Coming of Age in Your 30s

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Coming of Age in Your 30s

By Rebecca Rush 02/01/18

“I don’t know whether to wrap you up in a straightjacket and watch you all weekend or leave forever,” he said later. That sounded like love to me.

Image: 
Rebecca Rush in She-Ra costume, holding a dog
The She-Ra costume, missing the crown that the kids left out in the rain to disintegrate. Image via Author

When I met Jimmy I had never taken care of myself. He had never not taken care of someone else. It was kismet.

He was in the middle of a divorce, unable to see his children that summer due to a restraining order from his soon to be ex-wife. I moved in immediately and all summer we partied. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere.

When I returned from spending a month in California, Jimmy's custody had been restored. 

“I don’t know how to talk to kids, I don’t know how to anything with them, I’ve never even babysat,” I repeated as we prepared for their arrival. I was terrified of children. 

“You’ll be fine,” he assured me. “You’ve been a kid.”

Jimmy's kids arrived on a Saturday evening like a subway train rattling past inches from your face. They plowed through the house straight to the backyard, to the fire pit, where they joked about throwing my tiny dog into it. The three of them wore an aggressive amount of camouflage. This and a litany of other tiny grievances began to tatter the tenuous fabric of our relationship. 

One night his younger son wet the bed and Jimmy grabbed my comforter to bring him. My blankie! One afternoon they took my cardboard and duct tape She Ra crown from a Halloween costume and left it out back in the rain to fall apart. My dress up clothes! The chicken tenders that he needed one night to feed them dinner when there was nothing else in the fridge. My chicken nugz! 

The awareness came later that I had just shown up in a man’s life, a man whose life was crumbling around him, and I expected to be his number one care-taking priority. I was living off unemployment and expected him to be feeding, buying pot for, and emotionally supporting me above all.

Part of me was attracted to a man that put his children above his new love interest, exactly opposing how my father had chosen to run his life after my parent’s divorce. I was not allowed to get a drink out of the refrigerator in my father’s new house without asking my stepmother's permission. I was a guest. And here I was a guest again, nobody’s number one, just like my childhood.

It slipped out as I whisper-screamed at him about the comforter, “You wouldn’t give my blanket to a guest!”

“This is THEIR HOUSE!” He bellowed back.

“You see the world only in relation to yourself, like my children,” Jimmy remarked one night.

“Well how am I supposed to see the world in relation to?!” I demanded.

“In relation to itself. An adult sees the world in relation to itself.”

And then, we broke up. Prompted in part by a relapse into drinking and in part because I said something about how he never should have had children with a woman he claimed to know was mentally ill their whole relationship. 

With nowhere else to go I was off to rehab. When I was released and sent to a state-run halfway house back in the very town I had just escaped, I cried. I left there to rent a room in a converted elementary school in the same town. People say "God has a sense of humor." Well, God also has a pretty sharp sense of symbolism.

The next man I fell in love with, Cody, was going to be a father himself in a few months, a result of a casual hookup. He was living with his mother to save money and I had rented a beach house on the shoreline for the winter, sharing it with an artist who was only there about once a week. Cody moved in immediately. The ocean was my backyard, and as he stared at the waves the first time he came over and said “I’m in love,” I pretended that was meant for me.

I wanted so badly to be cool with this baby, and we discussed at length how different it would be than my last situation, because this baby would grow up knowing me from birth. 

The moment Cody left for the hospital, I lost my mind. We hadn’t been apart since we met, other than to go to work and now, once again, I was in danger of losing my illusory #1 status in a man’s life. Within a few hours I was drunk and falling down the stairs.

My shoulder had gotten injured on the way down, so I went to the emergency clinic, something I may not have done if my boyfriend wasn’t also in a hospital at that moment. 

It was there I found out that I was also pregnant. At the same time, Cody’s baby almost died being born. Cody had been so against the pregnancy the entire time, I was surprised when he was relieved that the baby ended up okay. What happens to people when they become parents is a mystery I will continue to evade. Parenthood seems to make people not care about their own lives as much, and I don’t think I have any of that to spare.

I knew Cody wouldn’t want me to keep the baby, even though I fantasized he would. When I answered the door days later to greet him as a new father, all I could think to say was, “Congratulations. I’m sorry I didn’t fall down the stairs harder.”

The rest of our discussion of what to do with my pregnancy was brief. 

“How much do you have in your savings account?”

“.08 cents.”

And off to Planned Parenthood we marched. Soon after, I got fired from my job. I took a handful of Xanax, downed some Tequila, and crashed my car. As you do.

Cody used his roadside assistance to pick me up and tow my car the few miles to my place, while I raged in his passenger seat, ineffectually jabbing at my wrists with the pointy end of a healing crystal.

“I don’t know whether to wrap you up in a straightjacket and watch you all weekend or leave forever,” he said later. 

That sounded like love to me. 

It took weeks to accept he wasn’t coming back, and then, I got sober again and began to meditate, staring out the window as the light moved on the waves. 

I began to pick myself up, dust myself off from the years of skidding along my butt. I have been in a committed relationship with myself and my recovery ever since.

When I dated those men I was unable to put a roof over my head, unable to regulate my emotions and unable to correctly decipher my reality. I was stuck in a child-like place after a childhood of being gaslit by the alcoholic who raised me.

Those two men were the best mothers I ever had.

So I set out to create my own internal mother. The book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough (spoiler alert: NO) helped a lot with that. I’m not quite finished yet. At this point I’ve got an internal gay best friend. I can take him to brunch, but he's still kinda mean to me.

That's what becoming an adult has come to mean to me - realizing that nobody is coming to save me, or any of us. We all have to be the heroes of our own lives.

A few months ago I was sitting at an outdoor vegan cafe in Sedona with my psychic and my tiny dog. As you do. A small child with her parents approached. She wanted to pet my dog. I have been known to tell a child that the dog is asleep and they can’t pet it while he looks right at them but my heart filled, and I said yes.

She was super gentle and it didn’t seem like a big moment, but for me it felt like everything in the entire world was okay. Everything that had happened: the abortion, the years of being unable to care for myself physically or emotionally, the need to jealously guard what I perceived as mine. All of it faded away and just this beautiful moment remained.

Now I’m not going to rush out and freeze my eggs or anything, I’d rather spend that money traipsing through Europe. But I did send my three nieces Hannukah presents this year, rising above the fact that my sister and I don’t speak, and for once, thinking of the children.

The journey of recovery, and its counterpart, personal evolution, have helped me to finally see myself as real. And subsequently see other people as real. Even tiny people. 

I just had to take off my own mask, first.

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