I’m coming up on my 39th birthday here in…umm…
*Cue awkward silence as I count on my fingers and mumble under my breath, “Let’s see. Multiply by 5, subtract 96, carry the one and…*
Now, there’s no big fuss made over a 39th birthday. It isn’t even a milestone event in one’s life. Next year, however, the big 4-0 will hop up and bite me in the backside like a snake that’s been hiding in the tall, overgrown grass of my life. I look toward this event with trepidation.
I guess the approach of what society has deemed to be the “over-the-hill” mark, rendering my last official year of youth as methodically ticking away, has caused me to really start reflecting back on my life. Replaying the mistakes that I’ve made. Weeding through the “what ifs”. Gritting my teeth against the “could-have-done-betters”.
I’m a dweller. I try not to be, and the Christian crowd will tell me that I shouldn’t be, but I’m just so very human. I think that mulling things over again and again and reworking them in my mind is probably in my blood. I can agree, though, that without God in my life now, I would have completely reverted back into my head and might otherwise be found drooling in a corner somewhere rocking and mumbling to myself. Clinging to faith and hope keeps me upright.
I didn’t always, though.
Fresh out of high school, I viewed the world as my playground and had very little determination to seize any kind of future for myself. I entered one scholarship contest to an art school that I was mildly interested in, but when I showed up with portfolio in hand, I took a look around at the other 300 applicants and their work, and was instantly discouraged. I packed up and left that day thinking much less of myself than I had when I woke up that morning. Afraid and unsure of my abilities from that point forward, the portfolio found its way into the back of my closet, thus closing the doors on any further attempts to try to be somebody and make a career stem from my talents. I never looked back again.
Instead I gave in to the calling of my social life, got a little apartment above a house lived in by the woman renting the place, and held killer parties. I figured maybe the parties were getting out of hand when people were vomiting out the windows onto her car below. She was understanding enough, though, and gave me the opportunity to stay as long as I toned it down. Soon after, the roommate moved out, the boyfriend moved in, and I did behave; as much as a young single girl shacked up with her boyfriend possibly could, and for a while, at least.
I traded one boyfriend in for another when that one enlisted in the military. He was a good guy, but I was wild, free, and simply didn’t want to wait for him. So out went the old, and in came the new. With the new, I fell instantly head over heels. Or so I thought. Reflecting on it now, I had no concept of what love really was back then.
Then the bad break-up happened and I ran from my hurt. I packed up my apartment, quit my job, stuffed anything that wouldn’t fit in my car into my parents’ basement, and took off to a place 8 hours north of home to escape seeing him. I had met some people there the summer before, and my grandpa had a cabin there that I broke into once I arrived. It was quickly discovered that I was staying there, though, and I was tossed out on my bad decision making backside.
After a month of living in my car because I had no other place to go, and a job that quickly went south because I either didn’t show up for my 12 hour shifts or came in hung over, I threw in the towel, pawned my entire CD collection for gas money, and went home.
I got my old job back. The boyfriend and I got back together. I became pregnant at 21, and we got married to the urgings of family members to “do the right thing.”
Well, the right thing essentially turned out to be the wrong thing.
At the ripe old age of 23 I was a divorcée that was looking for love in all the wrong places to try and ease my pain. I traveled in all the wrong circles and spent nights with forgettable men. Some of them so forgettable, in fact, that I couldn’t even be bothered to learn their names to begin with.
I had become your average barfly because I just couldn’t bear to sit home alone with my thoughts, wallowing in my self-pity, so I had sought out ways to drown them. Cheap alcohol and the attentions of the opposite sex became my crutch.
Until a long island iced tea bought for me by a dark haired stranger, and a one night stand, turned into ‘a regular thing’.
Age 26 then saw me stuck in a loveless relationship with an alcoholic compliments of my bar hopping habit, (and that long island) that thought nothing of disappearing on a drinking binge for an entire weekend, while I sat home wondering where he was with a 4 year old and another baby on the way. Well, what did I expect from a guy that I picked up in a bar?
