Chapter 1 – Storming Out Of the Closet
As the rain sloshed over my car, I peered through the windshield trying to see what was ahead of me. The visibility with the driving rain combined with the fog made it only possible to see a few feet in front of the vehicle. I just hoped that any wildlife on this stretch of flatlands leading to the coast were in their hiding places because I would have a hard time hitting the brakes if I ventured onto the road. The deep puddles made it a sure bet that if I did hit my brakes, I’d hydroplane off into a ditch. The only good part about my location was that at least I’d land in the sand rather than mud and hopefully wouldn’t get stuck.
As dusk settled around me, making the visibility worse, I started getting that angst feeling in the pit of my stomach. Had I taken a wrong turn? Back where the highway split, the signs told me to go this way to the beaches, yet my MapQuest directions had sent me down this fork in the road. I wondered at the metaphor for my life. Where had I taken the wrong turn in life to get myself into this position? Here I was, over 55, and single again after 34 years of married life. The rain, fog, wind, and potholes seemed to spell out my life at this time. While I had been on a flat road (or so I had thought) for 33 years, the career path that took me exploring the west had just brought me back to my roots sans a husband. And now the rain represented the tears I hadn’t been able to cry for my marriage, the fog mirrored how cloudy my future seemed, and the deep puddles represented my fears of being single again.
Ah Ha! There was a car repair shop that was still open! Maybe someone could give me directions and tell me if the ocean was in front of me or if I had made a wrong turn. I pulled into the parking lot which was empty except for a couple of cars. A bell tinkled as I opened the door and three burly men looked at me in surprise.
“I’m heading east on this road, am I on the way to Ocean City?” I asked.
“Yep, it’s right down the road, over the bridge. Which hotel you goin’ to?” one burly guy replied.
“The Carousel”, I replied.
“Then take a left off the bridge,” he replied.
I thanked him and returned to my car. Geez, he seemed friendly enough. Why was I worrying so much about men? Not all had hidden agendas as my recent experiences had me believing. I just had to hang in there, and I’d be warm and dry in a little while. I wondered who all had gotten there yet, and how late I was. I truly did not know who was coming, as Hetty was in charge, and at least I had Hetty’s cell phone number so I could hook up when I got there.
I thought back to the day I met most of the people in the group. It was a really bizarre time in my life. So much had been going on at the time that it’s a wonder I could keep my head above water. Maybe this trip in the gushing rain could help my wash away all those strange feelings and help put my feet back on solid ground.
It was eight months ago that I had reached out for help to a group of people I didn’t know. The fact that I and Susan, the mentor I had met once for coffee, had to drive an hour and a half one way to come to a support group meeting had amazed me. Was my situation so unique that not many people went through what I did? It was hard to believe that, particularly in such a demographically dense area as the Baltimore-Washington one.
As We got out of the car to go into the meeting, Susan had asked, “How are you feeling?”
“A little anxious”, I had answered.
“Because you are meeting new people?”
“No, that doesn’t bother me, it’s just that I can’t believe I’m in this position that I need to go to this meeting. Particularly at this time of my life.” I didn’t add that it had taken seven months for me to realize that I had to reach out for help.
This transitory period in my life had reached its peak the October before this meeting. I and my husband had just spent a really nice, restful five years in the desert in the Southwest, where I had been able to expand my horizons in my career. Our marriage had seemed solid. We had survived raising two challenging adopted children to be self-sufficient adults, and given his parents and uncle relatively peaceful transitions from this world into the next. We had used the five years to become more comfortable with growing older and just breathing a sigh of relief for getting through the tough times together. We both felt the creep of age, particularly now that 3 out of 4 of our parents had moved on. My career had given us the opportunity to explore the west after we had both spent a half-century living on the east coast. We looked at it as a time to explore while we could. If only I had known what he wanted to explore!
Two life-changing events had occurred to start this roller coaster ride. My job in Denver became very politically controlled, and I eventually lost it, and my mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse. Mom had had a stroke, and my sister was facing the consequences of dealing with a very independent woman, who didn’t even realize that her freedom had to be curtailed due to her health. I had tried to walk my sister through the challenges long-distance, but the independent nature of both strong women in my family made the experience challenging for us all. When I and my husband received an offer on our house on Mother’s Day, I took it as a sign that a move back East may be a good possibility in our future. Mentally we both fought the coming transition and hoped to be able to stay in Denver. If I only had known what HE was fighting!
We had planned to go to a conference in San Diego in June so that I could make contacts for possible job choices, so tapping out all our reserve finances, we planned to drive across the country from Colorado to the convention. Our son had saved his money and was able to join us for the trip. So we had a wonderful three weeks of family time exploring the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Las Vegas, California, and Utah. We wound up back in Denver just in time to see our son off on his plane ride back east. Little did we know that I would follow him by plane a little over a week later.
Mom wound up back in the hospital again, so with it being summer, and I was currently unemployed as was my husband, I took a flight for two weeks back to be with Mom. During my time there, I realized that Mom was fighting to have someone keeping tabs on her health, but was also not able to take care of herself like she used to. Mom’s condition stabilized during those two weeks so that I went back to Denver on my regularly scheduled flight. However, I suspected that Mom was not taking her meds correctly, and would be back in trouble very shortly.
My suspicions were confirmed when Mom had two visits to the emergency room in the week following my flight home. Therefore, I figured I could job search from Maryland as easily as from Colorado and filled the van up with summer clothes, my computer, and my research. My sister had a spare bedroom where I could hang out as long as I needed to figure out my next steps. The 1700 mile drive by myself was self-satisfying because it proved that I could do it on my own. My husband had always been the driver, and I had been the navigator. But the fact that I could drive that distance completely alone made me feel like one of the pioneers.
My reveries of the past came to a halt as I saw the bridge the auto mechanics told me about. I didn’t trust remembrance of their directions telling me to make a left turn and followed the signs the wrong way into the seacoast city. After a few blocks, I realized my mistake, did a U-turn, and finally found the hotel. I was surprised to find that Hetty hadn’t made it there yet, so I unpacked my bags and tried unsuccessfully to check my email with my laptop. I just hoped my online high school students in Wisconsin didn’t have any earth-shaking challenges this weekend. I was kind of glad I couldn’t get a connection as I needed the time to myself to help with healing. I explored the hotel while waiting for the group to arrive. I had been to this particular coastal city once in my young single adult life, and with the exception of the ice rink in the middle of the hotel, and a new bar and restaurant, life had gone on at the ocean without huge changes over the past 30 years. Oh, how different that was for my life, particularly these last couple of years.