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Reminiscing, relationships, and reinventing

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Hey, there’s a guy with a drill hanging honeycomb-cellular-shades in my new living room! I just smiled so broadly as he took down a set of dusty, dark green metal blinds with broken pull cords and hauled them out of the house. We are in the decorating phase now, which means that most of the cardboard boxes from the move did get unpacked within two weeks as I had intended. I wanted it done before my long-awaited gallbladder surgery on July 24, so I went ballistic on the boxes right up to the procedure, knowing I’d have lifting restrictions for a few weeks.

Settling into “newness” has been more than great. We already got a jump on our landscaping, too, buying trees and shrubs on sale. We added 11 lilac bushes for beauty and privacy around the perimeter of the yard, two red maples (fast growing), two blue spruce, two roses and a peony. That’s quite a lot accomplished in the first month, and I report all are thriving.

Since my surgery, I too am thriving, receiving very positive reports on all medical tests including that retina eye surgery as well. To be in a state of medical uncertainty, listening to nurses and doctors for several months, really rocks the foundation, so coming to the end is nearly euphoric as I grasp what a gift my health is. I truly feel part of a reinvention! New house, new town, new marriage, new name, new weight on the scale, new friends. But, it’s not my first reinvention and I can say that with certainty.

In my adult life, after numerous intimate relationships, breakups and associated relocations, I can look back and see how many times I jumped on board just to do something that seemed great at the time, but swallowed me up, like quicksand. I have learned to discern between quicksand and the beach, but it took many years.

In some reading I’ve done, the concept of reinventing and making decisions for a future self, a new “you”, involves goal setting and constant but rewarding work. You also pretty much need to visualize yourself as there already. BE what you want to become. This means choosing new behaviors, friends, and thoughts. It’s scary at first, yet to remain in situations or relationships that have stopped making a person happy is a waste of time, a waste of life. This of course is my opinion, but I have known too many elderly persons who greatly regretted having turned from opportunities to be deeply happy, out of fear or religious guilt. Few start out intending to break acceptable social standards, such as ending up having had multiple marriages. It’s not as if I’d have gone through it in order to be able to wear a string of wedding bands on a necklace as a favorite piece of costume jewelry or conversation piece…but if you are at ease with it and it matches a nice blouse, go for it.

I’ve had my share of what the mainstream in confidence would exclaim were bad decisions. These bad decisions taught me about life, human nature and trust. They also gave me great column material! I am no longer mainstream I guess. Here’s an example. In 1993, while living in Chisholm, I’d ended a marriage with a crane operator from National Steel Mining Co. I call it my fifty-pound marriage, eating rib eyes and drinking cocktails too late at night, with gambling in between. After too many episodes peeling him off the driveway inebriated, I’d had enough! His life’s baggage with a clingy, teary-eyed ex-wife and unaccepting sons had gotten to be too much for me, so we sat down and did a kitchen table divorce and fought over every pot and pan. “Never again,” I thought…making a mental note. 

My advice, ladies, when you decide you’re hittin’ the road…wait until he’s got a weekend fishing trip, have a place rented, friends with trucks on stand-by, and when his bumper can’t be seen on that horizon, load, load, load! Be considerate, take only what you honestly think is fair, and BUST OUT. When he comes back, maybe be there at the house and tell him…hey...sorry, but it was the only way I could see it going down fairly and safely.

I departed that way once.  It was 1996, I was thirty-six, was feeling confident in the reinvention of that era, following that kitchen table divorce I mentioned, when out of the blue I lost my $42,000 a year-full-benefit-job at a technical college because of the merger between state and tech colleges. Ya, so it wasn’t personal but at the time it felt personal as hell.I figured I’d wait a bit for a job opportunity and collect unemployment. I was spending time at the historic O’Neil Hotel in Chisholm learning to dance with the old timer polka experts, and trying to learn cribbage…unsuccessfully, when I hooked up with a man who was twenty years older than I. The friendship pulled me in. I was flopping like a crappie…as the saying goes, and in six months discovered I was pregnant. I had been told I couldn’t have children but figure one of the eggs that had been stuck in the carton found a way out, getting carried away by the last minnow in a nearly dry stream. 

Friends told me to terminate it and I could not because the child was innocent and separate from his father.  I had my son; the pregnancy was a snap, but the relationship was turbulent, as I expected. We ended up living in a dreary brick apartment building, like something under the subway tracks in Chicago. I often thought, “What’s a nice, dumb girl like you doin’ in a dump like this!” Hold that humor! Time to reinvent? 

It was here I waited for what I call the Fishing Trip Exodus opportunity. I carefully planned in silence, often believing the secrets I had to keep were the noisiest, deceptive silence I ever wanted to be a part of. To save my sanity and get to a safe place with my baby, I had to do this. To announce my plans would mean being trapped, overcome, and broken. For me it meant death because I’d become so depressed and so shaken. His emotional instability and verbal abuse shoved me into a housing project. My mother offered no help, financially or emotionally, and my generous father had passed years prior. I inconspicuously printed t-shirts to sell out of my apartment basement in order to earn money. I applied for food stamps and used the WIC program and I was thankful for these. Even with an education, finding a job to cover rent in a regular apartment with daycare costs plus living expenses was not feasible. I did this for awhile, taking time to reinvent as a mother and a single parent. I felt awkward as a mother, non-traditional or not, and was ashamed of being poor. I grocery shopped out of town to avoid anyone seeing me using an EBT card. How could it happen, going from a great job to a mother in a housing project?  It was a valuable lesson on how quickly things in life can change.

Bad choices?  Life choices. A strong, honest, abundantly humorous son is twenty and we are near and dear, plus I have writing material and can offer great tips on kicking dead end relationships to the curb while ending up with the Schneiderman’s recliner and the Rachel Ray frying pans. 

Yes, change, reinventing is uncomfortable. It’s like when you are young and go off to college. It takes about two or three months of involving yourself in your new life before you excel. Lamenting has no place in reinventing. It’s a pretty constant dialogue of, “Buck up, others have had it worse, you will be better off.”  To live IS to reinvent in some capacity for all of us, for nothing can remain unchanged, not my living room blinds and certainly not me.

Scarlet Lynn O’Hara welcomes your comments and can be reached at timberjay@frontiernet.net.

 

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