Friday, July 28, 2006

Then and Now

I was talking to Beth on the phone last night about her upcoming trip to OKC next month around her birthday. Her 39th birthday. I’ve already had the distinct pleasure of turning 39. That led to a long conversation about next year being our dreaded 40th birthdays. We laughed a little bit and we cried a little bit about where we are in our lives on the eve of our big 4-0s.

I told her about the moments I experienced last week when I was with my nieces and, more than once, would suddenly and unexpectedly be overcome with waves of sadness and emotion as I reflected on my life and the fact that I will never have my own children. How I feel like I’m missing out on one of life’s biggest - yet really most basic - of human experiences.

Beth expressed how badly she wants a loving, committed husband to walk through life with. How it isn’t natural to spend your life alone. How we are supposed to find our partners.

At one point we began to laugh hysterically through our tears at how maudlin we were being over turning 40. To bring ourselves back up, we started talking about all of the things that we can do more easily as single women than we could as married women with families.

We can manage our money and our time how we want. Our energy can be spent on endeavors that do not involve the constant churn of changing diapers, blowing noses and doing endless laundry. We can work without worry of daycare and absence from work. We can be totally spontaneous or completely lazy.

And we can travel.

At exactly the same time we both experienced a moment of clarity. After talking about it for over five years, at long last we decided that we really are going to take a trip to Italy in 2007 in celebration of our 40th birthdays. No more wishing for it or wondering about it or giving it lip service – we’re going to do it. Probably in November 2007 when there are fewer tourists, prices are lower and there are fewer stressors at work. One splendid week. Maybe even ten days. In Rome. Celebrating our fourth decade.

This started me thinking about Europe and my time in France and the travel excursions I experienced and I realized that it is time to write some of these stories for the Dotopotamus.

I’m starting with a soft, breezy memory. Today’s simple story is not a European highlight, nor one of the brightest memories of my time in France, and certainly not one of the funniest, but it is one of the sweetest and it came to mind because it reminded me of a time when I was young and certainly not worried about turning 40.

I was paired with two other American girls on a project that involved us walking through the Latin Quarter in Paris making observations along the way. These were Mean Girls. The ultimate bitches. The type of snotty, arrogant women who are convinced that they are the prettiest, the funniest and the most desirable women at the ball. The rub is, they really are the prettiest and most desirable at the ball, but they are ugly on the inside and they do everything they can to put you down so they can feel superior.

There I was having to be with them. Feeling too tall and too heavy and too insecure knowing that they would have rather died than be with me, either. We started off on our project assignment making our way through the Latin Quarter and I was so self conscious I just wanted to implode.

And then the most magical of things started happening.

Somehow, and for some reason, I just started getting noticed.

As we were walking by a quaint little market store this darling, tall, young Greek man came running up behind us trying to get our attention in some unknown language. As we turned to him, you could just see these two girls I was with light up with anticipation. But it was to ME that he gave the 2 small tangerines he was holding as he said sweet things in broken English. The look of confusion on the girls’ face was nothing compared to the look of confusion on my face.

As we continued on, a handsome older man in a tailored suit standing at a newsstand on the corner handed me a long red rose and kissed my hand.

Further down, we heard a violin coming from inside a restaurant. As we stopped by the gate and watched, the violinist approached us and he pulled me from the group, sat me down on this chair in the middle of the restaurant and started playing the most beautiful song, after which the entire place erupted in applause as he kissed me on the cheek. The Mean Girls tried to get him to play a song for them and he wouldn’t do it. Instead, he handed me his phone number written on a book of matches from that restaurant.

It was at this point that the Mean Girls stopped talking to me altogether.

Leaving that place we continued heading towards Notre Dame through the Latin Quarter and this group of incredibly cute guys walked past us and flirted with me as they passed. One of them took off the scarf he was wearing and put it around my neck saying “For you, Bella” as they moved on.

And then, like it was written into the script of a really bad I Love Lucy episode, a man riding on his bike rode by us and as he passed me he looked back and said “bonjour” as he hit the curb and went flying off of his bike. As I bent down to help him up he said I was an angel and asked if I would stay with him for some tea and cookies. I did. I sat there at a lovely little side walk café in Paris with Edith Piaff music coming from inside and drank tea and ate dainty cookies with this totally handsome French stranger who called me “Loreee” and told me I was “beau-tee-fool”.

It was like one corny, romantic, unexpected thing, after another, and the Mean Girls were beside themselves with anger because, for what was probably the first time in their entire lives, they were invisible and it was the tall, gawky girl who got all of the attention.

It. Was. Awesome.

I don’t write any of this to be egotistical or braggadocios in any way because Lord knows this is not a common occurrence for me. I made myself remember this story last night when I was feeling so down about getting older and feeling permanently “single”, because it reminds me that one time I was young and naïve and hopeful.

So my goal is to find inspiration there and try and find a way to bring some of those feelings back to the surface as I approach 40. There is nothing I can do about the passage of time, but I can do something about the way I cope with it, so I hope to find a way to accept -- and dare I say embrace -- turning 40 with grace. In Italy.


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