Sitting in a Midwestern cafe in mid-summer in midlife under the mean shade of locust trees, cast by the pretense of their spare leaves which makes shadows dance across a white linoleum table top, you begin to wonder, “Where the hell did my life go?”
You are at the halfway point, midlife, “God willing and if the creek don’t rise,” and you find that life is defined no longer by possibilities and what you could have so much as by what you no longer are, and what you have lost.
You thought you would have more of everything by now: grace, patience, possessions, confidence, and financial security. Uncertainty has been the only constant in your quiver.
You have unlimited nights and weekend minutes, but your time is limited and the endless summers are gone. You wear the marks of your tribe: varicose veins, not tattoos.
You have scar tissue around your heart, but lost dear friends (to disease and life changes), a favorite dog, your mother, and faith.
“Things are always darkest before the dawn.” Who said that? Things can get better, but what if they don’t? There is always the downhill slide. You never know what is around the corner, and that is still exciting. But you never know if it is waiting or lurking. The lurking things are scary.
You remember a day like this beneath the locust trees in another Midwestern city. It was fall, and the paucity of the shade didn’t seem to matter in the weakening sun as the wind skittered the leaves that had fallen like old bones, an auger that the young never heed. You shouldered your book bag and trudged into a building to study a subject that you didn’t really love, embracing the proud declarations of a professor that it wasn’t exciting but it was better than pumping gas for a living, a Midwestern admonition that kept Midwesterners with their nose to the grindstones rather than “woolgathering” and following their dreams, but never mind, you bought it hook, line and sinker. You believed like all young people do that time is bottomless and there would be plenty of time for dreams, never thinking that the day would never come when you counted your losses as more dear than your holdings.
Then you start to list the things you lost along the way: a merino wool sweater in Africa.
The belief that you could make a difference in Africa.
An opal earring on the dance floor of an LA club.
The need to go dancing on weekends.
A pair of fancy prescription sunglasses at a Weight Watchers meeting.
The need to conform your body type to stereotypes.
A black raincoat in the dark lobby of a hotel in the Caucuses.
The desire to wear raincoats.
Baggage. To be returned by the airlines again and again.
Baggage. The need to hang on to past grievances.
A gallbladder, unnecessarily, it seems.
The perfect ratio between black hair and gray hair, which renders you sophisticated without being dowdy.
The curling iron and hairspray. Thank God.
A northern Ohio accent.
The need to care about people caring about where you come from.
The belief that people in positions of authority earned their rank.
Your mother’s aquamarine birthstone ring, given to her by her father.
That grandfather to Parkinson’s disease.
Sleep. Over people and things that don’t really matter.
The desire to please people that don't really matter.
The electronic file to a really good short story you started that you can only remember the beginning, but not the middle, the end or the plot to.
Which, when you think of it, seems to be an analogy for a Midwestern girl’s life.
Hope springs eternal. You still have time. Time has gone on, but you are still here and your dreams were always there inside, even when they weren’t. The day still has not come that comes to us all— and so, those are the things you still hold, that you haven’t lost along the way. And you aren’t dead yet.