The other day, I was thinking about how I have this persistent feeling of being behind. Not in my work, although that is also true, but behind in life. It’s like I am at least 10 years behind everyone. I am, right now, about to turn 50, but in terms of life markers, generally fit in closer to folks around the end of their 30s.
And then I realized it was that I didn’t really become “me” until I was in my early 30s, and I had this whole decade where I was floundering around, pretending to be something I’m not.
In my 20s, I was trying hard to run away from being a poor kid from Mississippi, and so I adopted an identity I thought would make me happy – I got a career I thought would make me enough money to wash away my blue-collar roots, a wife that would project the right sort of image, I went to the “right” church, made the “right” relationships.
But by my early 30s, the relationships, the career, the wife would all be gone, and I was adrift for a few years, and it was then that I began my second act and started to figure out what I had been meant to be all along.
But that’s a different story.
One of the things about having been married before is you have this whole other life that you were once part of. Places that were your favorite, inside jokes, routines, and friends. And when the marriage ends, a lot of that disappears.
We had some friends. They were a (hetero) couple, and the woman was a friend of a friend, but we both hit it off with her – Let’s call her Lacy – and then Lacy became our friend. She was in law school when we met her, but her daddy was a famous lawyer who helped her get a good job when she graduated. Lacy is a year older than I am, so she was perhaps 27 when we all met.
Eventually, she met a guy – let’s call him Fred – who was a little dorky, but sweet, and they dated and they were couple-friends with us. They ate in our house, we went to dinner with them on the regular, and we and their mutual friends all ran in the same circles and went to the same parties.
Lacy and Fred moved to another big city, the one where her father the famous attorney lived, and we stayed in touch the way one did in the early 2000s before social media, but then not long after that the divorce happened and I lost touch. I have not thought of either of them in years.
Recently, Lacy’s name just randomly popped into my head when I saw something that reminded me of something she once said. From curiosity, I looked for her on Facebook to see what she was up to.
She is still with Fred. He has a job where he wears a suit and looks very distinguished in a late-forties sort of way. She is still an attorney, but one who wears big hats and goes to fundraisers and throws derby parties.
It is as if they were the natural conclusion of what they were then. Like their life had gone on uninterrupted since 2001 or so, the last time we spoke, and meanwhile, mine has changed so completely as to be unrecognizable.
It made me wonder, pretty much for the first time in ages, what my life would have been like if I had remained a “financial professional”. Would I live in a McMansion? Would I now wear Italian suits and look distinguished in a late-forties sort of way? Would I have remained married? Would we have a condo in Destin? Would I vote Republican, and pride myself on being fiscally conservative but socially liberal (which means you think poor people need help but don’t think you should be the one to actually pay for it)? Drive a Lexus? Attend the big church that the “right” people went to? Would my wife “do lunch” with the ladies?
Because that is what I was headed for. It was all laid out for me as clear as the lines on a Rand McNally road map. I could have had that life.
Or, which is more likely, the drinking I developed as a coping mechanism to survive in a job that filled me with anxiety every day would have gotten worse, and I would have had an affair or two, and I would have lost the job and the car and the apartment and the marriage, self-imploding and ruining myself and everyone around me and I would live today in a half-way house somewhere if I was lucky, or be dead if I wasn’t.
But as St. John said, life is what happens while we are making other plans.
Back to my friend Lacy, the attorney: My life got interrupted. Hers did not. It was like looking at this bizarro look into an alternate reality that could have been mine except for maybe three or four decisions.