Better Late Than Never: Coming Out at Midlife
Eighteen years ago, after a long-term traditional marriage, I fell in love with another woman. There was shock and disbelief all around.
But no one was more surprised than I was.
Oddly, for a revelation of such volcanic proportions, inside I felt tremendous relief and peace. As if someone had thrown a box of puzzle pieces into the air and they landed on the ground with the picture fully assembled. Finally, it all made sense.
* * * *
She came along at a time when I was profoundly miserable and in despair.
But I didn’t blame my unhappiness on my husband, my marriage, or any one of a succession of horrible bosses.
I blamed myself.
As a devotee of self-help books, I knew that the answer lay within me. But no matter how hard I tried, I was obviously just too dim-witted to discover the shining secrets that everybody else knew about how to be happy.
For many different reasons, I knew my marriage was a mistake. It should not have happened. But again, it was my fault that it had (more about that later).
In the past, on my journey to discover happiness, I had unsuccessfully tried to leave my marriage. Three times. Number three was the final blow. After that, I had resigned myself to the fact that there was no escape, for me. My route to happiness lay somewhere else.
My marriage wasn’t perfect, but I asked myself “Whose was?”
I wasn’t looking for love. Not from anyone. I thought true love was a fable. That it didn’t exist. That this was all there was, or would ever be. My leaving was not about making a home with someone else. It was about finding myself again.
The way I looked at it, I had a choice: either make the best of it or . . .
The “or” both frightened and tantalized me. In the years when my marriage was unknowingly winding down, I had taken up an extraordinary hobby.
I’d purposely forget items on my grocery list when I did the shopping on Saturday. Then I had an excuse to go to the store during the week.
I made time for these supposed spontaneous trips, despite my long commute home from my full-time job, and knowing I’d have hours of homework, baths and laundry to do when I returned.
After I had collected the pretended “forgotten” item, I’d head over to the pharmacy aisle. There I would hover for as long as I dared, tempting myself by reading the warning labels on over-the-counter medications.
I wondered, what would happen if you accidentally took more than the recommended dosage, or by happenstance, mixed one thing with another and had an unfortunate outcome? Would the results be painful, or would you just go to sleep and never wake up? How long would it take? When you were found, would your features be contorted or would you look peaceful?
As a corollary to the “or,” I became obsessed to learn what happens to the body right after death.
Somewhere I came across a fact about French aristocrats who, when facing execution, were administered a “tonic” to avoid embarrassment when their bowels released immediately post-mortem.
With that thought in mind, on my next quick trip to the grocery store, I made sure to peruse the aisle where the laxatives and enemas were shelved.
I knew my hobby was a warning that something was dangerously wrong. But I also felt confident that it would remain just a fantasy. Because, right after blissful thoughts of a never-ending sleep entered my mind, the faces of my four children would appear. They were my safety net. I knew I could never, would never leave them.
* * * * *
She came along, and the path to the “or” no longer beckoned. Through the shadows of my gray world I could finally see specs of color, shiny and bright.
For the first time in a very long time, the me of long ago stirred, like tender green shoots sprouting from dead wooden branches, their tendrils arching toward the sun.
Happy, lighthearted me, laughing without guilt. The real me dazzled with brilliance and hope.
In the aftermath, I wondered what I would have done, had I known all that was to come.
My new life brought me joy, but also demonstrated the sobering realities I now faced. All but one of my children couldn’t live with me. They didn’t understand what was happening. They began to hate me.
As happy as I now found myself to be, sometimes I wandered back in my mind to the pharmacy aisle, looking down the path of the “or.” Sometimes I wondered if making that irrevocable choice would have been the best thing for all of us.