Me, Alone In The World And Not Terrified

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Me, Alone in the World and Not Terrified
Love

September 2013

Southwest flight to Phoenix

I am sitting on an airplane and I am traveling alone. I have no ring on my finger and I haven’t been seen in public in this naked and brazen way in 13 years. I imagine I look like some kind of middle-aged weirdo to the lady and her young child who sit next to me on the Southwest flight. I imagine the lady looking at my finger, noticing the bareness of it. Trying to inch her child closer to her because she doesn’t know what sort of a woman I am. She has no idea how much I long for my own kids to be sitting by me or how much I just want my family back.

My kids are staying at home with their dad, who has been living in various apartments and temporary living situations since we separated in April.

It’s September. I’m exhausted.

This innocent mom probably thinks I’m a different sort of lunatic — if only she knew that I’m actually the type who didn’t even know the man I was married to for over a decade.

I’m 90% sure I’m getting divorced. I’m scared. I’m so scared I smoked a cigarette on the way to the airport at 4:30 a.m. But truthfully, I’ve been smoking a lot and look for any excuse to do it without worrying that my kids might smell it on me and thus become juvenile delinquents. I fret. I have to learn everything anew, including how airport parking lots work, since I only rarely managed that task alone during my marriage.

Why does God think God is so funny?

My therapist told me I need to get away and do something for myself. So that’s why I am here. 41 years old and skinnier than I’ve been since 11th grade because I’ve had diarrhea for five months straight and can barely hold down any food. Traveling alone to Sedona, Arizona. For a little me time. Whatever that means.

I open my large hardback book, trying to focus. A vampire story. Something escapist. I leaf through it and a notecard falls out — about the size of a business card. It’s a cartoon. Two penguins face each other, but the head of one penguin is being swallowed by a large fish. The other penguin appears stoic. The caption reads “Relax. God is in charge.”

Where did this come from? God? I’ve been praying a lot. Psalm 23 mostly. It’s felt like I’m in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Now, this. Am I supposed to feel better or worse? Why does God think God is so funny? I am both comforted and annoyed by God at this moment. At least God is here somewhere, I think. I try to relax like the card says.

When we land, I find the Phoenix airport isn’t too painful. The man at the car rental upgrades me for free when he sees I’m traveling alone. “You’ll want a little bit more power in the mountains,” he says. I smile and thank him profusely. I am so grateful to catch a break. It seems like I haven’t been catching any breaks for a while. I get in the car and start driving. I reach for the pack of cigarettes in my purse.

Flashback: March 2013

Highway from Eau Claire, Wisconsin toward Chicago

My husband and I are in the car on the way home with the kids from a Midwest ski vacation at spring break. He teases me because I always fall asleep in the car and he always drives. He likes to listen to his music anyway and since he is in sales, he’s driven around the Midwest for years. In some states, he knows the gas stations at every exit. He holds my hand. The kids doze too, in the backseat.

It was a pretty good vacation — we saw the Northern Lights. One night in the hotel, my husband kissed me in a way he hadn’t in years. I noticed it. I wondered why he didn’t kiss me more often like that. Like he was interested in something. This is the way it’s been after you’ve been married a while, I thought. I like the comfort and domesticity for the most part. I like being able to fall asleep while he drives us, mile after mile, back home.

September 2013

Sedona, Arizona

I check-in at the hotel, which is on the river in Sedona, and I feel better. I am here. I made it. I didn’t die. I like the hotel. Good job, Me, I think. I notice there’s signage advertising a free glass of wine at 5 in the lobby and decide I’ll go to happy hour. I’ll bring my book. That will keep the awkwardness to a minimum. I don’t know what awkwardness I’m imagining — whether it’s me feeling awkward about others or them feeling awkward about me. Or worse yet, sorry for me. I will read and relax and have a glass of wine at 5 p.m. I will go to an early dinner at the Tex-Mex restaurant next door to the hotel. I will be back in my bed early and get up in the morning and go on the Pink Jeep tour that I’ve booked. It will be ok. I’ve got this alone thing under control. I think I can relax, I assure myself. I think I’m feeling better.

