We all are walking paths. No, I mean you. You are not walking on a path—you are the walking path. I once heard it said that we are all books. Everyone is a story, said Maya Angelou. I can relate to Ms. Angelou, as she was a renaissance woman, like me. A consummate dabbler. She was a poet, essayist, memoirist, freedom activist, divorcee, actress, recipient of fifty honorary degrees, and burlesque dancer. The woman knew how to reinvent herself. But I think she was always searching, traveling. Being a pathway.
I had a jolt of recognition today. As I was coming out of Robert’s Market a group of cyclists swooshed by, their androgenic auras exuding from their muscularity. Their thick-thighs were pumping the pedals. “Whoot-whoo,” I hear a wolf whistle. What? Was that for me? It dawned on me that I haven’t been whistled at in years—okay maybe decades. I have been wearing more spandex as of late. And was concomitantly finding satisfaction and revulsion at gawking eyes. Now after the note attention at times is simultaneously solicited and rejected. I had been a personal trainer for nineteen years and competitive natural body-builder for nearly two decades, and well generally kept my self in good shape. I have a plethora of spandex. I have a neoprene and Lycra cache as well. Most of it not touched for years. I can’t imagine myself crammed into half of it. Even the best of us can’t stay at the peak of fitness perpetually. After all, after the peak…it’s all down-hill. As the whistling cyclist gained momentum with his pack now down-hill themselves on Woodside road, he looked directly at me and with one hand raised to his lips blew me an air-kiss, and emphatically followed up with, “Bellisima!” I thought he looked Italian. Maybe he’s simply learning Italian using Rosetta Stone so he can dupe the ladies into his façade of attractiveness. The spandex and the smoky-eye are paying off. Okay not really. The attention rings hollow in reality.
On a clear cold day in fall, just before the insanity and inanity of the (American approach to) holidays, my husband of twenty-three years surreptitiously packed up and cleared out in a mere five-hour window. My twelve year-old daughter and I had gone to the city. She is a budding actress and I indulge pretty much any and every interest she entertains: She does musical theatre, dance, voice, piano, guitar, voice acting, theatre camps, plays, musicals— you get the idea. Isn’t this what “good” parents do? We are to facilitate interests, “see what sticks” and in doing so we are partners in their success. Or that is what we are to believe. Are these air-traffic controller schedules done out of fear or love? “Failure is not an option” a cultural mantra.
On this particularly cold clear November day, I pecked my husband a farewell. He was uncharacteristically still in his sweatpants at 10 AM this Sunday morning. We perfunctorily drove the usual route to the Voice One studio in San Fran. I was till relying on GPS voice nav, (The British tart coquettishly commanding: “in a quarter mile turn to the left and stay to the left”). Perhaps she attended Voice One. I was feeling a bit lame relying on her yet again for guidance, as I’d gone this road many, many times before. The trip to and from was rather mundane. Little did I know the Y-split juncture in my own road waiting around the corner.
There was a note. As we entered the garage where we built our home-gym something was vaguely unsettling. Something a bit off—I honestly didn’t register it what it was. Oblivious sometimes, that’s what we are.
As I approached my office there was a note. It was sitting audaciously on my desk. There it was— immaculate black bolded cursive written on crisp white paper: FOR “TJ.” Baffled I unfolded the pristine sheet. The note matter-of-factually and legally embellished explained his exit. There were these reasons and those reasons… and financial obligations. There were these arrangements and those. The venomous spats were mentioned: He always claimed me a walking soundtrack to Kill Bill, a kick-ass ballsy heroine who whips ass on men. A tongue that could give a Ginsu knife a run for the money, slicing through pipes, pies, cans, fruit and flesh. He was my hero. In this instant I imagine him a Hollywood action hero, walking nonchalantly from a fiery explosion nipping at his heels. He grins and walks away unscathed.
Boom! I collapsed to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. Pitifully. Then a dull ache developed in my epiglottis and large veins pulsed at my temples.