I also had 2 abortions under my belt by this time. I wasn’t a Christian then, and in my panicked worldly ways and unwillingness to change, I did then what is now the unthinkable to me. Those uncaring and heartless murders have slowly gnawed away at me like a flesh eating disease for all of the years since. Anytime that word is even mentioned around me, it becomes a knife stabbing at my heart all over again.
So, age 27 found me deeply wounded by my own choices, with 2 different children by 2 different fathers, desperately trying to find a way out of the nightmare relationship that I was in. I tried the direct “get out” approach to no avail. He used the fact that I now had his child as an excuse to drag out the misery for both of us.
Once again I sought ways to drown my sorrows, this time settling on church and video games. I found God to the tune of the alcoholic’s snide, ridiculing comments, and I also found a virtual reality world where, for a while every night, I didn’t have to be me. I could forget how low my life had sunk.
It was through those online games that I finally found my current husband and rescuing hero, and how I coincidently was able to finally end the relationship I was in. He didn’t stick around long once I was finally able to profess my love for another. He then decided to deny our son out of his anger toward me. My husband has since stepped into the role as daddy, though, so my son’s biological father denying him hasn’t really affected him much. Yet.
My husband is one of the few things that I’ve done right in my life.
At 28 I married him on a cold January day to the joyous melody of everyone telling us that we were wrong. “It’s too soon. You barely even know each other,” they would say. The courtship started with his first pixelated words to me across my computer screen in September, ( ‘happy birthday’, coincidentally) and spanned over 4 months of nightly phone calls, webcam chats, and 2 visits in person. By the beginning of December, I was shopping for a wedding dress. Maybe we didn’t know each other completely yet, but we had the rest of our lives to get to that point. We knew it was right, and that’s all that mattered.
That marriage brought with it 3 young step-children. I admittedly haven’t always been the nicest person as far as they’ve been concerned. I couldn’t really pinpoint why, though. Likely petty jealousy over the attentions of my husband. I saw him as this treasure that I wanted to keep all to myself, and I didn’t realize for the first half of our marriage that I couldn’t. His youngest is very needy, too, when it comes to her father, so I’ve had to really struggle to work through my sharing issues.
I’ve tried to mend my relationships with them, with some success. They essentially tolerate me now, and the youngest one is even loving toward me, though she’ll argue with me ceaselessly over anything that I ask her to do. I think sometimes that it’s her way of showing animosity toward me brought about by past hurts, but then I realize that it just comes with the territory when you have teenagers.
Regardless, though, my husband was a package deal and it took me awhile to figure that out.
At age 35, I almost lost him. We were so heavy into our online gaming addiction that we had fallen away from church, and each other. In our emotional separation due to distraction, I regrettably strayed. He gave me a choice to leave or stay. I stayed, and it took hard work on both of our parts to make our marriage fully functional again. Counseling. Church. New friends that were good for us. Turning away from our addiction and turning to God.
I’ve made so many mistakes in my lifetime thus far. Lord knows I have. They weigh on me like chains draped across my shoulders at times.
Sometimes I think to myself, “You never went far. You never made a name for yourself. You really have nothing to show for your life but a barrage of bad choices. That’s your legacy.
Then I look at my daughter, who’s about to turn 17, and my son who’s about to turn 12, and it seems like only yesterday, but in another dimension entirely, that I spent 19 and 22 hours respectively in sweating, screeching labor to bring them into this world…
And now my daughter will sit and talk to me and confide in me like I’m her friend…
And my son will hug my waist and hang there like a boy-sized belt…
And my husband will wraps his arms around me and kiss my forehead…
And my step daughter will call me beautiful…
And I’m assured that they all love me in spite of me…
And I feel safe from not only the world, but my own tendencies toward destructive behavior…
And I’m reminded that I’ve made it this far…
And I know I did something right in the midst of my messes…
And everything is okay…
So that brings us to the here and now. Time isn’t stopping, and it certainly isn’t slowing down. I am older and I am wiser, but my life will likely never be mistake free. I’ll keep on making them, but they’ve at least been getting noticeably smaller over the years.
I’ll wish me a happy birthday this year, and my biggest gift will be the knowledge that I’m a survivor.