Then, at happy hour, I notice the other travelers. Mostly older couples and business people. A group of four young-to-middle-aged men stands out to me. Strangely, each one seems to be a stereotype of something. A cowboy, skinny with a big belt buckle. A hippie — long hair to his mid-back, dirty jeans, and kind of unkempt. A Midwest golf dad with pressed khaki pants and an Izod style shirt. A businessman type. Hmmm, I think, That’s an odd group.

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This is beyond my pay grade as a barely single person.

I take my book and walk two doors down to the Tex-Mex place. So far so good, I am constantly checking in with myself. I’m doing this. My entrée is served. About halfway in, I look up from my meal and the cowboy from my hotel is standing in front of me.

“Ma’am,” he says in sort of an Oklahoma drawl, “Would you like to join us for dinner?” I am caught between flattery and fear of gang rape. This is beyond my pay grade as a barely single person. Not even really single. What am I supposed to do?

Flashback: July 2013

St. Louis, Missouri

I’m feeling old, skinny old, like a sack of skin and bones. I’m at one of my stepbrother’s weddings. It’s actually the day before the wedding, and everyone is sitting around an outdoor restaurant table, day drinking. I have three stepbrothers and one stepsister and they are all younger than me — some by far. One of my stepbrothers sneakily texts me from across the table, “See the guy two down from me? He says you’re cute. He says, ‘I’d hit that.’” My stepbrothers are enjoying the fact that they think my potential new singlehood will make me a wild sex maniac. I’m the oldest and they’ve only known me in my “mature” stage of life. They want me to cut loose.

The night progresses. After the rehearsal dinner, everyone is pretty drunk. Another family member, a big, burly former wrestler says, “Girl, you got to get your f*ck on!”

I don’t even know what that means. I think about my 40-year-old body. My pubes that I apparently have to sculpt into a landing strip. My little boobs, which I have mixed feelings about — nice and upright, but without the fullness they had before nursing. I’m supposed to make myself physically vulnerable with some man I don’t know. Everyone thinks this will make me feel better. Take my mind off the end of my marriage. I try to imagine “getting my fuck on.” Jesus, I think. Help me.

September 2013

Sedona, Arizona

“Well,” I say, “I guess I’ll finish up my dinner here, but I could sit with you all for a beer after I eat.” I somehow think this walks the right line of not being too available or rape-able. Also, I am pretty athletic, so somehow that increases my confidence that I could outrun them.

After I finish up and pay, I walk over to their table in what I hope is a cool manner and introduce myself. By the grace of God, who is supposedly in charge of this operation, they turn out to be scientists at an annual conference. They work for the government, each from a different state. They meet annually for continuing education. They don’t appear to be rapists so far.

They tell silly jokes, and call me “Miss Katy.” The cowboy asks, “How old are you?” “41,” I say. “Well, good for you, Miss Katy, good for you,” he answers.

“And where’s your husband, Miss Katy?”

“It’s a long story. But he went crazy and I got this vacation,” I say. It seems best not to get into details.

“Miss Katy,” they say. “What’s wrong with him?” It’s a rhetorical question.

After another round (for them), it’s “Come on out with us — we’re going to play pool.” I look dubious. “We will take care of you. You shouldn’t walk around alone anyway.” It’s the cowboy who does most of the talking.

They carry my bag and book and help me with my sweater.

No one ever treats me with gentleness. I am hungry for it.

We have a great time just sitting around the pool hall as I listen to them goof and make fun of people at work. They remind me of guys I hung out with before I was married. They are respectful, courteous, and treat me with kindness. Gentleness, I’d say. No one ever treats me with gentleness. I am hungry for it.

Tonight is their last night in town. I don’t get any of their numbers, and they don’t get mine. A quick hug to all and good night. Something about the world is thankfully kind.

The next morning I wake up smiling to myself. Even if nothing else happens on this trip, meeting those nice men was worth it.