He cleared out, a silent rumination forms. I gathered strength to get off the floor, red-swollen-faced with sticky gooey thick saliva mingled with cosmetics to see the bright, yet stricken face of my little daughter. She held out a hand her tiny hand to hoist me up. We hugged so tightly I felt I was smothering her. After moaning several, “Whys?” I bucked up. I muttered, “It’s going to be okay.”
I lift up. I fly. I float. I feel my middle-aged hips vibrate as my left leg begins to hinge, my femur and its musculature gaining against gravity angling for a parallel line to the French Oak floors, now with one foot off the ground. I take a step.
As we gather our bearings, we silently tour the house. He took it all: guitars – all fifteen of them, every book and magazine from his library/guitar lounge, his gym equipment (that was the vague feeling I had back in the garage). He took the local artist’s paintings that we purchased together, even the one with farmstead scene. It was a surrealist piece. It was a painting of a rustic-red reclaimed wood-barn mysteriously floating above the landscape. There it was just hovering over the dirt path below. He doesn’t even like barns. He took everything and anything that could be a material reminder of him, that is other than the furniture and the house itself. His closet was as empty and void as a house just sold and just cleaned by a team of meticulous maids, ready for the next occupant.
As I take in the change, Robert Frost perpetually pops into my head. Something about an old road, a windy road, a road not taken?
Aha! The Road Not Taken. Is it his road? My road? Are we all solo on these roads, delusional that two cars meet up, take a highway out for a few thousand miles with beauteous scenery flying by and surprises up around the bend, only to one day reach a Y-split and motor on different ways. Is anyone every really on the same road with anyone else?
Wasn’t he the guy who led a revolt against his father and was forced to bear the world on his shoulder? What load does he carry now? What load did he relinquish?
Atlas makes me think of maps. They are a rarity these days. I am referring to good old paper maps: Sanborn maps. I mean the kind of maps that blocked your entire view of the scenery flying by. The kind that dads or husbands ignored as their wives unfolded, rustled, turned incessantly and kvetched: “You went the wrong way!” Maps that sparked squabbles on which way to take. “All roads go somewhere,” said my father once.
We become static on our paths at times. Itinerancy beckons. We want freedom from weighted down monotonous patterns. As Lord Tennyson put fire to the heart of that ultimate wanderlust: Odysseus in Ulysses:
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things
To be stationary is to rust. It is not to shine. To stay in one place can make you believe that may be all there is to life. A man’s midlife crisis is real. It is not only a reflection of fretting the downslide after his zenith, it is also about stasis. There may be a deeper impetus for purchasing a 500 horsepower engine. There is more to that desideratum. Men want to move like they used to.
Midway— noun. An area of sideshows, games of chance or skill or other amusements.
Here it is. You are forty-nine. You notice the extra weight you’re carrying. You notice skin looking like an overused glazed tea-cup with a thousand minute fractures. Brown spots, like old pears congeal on your forearms and creep upward. You realize the bitter funk and ungrateful attitude you’ve accumulated and directed toward life. You’ve done yoga, meditation and you still want to slap someone. Men have real midlife crisis. Pop-media gloms on this topic. It sells. Celebrity breakups make good headlines. Fluff on a male A-lister cheating with a nanny makes good profits. Let us dub it a midlife crisis. It becomes talk show fodder. It is a topic so trite and a term laymen bandy about such that no one believes in it. It’s applied to any middle-aged guy that cheats on his spouse, buys a new sports car, starts working out, or buys new skivvies. But there is more to it. It is a personal crisis. Some people simply dismiss it as pseudo-psychological jargon: Midlife crisis, Ha! Kevin Spacey aka Lester Burnham in American Beauty is a mild version of some of the stories I have heard form these Woodside women. It’s really like any town, I suppose.
Turnpikes were originally defense mechanisms for towns in antiquity as a defense in sudden attacks. Turnpikes allow for a departure, or rather retreat from the road you were on.
It’s been four months since “the note”. As I contemplate the road not taken I imagine my self frozen floating above the Y-split— peering down through a penumbral haze, just hovering, just wondering. I lift up. I fly. I float.