So after 37 years together, you want to call it quits. Was it something I did? Something I said? Please stay. I’m not ready to see you go.
I can see from your perspective why you wouldn’t want to stick around. I took you for granted. I acted surly whenever you were in town. I spoke badly about you to anyone who would listen. And I’m sure my husband’s snarky comments didn’t help: “Again?” “Wasn’t she just here?” “On our anniversary? Seriously?”
But think about the good times. Like the time we first met on Rosh Hashanah at Temple Judea in 1975. Remember how excited I was? After all, most of my friends were already getting their periods by then. You made me feel so grown-up, yanking me out of childhood.
And how about that momentous day in 1994 when you announced with your absence that I was going to be a mother? You just didn’t arrive on the day I was expecting you, and that said it all. Your subtle announcements that I would be the bearer of life were some of the best moments of my life.
I guess it is natural to focus mostly on the good times when a long relationship ends. But, if I’m being honest, our relationship was frequently a difficult one. Before I had children, the cramps that you always claimed were part of the package were excruciating. Then there were the bloating, chocolate cravings and hormonal bitchiness.
And your sense of humor was — shall we say? — “unusual.” I know you thought visiting every time I put on a pair of white pants or had a beach vacation planned was hilarious, but I wasn’t amused. Plus, I still haven’t forgiven you for that time in college when you had me in a panic because you showed up a week late. You must have gotten a real kick out of that one.
You know better than anyone that those days when your absences signaled a possible pregnancy are long gone. So when you stood me up a few months ago, I was more than a little concerned. You had always been so reliable. So punctual. And then nothing. One month you were just a no-show. It suddenly dawned on me that though we had an epic romance, we would be spending the rest of our lives apart.
Grief-stricken, I turned to Google to fill in the blanks. Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, insomnia, decreased interest in sex, mood swings and forgetfulness, the Web sites said. Then it occurred to me that you had been trying to warn me of our impending breakup for several months. “Wow, it is really warm in here,” I frequently heard myself say. Waking up at 3 a.m. became a pattern. I started to misplace my cell phone daily. And my train of thought frequently went off the tracks.
But nowhere in the litany of “symptoms of menopause” was there a mention of the most vexing symptom of all: Loss. Absolute, heartbreaking loss. Menopause is the bright line that separates youth and middle age. Even when the birthdays start to pile up, hair color and Pilates and shopping at Forever 21 allow us to continue to pretend for a while that we are still young. But menopause makes the loss of youth official.
When you left, the ticking clock that had been extinguished with the blessing of two children started up all over again. But this time, instead of signaling the waning of viable eggs, the ticking portended something else. TICK, TICK, TICK … You don’t have as long as you think. TICK, TICK, TICK … Your children are growing-up. TICK, TICK, TICK … Your time to make unrealized dreams come true is shrinking.
I finally understand why people refer to your departure as “the change.” Your initial arrival signaled a change from childhood to adulthood; your first departure signaled a change from adulthood to motherhood. And now, this last exodus is signaling that things are changing yet again.
Maybe “the change” is not a description as much as it is an instruction; a mandate to get busy and start planning the next chapter. Maybe it is life’s way of waking us up and reminding us that the time is now to read the great books that we always said we would read, to visit the places that we have always wanted to see, to renew the relationships that we have been too busy to nurture, to figure out NOW how we would like the rest of our life to look.
TICK, TICK, TICK. Thank you, Period. I hear you loud and clear.
Wendy Jaffe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.