When I was a girl, maybe 10 or 11, I would daydream about my life as a grown up. I daydreamed a lot. I had my life figured out. I would be an international accountant (although it should be noted I was already a socialist by then so I’m not sure I really thought that part through) and live in a huge loft apartment in New York City (I really had no idea how expensive it was to rent in Manhattan at this point) and I would be unmarried and adopt two girls from China (I’ve birthed two half Chinese sons so I’ll consider this the one I came closest to following through on although I’ve been married not once but twice). More concretely, I dreamed of being able to go grocery shopping. I loved my weekly trips with my mother grocery shopping at Kroger, Riverside, Bilo, Shop N Save. Those were the days before Giant Eagle consumed every store in sight with her ruthless talons. I pictured the day I would be at the store on my own, picking out perfect round, firm bright orange oranges. Rolling that perfect orange in my hand, pressing on it, feeling the cool shiny skin. My visualization never got beyond this moment. But that moment contained all the possibility my life held. That orange was the world.
I had therapy today, zoom therapy. And we talked about how my life had settled down in so many ways and was going well. I told her I’ve been processing some things like the trauma of getting COVID last spring. And she said she hoped I was taking some time to exhale and enjoy this good moment in my life as well. I said yes I’ve been reading novels and working out and signed up to volunteer. And I said, honestly cleaning my house and doing laundry and cooking dinner are so enjoyable now. I said I thought it was because I’d been sick and exhausted and overwhelmed so long I felt grateful to have the energy for it, and grateful to finally really be making my house a home.
I came downstairs to cook dinner and when I opened the fridge I saw a bag of perfect, round, firm bright orange oranges I had bought at Giant Eagle yesterday on my weekly quarantine shopping trip. And I remembered that moment from my childhood. And I thought, it finally feels the way I pictured it feeling.
You see, my therapist had asked me how it is that as a single mom of four kids and a practice to run I seemed to have the energy for hobbies and all the plans I’d told her I was working on to take some classes and go on some trips alone and et cetera. And I said, well you know I was thinking the other day how much energy and time has been freed up by leaving my marriage because everything was always focused on anticipating his reaction to things. And she said, well you still have that. It’s true he is still in my life to some extent. It’s true I still spend some time trying to figure out how he’ll react to something I’ve done or not done. But I said, it’s so much less. Literally everything I did, I thought, what will He say? If I walk to work versus ride my bike versus drive. If I text a friend. If I wear this skirt or suggest we watch a movie or do an interview on a podcast for the practice. Every decision I made, trying to anticipate his reaction and how I would handle it and if I’d need to shield the kids from his reaction. And if I had the energy to deal with it. And the example I gave her right away was grocery shopping. I said, literally every item I picked up at the grocery store I would stop and try to figure out what his reaction would be. Every. Single. Thing. And she said, oh I had no idea it was that bad. That must have been exhausting. And I said, it was.
And so when I saw those oranges and was sent back to that moment in Riverside thirty years ago, shopping blissfuly with my mother, I knew why it was it finally felt that good to be a grown up out doing my own grocery shopping. Even in a mask during a pandemic. The oranges are mine to buy or not. Mine to eat or not. And when the juice runs sticky down my face, drops onto my kitchen floor, there will be no one there to make a bitchy comment that’s clearly a joke that I need to learn to take. And I will not have to weigh the option of not cleaning it up and getting lectured on how hard he works to clean the house (a lie of course) or cleaning it up and being accused of implying he’s not a good housekeeper (the truth of course). Because as much time as you spend trying to anticipate how someone like that will react to every choice you make all day and night, the reality is that there is no right choice. You are always wrong and they are always right. And if they say an orange is an apple, you learn to say, of course. Because who wants to stay up until 2 in the morning arguing that an orange is an orange?
I lived in Manhattan a little while when I was 23 in a tiny 300 square foot apartment on the Lower East Side and rode the F train to NYU each day to study the history and economies of Latin America. I had two half-Chinese sons. I was a card carrying member of the International Socialist Organization for a few months in college. For the most part, I got the details wrong of what it is to be a grown up. But I got the feeling right. It took me almost 42 years to get to that feeling but here I am. A fridge full of oranges and ready to go.