet or in little stone houses, real people, with life sagas, stuck, rotting. They lived but are dead, their stories over. I stood before the graves, read the names, the dates, stared at those with a picture. They stared back. I visualized them in their coffins, rotten, horrible to look at, unlike their picture. What would they say if they could?
The graves provided undeniable credence to the nun’s admonishments; death is our fate. Closing my eyes, I imagined their bodies in goodbye finery, cold, damp, shriveled, decayed and rotten. On my bicycle, I peddle back to the living world. Their ghosts followed They warned, I too was fated to join them.
Mom’s there now, beneath the grass and dirt, in her cedar coffin, her headstone above. She’s wearing the special dress I purchased for her, her favorite apron next to her where I placed it. Oh God, she’s shriveled, decayed in the cold earth, the dress and apron ruined.
Dad's next to her in his favorite suit and tie, his fedora I, personally set at the angle he liked, rotten too. What will I wear lying in the cold earth? No, I’m being cremated, who wants to rot in the ground? Better ashes to ashes than dirt to dirt.
Now this woman lies in her satin-lined coffin, soon to rot in the cold earth, no matter what she wears. No brush strokes are to be added to her life's portrait. Those departed, paint no more, their remaining blank canvas has no sequel, no happily ever aftering, not a stroke more of their brush.
Morbid thoughts racked me. My mind strayed further afield.
With Mom and Dad gone, I’m scheduled next, the natural order of things.
Then my mind tripped a thought mine.
I know more dead than alive!
I ran a quick inventory.
The generation before is gone, now mine’s departing, it’s close, maybe true, I know more dead than alive, if not today then next year or the year after!
God’s predestined future is death. The funereal resurrected childhood’s imprint of death’s fate and changed its acceptance from knowing to believing.
Soon I’ll be in a coffin, never to move again.
The revelation wasn't fear of dying; it was fear of not living. The nuns' hell of burning sulfur pots seared in my young mind was long gone. The worse I could conceive happening on death was nothing.
I can accept nothing but not my life’s portrait unfinished. I need to splash life paint!
Leaving the service, I gulped in fresh air, raced home on Interstate 5, radio music playing loud, mind churning and with the mind refrain.
I’m alive! I’m alive! I’m alive, not in that coffin, not next to be transferred to the cold earth beneath the grass. I’m alive!
At home, I removed my black mourning garb and evaluated my still alive, naked body before the mirror.
Still trim, only a few wrinkles, I look ten years younger than the calendar says. Boobs sag a bit but aren't floppies. They're ripe fruit, to be enjoyed. Dressed to impress with my hairdresser’s coiffeur, and makeup’s art, I can be a stealth forty. Menopause, and grandchildren, so what? I can paint blank canvas with hues unused.
Looking at my eyes in the mirror, her occult eyes shone back, Succubus, Lilith, my secret puppet shadow, stared back. She’ arisen! After seven years. the funeral broke the silver chains restraining her.
She was out, out for a last spree of libidinousness. My guardian angel was trussed, unable to stop her.
If the worse is nothing, let her roam.
I redressed, in white, then changed and put on a yellow dress, then changed again and again to dispel the funeral’s death shadow. With each change, my rationalizations grew more complex.
Parochial school, poverty, early marriage, children when young, they snuffed out the real me. Who am I? No, who should I have been? To know who, without the cards dealt when young, I must roam unfettered by fate’s picture frame.
Lies to excuse what I couldn’t admit, fear of being old, an unacknowledged passerby with an unfinished painting prior to death. I wanted to be a woman; still sought as a woman, not as a matron, nana, or granny. All a complex web of delusions spun to deny.
A woman’s appearance determines her rank. After menopause, her rank degrades at an accelerating pace. The clock is ticking against me. I want to still proclaim, “Look at me!”
Handsome, professional, intellectual men will restore my rank. They don't need it all, just some, well at least one.
Finally, with a mid-calf red skirt, white blouse with lace, a pearl necklace, and belly dance hoop earrings, I put on three-inch heels to leave the funeral’s shadow. Smiling before the mirror, hubby walked into the bedroom.
“What happened, room tornado?”
“No, no, just going through the closet. It needs re-arrangement. I’m sorting things out, what needs to be discarded, what needs replacement. It’s a female midlife crisis thing. I’ll be down shortly to fix dinner. Anything you want to see me wear?”
“No, I let that be up to you. I like your hair up. Don’t throw out my old flannel shirts.”
"Well, I'm thinking of getting clothes, different than you’ve seen me wear. Don’t be shocked to see a new me.”
I bagged my castoffs; added one of his old paint, smeared flannel shirts, went down and fixed dinner. I was still a woman, a younger one, not one in a coffin, one going to splash paint.
The next day I went shopping to splash paint on an unfinished canvas, a fifty-three-year-old woman attempting to be young again.
Author Notes: A wife faces a midlife crisis.