Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Beyond the sidewalk
Cold darkness surrounded me all night and getting warm was an elusive dream. The furnace blew overhead and sucked all the moisture out of the air and my body until restlessness turned to counting breaths to fall asleep. Huddled in the meager covers that once were more than enough to cocoon warmth and comfort, sleep played tag with mind and body until the faint light of coming dawn heralded the end of the night. It was a rough night in some ways and not so rough in others with peek-a-boo glimpses of other worlds and lives, some of which were familiar.
Have you ever wandered in dreams and recognized places you returned to over and over? People are often the same and they grow and evolve with time, sometimes a safe haven and other times the pits of nightmare. I spent several years going to a university and graduating on a faraway world that existed as shadows and mirages away from the stone and marble edifices of learning. That's fancy for a misty, barely realized world away from the university buildings, a wash of colors like the shifting radiation of the Aurora Borealis next to the sidewalk. That's the thing about dreams that seem so real, there's always some unreality attached to it. It reminds me of parents who invested all their time, attention and resources into their children without ever realizing that one day the child would leave despite their best efforts and the relationship they ignored -- their marriage -- is suddenly all they have.
One friend and his wife handled the empty nest syndrome by having another child, a girl fast approaching the time when she will be off on her own. They're good people, but their daughter has been a buffer and an excuse for lack of intimacy. In three more years, she will be gone and there will no longer be a buffer or an excuse.
Another friend and his wife only had one child late in life and she has recently gained some freedom by getting her driver's license. She is gone as much as possible, intoxicated by being able to go where she wants almost whenever she wants. Her mother isn't handling it well at all. She lived for her daughter and now her daughter is fighting to get free of her, struggling to become independent. Mom insists that when the time comes for college, the daughter live at home and go to college locally. The daughter isn't having any of that. She can't wait to get away and nothing but shackling her to a stake in the front yard will keep her from bolting for the far horizons. Mom has suddenly been faced with hours of empty time that once were filled with shopping, visiting and watching television together with her daughter and all that's left is her husband who, for the past 17 years has been nothing more than the National Bank of Dad. He was left to his own devices and now he has a pal tagging along after him, following him to his workshop and home office, always wanting to know what he's doing. She invites him to watch TV and sit and talk to her and he's a bit nervous about it all. It's what he wanted, or at least what he said he wanted: having her pay attention to him, to see him. It's not quite what he thought it would be like. It's a bit creepy if truth be told and the glimpse of their life together after so many years of neglect and outright animosity is a bit frightening.
Picture a bear that hibernates a lot or concentrates on the cub until she wakes up and begins ripping into her mate with sharpened claws and a ravening hunger that sends everyone and everything fleeing before her suddenly without a cub and unable to bear more making nice with her favorite meal. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it. That's where things stand for them now. Mama Bear is baby bearless and Papa Bear will have to do. Just think, the waning years filled with a needy and tetchy Mama Bear while baby bear goes to college and finds a life of her own.
That's the thing about empty nesters, they seldom realize until it's too late that building their lives and dreams around their children is a dead end, especially when they've spent little or no time nurturing the one relationship that will sustain them in the empty nest years -- their marriage. They began together, but somewhere along the way forgot who brought them to the party. In a way, it's funny to watch couples who have grown apart attempting to find some common ground, unaware that time and tide have worn away the connecting edges until there's no connection left.
Single people are a little more prepared because they know what it's like to be left alone. For them, it's a new lease on life and a chance to find someone with whom to spend their late afternoon and twilight years. Being single doesn't look so bad any more, not when couples that seemed solid from the outside turn out to be nothing more than shifting colors and light on a frigid night when sleep is elusive and hard to catch, and icy fingers steal the warmth from the body while the roaring furnace sucks the moisture from the air. It's like walking the halls and sidewalks near the university buildings so solid and sturdy on the marble foundations while the rest of the world exists as a dream beyond the sidewalks.