I am not alone in contemplating how I spend my days…my time here on this earth. This lovely poem “Poem of the Day: Poem for the New Year” refers to all the other things I think about every day of my life….
Last week I unexpectedly found myself counting years instead of sheep during a night of insomnia while contemplating my 70th birthday, which has now (peacefully) come and gone. In last week’s post, I wrote about the events that transpired during the first 25 years of my life, planning to continue the story this week. So, for those of you who are still interested, here it is.
At 25, after returning to California from a year in Paris, I found myself unable to resume my life as it was. Shortly thereafter, I returned home to NY to attend a sister’s wedding. While staying with my family, I got an unexpected letter from my Parisian boyfriend, telling me he hadn’t realized how much he missed me and would come to America as soon as he could. Deciding to stay in NY and wait for him was one of those fork-in-the-road decisions which totally changed the direction of my life.
Months went by until he finally got enough money together to make the trip to America. He and I moved into an apartment on 72nd Street with a friend of his. Thus began a year of emotional upheaval. While waiting for his arrival I had gotten a job working in NYC for the director of the 1975 Best Documentary winner, Hearts and Minds. This was an interesting job and I was glad to have it. My boyfriend, however, was constantly searching for work (off the books). We moved several times, but each move became more and more unsettling and our relationship became very strained. One year after his arrival, we rented an apartment together in Greenwich Village. He had to go back to France because his visa was expiring, but he never returned. In a desperate phone call, he urged me to come to Paris. To do so was impossible. I couldn’t afford the apartment we had rented together; my film job was ending; I had no financial resources; and I was in shock.
This “abandonment,” which is evidently how I experienced his departure, precipitated a death spiral for me. I still loved him, and even though I knew we were having difficulties, I became hopelessly depressed. I understood his reasons, but not his way of dealing with the situation. I soon had to move back to my parents’ home on LI due to a serious health matter. The next several years were the “dark years.” I slowly began to try to put my life back together, began seeing a therapist and got myself back into substitute teaching on Long Island. I was in my mid 20’s, and still felt relatively lost. I had no real home of my own, no steady job, few friends, and no clue what to do with myself. Worse than that, I had no one to turn to for support or advice.
About two years later, I met my husband-to-be in a book publishing class which I was auditing at a nearby university. He was about 3/4 of the way through his undergraduate degree which I urged him to complete. We were together for about three years when I was suddenly hospitalized with acute endometriosis. But I was lucky. The surgeon was able to salvage my ovaries, and he encouraged us to have children as soon as possible because endometriosis often results in infertility.
The decision was made for us; no more procrastinating. A year and a half later, I became pregnant and then gave birth to a ten-and-a-half pound baby boy. We had been desperately searching for a home during the period of the highest interest rates in the country (1981), and finally moved into one we could afford on my due date! We settled into married life. I returned to work part-time at a fairly new job at Stony Brook University, and my life began to come into focus.
I often tell my children that having a family was the best thing that ever happened to me. It grounded me after years of wandering and provided me with everything I needed: a home of my own, a purpose in life, and my own family. My second child, a girl was born a year and a half later and life seemed challenging, but good. I have the pictures to prove it! I was approaching 40 when the other shoe dropped.
Upon returning to my part-time job as a media coordinator in a university continuing-education program, a year after the birth of my second child, I met the “new boss.” Short, shifty and Napoleonic he was completely the opposite of my former boss who was more like a mentor to me. Within a few short months I was called into his office and told I could no longer work part-time and I could “apply for the full-time job if I wished to do so.” It was a gut-punch that I didn’t see coming, although I should have. My female colleagues were all older than me and had stayed home to raise their families. Some of them resented my part-time status. Others were older, single women devoted to their careers. There was no way I could match their dedication. I fully supported the feminist movement, but I was trapped in a time warp with my colleagues. None of them understood my need to work to help provide for my family.
I was facing another fork-in-the-road decision, one that so many women have faced: my job or my family. My commute was an hour-long each way, and I did not see how I could sustain the job. To work full-time meant I would be turning over my young children to strangers once again, and would be able to spend only very limited time with them. I strongly felt I could not do that to my kids. I had reached a dead end.
I learned I was entitled to a “separation year” as per my contract, which I spent as an assistant director in a writing center for the School of Engineering at the same university. One year later I left my job, eleven years after I was hired, with no idea how we would survive financially. My salary was our major source of income. I was in my early forties and at a new low point. But this time I did not become immobilized by depression. I knew I my children needed me. I was learning to become more resilient and independent and to act upon my anger rather than let it consume me. I just needed a new plan.
(To be continued….)