I was elated to receive an invitation to attend a gallery opening. Gave me one more event to add to my calendar, which, thank goodness, has been filling up a bit. Several artists gathered together to show their works and since I knew them, I had to go. Besides, it seemed like fun, something that’s been in rather short supply.
Throwing caution to the wind, I left my mask in the car. Got to trust the science sooner or later. Never mind I didn’t see anyone wearing masks. This crowd’s been vaccinated, for certain. These are the sort that pulled up their sleeves without a moment’s hesitation. Couple that with there has been no active cases in my stretch of the Hudson Valley in over two weeks.
Once inside, I sought out familiar faces. These are the artists I should’ve met last year, but couldn’t, because we were all trapped inside our homes. Had to squeeze through the crowd in places, since the artwork being exhibited hung from panels. And actually, the room was far more crowded than I wouldn’t liked, or was accustomed to, but somehow I felt safe.
Waitstaff sifted through the peopled, bearing trays of filet mignon on tiny toast and artistically-crafted cheese puffs, among other things. I sampled a few – why not? – as I gazed at the oils, pastels and sketches, all scenes from the area. This exhibition was meant to celebrate the beauty among us. Judging by those present, it certainly did.
Thirsty, I headed outside over to the bar and got myself a drink. Two other women were chatting at a high table. A string trio played popular favorites. The fresh air felt cool, especially after time spent in the stuffy gallery.
“What do think of the show?” asked one of the ladies.
I turned around and realized she was speaking to me. “Oh, I really loved it! So nice to get out and do something like this again. I really missed it,” I say.
We introduced ourselves to each other. Taylor stood tall, dark-haired with amazing rhinestone and silver earrings. Beth wore a bright pink sundress, perfect for the rather humid evening They, too, were friendly with the artists. I mentioned where I worked and said it’d been part of my job to attend events such as these, but it was hardly a chore. One of them remarked it’d been her first event she’d been to, since the pandemic shut everything down.
Pretty soon another woman came over, her face tinged with pink. “Wesley!” Beth shouted. “Over here!” After a moment’s glance, she said, “What’s wrong?”
“I just got back from my lawyer’s office,” said Wesley. “Signed the paper then headed here.” It didn’t take any explanation to understand what paper she signed. She let out a long sigh.
Beth went over to the bar, grabbed a glass of cabernet and handed it to Wesley. “It’s rough. Here. This’ll help.”
Wesley takes a few sips and sets her glass down. Beth gives her a hug. So does Taylor.
“Look, I’ve been there,” says Taylor. “It’s been six years and sometimes it still smarts. But you’re going to be okay. I promise.”
A few tears stream out of Wesley’s eyes as she nods. “The worst part is I still have to sell the house. He won’t let me live there. I grew up there. My Dad built it, but we spent our whole married life there. Somehow he gets rights to that place?”
“It isn’t fair,” says Beth. “It isn’t fair. I had similar shit when my divorce came through, too.”
“Wait, are all of you divorced?” I say. “That would be me, too!”
“Sure are,” says Taylor.
Another woman approaches us. She’s one of the artists, a standout in a gold satin two-piece outfit. “And so am I. Does that make us a club?”
I gaze at the women. It appears we’re all in various stages of our fifties. However, all of these women are beautiful, no lie. Trim, well dressed, friendly, these are the sort of people I’d imagine anyone would be proud to have draping on their arm. Instead, they were let loose. And through our conversation, we’d all been subjected to the same fate: our husbands left us for far younger women.
Now, I don’t know these women at all. I just met them. But I can’t help but notice our stories are so, so familiar. We married, had kids, tried our best to be the best wife ever. Tried to balance motherhood with working, taking care of ailing parents, raising kids (some very challenging kids, too, it would seem), going to school events, making dinner, packing lunches, trying to find some romantic time in spite of the fact that husband dozes on the couch right after dinner every night. It’s almost a cliche.
This pattern of husbands suddenly waking up, taking a good look around and not liking what they see, invariably results in ditching the spouse and finding a newer, younger, fresher model.
Again, I don’t know these women. The only people who truly know a marriage are the two involved in it. But still, a lot of people I’ve met as well as friends tend to hit their fifties and watch their marriage disintegrate. And, from what I’ve seen and experienced, once a mind is made up to end it, the prospect of counseling is nonexistent. It’s just easier to throw a marriage away than work to fix it.
“We’re throwaway women,” says Wesley. “Aren’t we?”
On the drive home, I start to cry. Is that what I am? A throwaway woman? And is that how the world sees us?
It seemed to me there are an awful lot of us women in our fifties who find ourselves separated from our marriages. I’m guessing it’s the make-or-break decade to choose whether or not we’re worthy enough to remain true to our vows. And people do change, sometimes for better, or for worse.
I was always the creative type, having gone to school for music and then turned to writing. My husband met me when I worked for a very prestigious arts organization, the sort of place most people only dream of. And really, it’s all I’m good for, career-wise. My husband was too, but his line of work used creativity in getting the job done. It involved long hours but paid extremely well. So while he got richer – and he did work hard for it – I spent an increasing amount of time away from what I do best. I handled my frail parents (along with my sister, of course), plus all other sorts of challenges that go along with a learning-disabled child, plus doing most of the shopping. I took care of my husband the best I could, or knew how. He complained I deserted him for writing, but I made the same claim he deserted me the moment he hit the couch and slept immediately following dinner. That, and his near-refusal to do anything as a couple on the weekends. Sure, we went out to buy things at Home Depot together. Hardly a date in my book.
Yes, my husband did throw me away, once the shine wore off our marriage. My ex lives in a top luxury apartment, in the best zip code, in a big city far from me, enjoying all the good things life has to offer. I can honestly tell you that smarts sometimes to think of it. Especially when I struggle with a lot of the challenges life’s thrown at me.
But I’m no throwaway woman. My husband might’ve walked out, but I deserve better. And I will have it. I discovered how strong I was, how resilient I can be, and given the right circumstances, can do anything I set my mind to.
I’m not done living yet. Nor will I allow what happened to me ruin my life. I’ll rise above it, seek new opportunities and have the best life I can dream of. Will it involve another man? Money? Marriage?
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that my own happiness comes before everything, in whatever shape that comes in. Good friends, a job I love and self-sufficiency is a great start. All else is a bonus.
And maybe someday, someone will appreciate those qualities in me, and think of me as a treasure to behold and keep, come what may.