Today is Pink Jeep tour and horseback riding. I take the hotel shuttle into town for dinner. I’m not thinking so much about what I look like to everyone else. Everyone with someone. I am starting to feel fun and adventurous and not so weird. At dinner, I have a good time talking and joking with the people at the bar next to me. I’m trying out a new part of me. Me alone in the world. Me alone in the world and not terrified. I walk out to the curb to wait on my shuttle. I sit down on the warm cement as the sun sets.

From out of the gloaming steps a man. Is this a movie? I think. He looks like a heavier set Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean mixed with Brett Michaels from Poison. “Hey,” he walks up to me. “Do you want to have dinner with me and my band? We just finished a gig.”

Not so much fear of rape this time. Fear of actually having sex. This is a guy who might possibly want to have sex with me. And what if I wanted to have sex with him?

“Well, I just finished dinner,” I answer hesitantly.

“Hmmm. You just look a little lonely.”

Oh my God, he can see it. I decide to be honest.

“I guess I am a little lonely.”

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“Well, come sit with us — you can have another dinner.”

He is the lead singer of a band and I sit next to him like I am his date alongside the band and all their wives and it is just like out of a movie. Lots of boisterous talk and actual singing at the table. We are treated like minor celebrities by the staff.

At one point, Jack Sparrow looks at me and asks quietly, “Is your heart broken?”

I think for a minute. I really pause and take in that question. “Yes,” I say, “my heart is broken.”

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It is the first time I have said it like that. It is the first time I realize that my heart is actually broken.

After dinner, I know he wants to spend more time together. He gets my number and says, “I have to drop Joe off at his place, but I’ll text you from there.”

I’m alone again and anticipating this text from Jack Sparrow. Can I do it? Can I get my f*ck on? Maybe we could just make out. Do I even want to do this? This is what I’m supposed to want to do — the thing people think will bring me back to life. The thing everybody else seems to do to move on. This is my time.

But now I am sure my heart is broken. Why had I never known that before? I could go through the motions of having sex, but I am sure it will feel pretty empty. I already feel empty. I don’t want to feel emptier. The Me I am finding has some better ideas about what is good for me. What will actually bring me back to life, even if it doesn’t follow the path that other people want it to.

When Jack Sparrow texts, I say, “I probably shouldn’t hang out. I’m not ready.” He is nice about it and even texts me the next day a few times.

It’s my last day and I’m sitting by the pool. I call my sister and tell her about everything. “This is exactly what I needed,” I say.

I think about the “Relax. God is in charge” note card. I am not leaving Arizona tomorrow morning with a straightforward message from God, but an overall feeling that the world is a good place with mostly good people. It still looks like a penguin is getting his head swallowed by a fish. Maybe it just means, “Katy … don’t take yourself so seriously.”

I get a little sunburn — the kind I like, even though I know it’s bad for me. It’s too late about the wrinkles, I think. Plus, I tell myself, “You’ve still got those pubes to think about at some point in the future.” I eat dinner in peaceful silence, alone on the patio at the hotel. The sun sets and the moon rises large and bright. I can’t even read my book as it grows darker. That’s okay. The cool desert breeze reminds me that it will be fall soon in St. Louis. It is a beautiful night.

Flashforward: March 2019

Springfield, Illinois

A St. Patrick’s Day party with family friends. The kids and I drove this morning on a whim to visit. It’s a long weekend, and we are happy to be shuffled into their weekend plan. I sit in the kitchen talking with a newly divorced man who is another friend of the host. He is so sad. I can see it in his posture. The slump of his neck. I know he’s wondering if he should be flirting with me. We are both singles in middle age, so this makes someone an automatic prospect. He is too sad for where I am at now in my life. His heart is newly broken. I listen to his story for a bit. I can tell he just wants a wife. He just wants his old life back or a replacement life nearly like the one he lost.

“You should go on a vacation by yourself,” I advise.

“You’ve done that?” he asks, sort of incredulous.

“A couple of times,” I say. “It’s really scary and weird, but I highly recommend it.”

“I could never do that,” he says.

“You could,” I encourage. “You would be surprised what you can do.”

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Katy Friedman Miller is a grief therapist and former home hospice social worker who has recently found herself as a storyteller. Check out her TEDx at www.ted.com.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.