Once upon a time, in another life, I was a thoroughly married, 20-something work at home mother/freelance writer & editor with three young children, spaced 6 years apart from youngest to oldest. We had a sweetly modest little house in a swanky-ish area of town, and a swingset in the backyard. We never quite had enough money, but we managed just fine. The children played hide and seek with the other kids on our street, and I wrote and wrote. I was convinced – happily so – that this was my life, and my course ahead thru the next 60 years had been set.
But of course, that wasn’t what happened at all. I never, ever could have imagined how that life that once seemed so certain would explode into bits, evolve, shapeshift, grow and expand to eventually bless me with the very happy, very different life that I have now, ten years later.
Over the decade that has taken me from there to here, I’ve experienced the greatest pain I could ever imagine – the end of my marriage, and the death of my oldest child – as well as the greatest joys imaginable – finding love with a good, good man whom I adore and respect, two blond baby girls to join our family, a career that continues to be wonderful.
Life is messy. And unpredictable. I know that now. But I didn’t then. I think that before, I believed that I alone had the power to determine how my journey would go, through sheer force of will and relentless optimism. That, of course, was magical thinking. I get that now.
Back when I was living that “before” life, I had some dear friends whom I perceived to have a practically perfect life themselves. I met them thru my children’s school, and they were the cleverest, kindest, most wonderful couple. They were only 6 or 7 years older than I was, but together they had already built a very successful business that allowed them to live in a fairy tale -like historic house in the most beautiful neighborhood in our city. They had an adorable son one year younger than my eldest, and their business’s success allowed his mother, Deb – a beautiful, athletic woman who had studied ballet intensively before marrying – to focus primarily on raising him and running their wonderful home. They had good wine and cooked wonderful meals together. They bought a small vacation home in the mountains that they planned to renovate together. Life was good.
This couple seemed not only to “have it all” in superficial ways – like the house with the pool, and the ability to send their son to the best lessons and camps – but they also appeared to genuinely love and respect and enjoy one another. And despite their material good fortune, they had not one ounce of snobbery. This, I thought to myself, is what I hope our young family’s life will be like in a few more years. Happy, peaceful abundance. Stability. A trajectory that was relatively predictable, and un-scary.
Deb’s life went on like this for some time, long past the time my own began to change so dramatically. In fact, her life – though not without the bumps and bruises that raising a child offers up – seemed to get even better! As her son grew into teenagehood, and she had more time, she began studying and teaching ballet again. She did the rigorous work to become ABT certified. She became a sought-after instructor in our area. Her young students loved her, and she was growing her own studio toward success. And all the while, her husband assured her that he was busy tending the successful business the two of them had created together early in their marriage. The beautiful house was made even more beautiful as the years passed. Life was pretty darn good for Deb, and by 2011, had been that way for more than 20 years. But then, well, things took what one can politely refer to as a decidedly unexpected turn for my friend.
Her marriage ended, and it did so dramatically, brutally, suddenly and bafflingly. The beautiful house in which she’d raised her now young-adult son had to be sold. She learned that she was, for all intents and purposes, about to be forced to start life over again at age 50 with almost no money – it had all been spent, apparently – and with no house, no “real” job, and no freaking idea what she was going to do. She was completely disoriented, as much of what she’d for so long happily believed to be one thing turned out not to be that thing at all.
But see, that’s when this gets interesting. Instead of seeing this incredibly painful mid-life explosion only as a terrible loss, over the months, as it all played out, Deb started to realize that it could also be something else. She could get a total and complete do-over. She could go live anywhere. She could do whatever work she wanted. She wouldn’t have to answer to anyone but herself for these choices.
She would, she ultimately decided, have herself a great big, old adventure.
And that, gentle readers, is exactly what Deb has done. Last summer, she packed up her now-minimal belongings, loaded up her car with her very large dog, Clarence, and then she drove away from Tennessee – where she’d lived her entire life – due North, to an old house in Vermont, where she’d been offered a teaching position with a small, well respected ballet school. Deb had never been to Vermont and knew not one single person where she was going, but she went anyway. She knew finances would be tight until she got her entirely new life up and running, but she was totally okay with that, even though she’d gone the previous 20 years never wanting for anything.
Deb & Clarence out for a walk near their new/old house in snowy Vermont.
When, after a year of dealing with her life here in Tennessee coming totally apart at the seams, Deb told me that this was her plan – to pull up stakes entirely and start over in Vermont, I was immediately in complete awe of my badass friend. THIS, I thought to myself, is how more people should live their lives.
And now, Deb has begun chronicling her Big, Huge, Amazing Life Do-Over she’s undertaken with a new blog, complete with freezing cold, first dates, snowplows, ballet, new friends, and all the rest of it. She’s a terrific writer, and I think that all of y’all will become very, very fond of Deb, and will want to follow her journey as it all unfolds.
Again, here’s the link to Deb’s new blog, called “Not How The Story Ends.” After you read some (or all!) of Deb’s story, I’d love to hear what you would choose to do if you were forced/able to/chose to hit the re-set button on your own life halfway thru. Imagine that you didn’t have a partner or young children to care for, a “real job” tying you down, and you found yourself with not a lot of money, no home of your own, and a world of possibility open to you.
Would you move north? South? Would you want to stay close to your current friends and support network or strike out anew? Would you go back to school? Take up some creative pursuit that previously hasn’t seemed like enough of a “real” job to justify doing it full time? Tell me what you can imagine yourself doing in my friend Deb’s situation (beyond the immediate reaction most of us would have of crawling into the bed with multiple bags of Oreos and a bottle of wine and then refusing to get dressed for the next 30 days… That’s kind of a given…