It’s the middle of the afternoon and all about me swirl a mass of humanity, searching for the perfect holiday gift. There’s anxious lovers seeking a treasure that’ll please, parents digging through the remains of empty shelves hoping against hope that a Hatchimal might lurk among the carcasses of toys, or the fed-up grandmother angry that the entire supply of Zip-Loc bags have been plundered by customers seeking to freeze cookies for later gluttony.
And here I am, rushing around, helping as many as I can, trying to do my job as a retail associate. It’s part of my job to have a happy smile and accommodating personality, no matter what’s asked of me. Every customer deserves the best of service, and by gum, I deliver. No matter how impossible the request, regardless of how rude it’s asked, I smile. It’s why the public chooses to shop at Phipp’s, a local department store that carries just about everything you’ll need, any time of the year, all for a reasonable price.
It’s also the first Christmas without either of my parents, or my husband, or a steady, full-time job.
I lost all of those things within a blurry, hurtful 18-month period.
Both my parents were elderly. They’d spent 60-something years of blissful happiness. Mom went first, although we expected Dad to. He had Alzheimer’s, but Mom had thyroid and high blood pressure, so that’s what did her in. Dad lingered, but his heart ached too much for Mom, so in the end, he figured life on Earth was too dismal to continue, and besides, he pretty much forgot everything that made him happy except for her. So he left.
My husband? Well, that’s another story.
I’d been through hell with this man. Fought endless custody battles with his ex-wife, only to lose in the end. Guided him through several periods of prolonged unemployment. Held him close when his father died and grief overcame him. Nursed him through several risky surgeries. Not only that, but I cooked all the meals, got him ready for work, made his lunches, put his pills on the counter with a glass of water, did his laundry, cared for him, respected him, laughed with him…loved him.
Oh, how I loved him.
So imagine my shock when one day, through a quirk of wi-fi and our shared cellphone plans that a picture of a much younger woman, blowing a kiss, appeared in a text on my phone. “How you feeling this morning, sweetie?” said the caption below the photo. I felt the ground disappear beneath me. My hands shook as I gazed at that youthful smile, wondering if her lover had a bright and cheerful smile on his face. Was he happy to see her? Isn’t that selfie cute, how she’s pursing her lips in the bathroom mirror, just for him?
I’ll skip the details for now, but let’s just say it didn’t end well when I confronted my husband.
Oh, and there’s the job thing, too.
I’m a nonprofit professional. Held high-level positions at respectable institutions. Made plenty of acquaintances in the field and gained an awful lot of respect for my work. An international university in Europe even offered me a fellowship to teach their students how I became so successful. Little by little, though, I had to cut back because our son needed my attention (he has learning disabilities), then my father became ill and he needed me. So I quit my job and not long after, he died. I took a freelance position and put the job search on hold for a bit, just to give myself a chance to grieve and gather myself. And for a while, it worked beautifully. But I knew my time was limited, and although the place where I worked as a freelancer tried to keep me, the head office said no, and I was let go.
Still I kept on looking. I had many leads, some interviews, a few very promising.
But not until Phipp’s had anyone actually offered me a job. What choice did I have?
Death, betrayal and unemployment take a huge toll on a person. Throw in menopause and you got yourself a recipe for insanity. But this is not a blog of someone who gave up. Oh no. That’d be too predictable, too stereotyped.
No. This blog’s about how a woman of a certain age deals with life, one day at a time. It ain’t pretty, but it’s real, and if you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on you’ll find it. Because, believe me, it can happen to you, too.
Why don’t you come along for the ride?