Justin Timberlake croons on the radio and I really can’t stop the feeling coursing through my body. I am happy. Happy in the way a child is. I smile as I fold clothes. The sun is out. My children are in school. My kitchen is clean. I even dance like nobody is watching.
Late last night, I stood in a very crowded Barnes and Noble browsing books idly while my three children and their dad went up and down the elevator for what must have been the tenth time that evening. The place was packed with our elementary school kids and their parents. I saw many people I knew. Mostly I acknowledged their presence and went back absently to whichever book I was leafing through at the moment.
A few years ago in a similarly crowded auditorium, as I waited for my twins first ever back to school night, I was wound up, too keyed to concentrate. I was very aware that I seemed to be the only woman there who was not already part of some clique. I craned my neck, scanning the crowd for known faces, a kind smile, an acknowledgment from anyone I knew that I was not alone. I hugged my children close and made it through the evening on pure adrenaline.
In my early thirties, I avoided people. I avoided running into known faces at grocery stores, at malls. I avoided parties, get-togethers, and celebrations. The ones I could not get out of, I skulked along the fringes, waited until the food was served and pulled my husband away the minute we were done. I preferred the loneliness and silence of my home. I hated the envy that consumed me when I saw other women running after children, bouncing bonny babies on their lap and conversing on all things mothering.
My mid-twenties was all about whispers on the phone, long rambling emails and the need to connect. I celebrated people. I remembered birthdays, shopped for gifts, imagined creative ways to make others feel special. I invested in learning about their lives, their dreams, their crushing sorrows. I poured myself into them, sharing joy for joy, sorrow for sorrow. I carried my worth in the number of friends, my connections as they say on LinkedIn. As the number swelled, so did my self-worth.
My late teens and twenties were all about small intimate groups of people. Of blood oaths and promises of eternal friendship. It was about late nights talking. It was about the future. It was about the possibility of love. It was about going out into the wide world and leaving behind a trail worth following. It was about travel and the promise of sensuality. It was the whispers of unnamed pleasures. It was the heady feeling of not knowing. It was the thrill of adventure, of a future unscripted where anything was possible.
I am back in my forties. I spent most of my time alone, not lonely. I love my children well enough to not make it my sole identity. I have trouble remembering birthdays and even when I do, a wish over WhatsApp seems to be sufficient. My email inbox is starkly empty of anything personal. I do not remember the last time I wrote a letter or email to anyone who mattered. The oath of eternal friendship I swore in my twenties mocks me. The only legacy I even think of leaving behind are my words. I am bereft of the soaring ambition and hope. I am tempered by life lessons. I am content knowing that today is okay and perhaps tomorrow will be too.
I am happy. And I can’t stop this feeling.