We pull into the parking lot of the Old Saybrook train station. “Oh no!” I moan, looking at the full lot. “We’ll never find a parking spot.” Rosemary reminds me that when we first got together, I used to visualize parking spaces for her. She is right. Why have I become so pessimistic in my old age? I try my old visualization skills. It works! As we round the last corner, a parking space appears.
A few weeks ago, I picked my head up and looked around to see where, exactly, I was. After nearly fifty years dedicated to a variety of working identities and mothering, seven years studying and doing research for a doctorate, twelve years being there for Mom, and then the past two years of real estate transactions, I found myself here and I wasn’t even sure where here was. I walk around Old Saybrook surprised. I say, “Oh, so this is where I am. Interesting. Lovely town.” I am astonished to be here and not exactly sure how it happened. Oh, for sure, I know that Rosemary and I made the decision to sell the Maine house, to sell the coop on the twenty-second floor in Brooklyn, and to buy this little ranch condo on a cove of the Connecticut River. Still…
So what is this life without meetings, deadlines, family responsibilities, or work demands? More specifically, who am I now that I am no longer who I was? I am as baffled about who I am, as I was to have discovered where I am. It is almost as if a new me is emerging through the fog, and I am standing by, waiting to see the shape and meaning that is developing as I watch.
For awhile, I thought maybe I was recreating my mother’s life. Old Saybrook reminds me in many ways of Yarmouth, Maine, where Mom spent her last years – a small town at the mouth of a river near the ocean with Route One passing through town. Like Mom, I live in a beautifully landscaped condo, with a swimming pool, on a river, with many people like me. Sometimes, when I walk the five minutes to Main Street, to the post office, or bank, or hardware store, I even feel like my grandmother, who would put on her necklace, hat, and gloves and walk to the main street of her small town in western Maine to do her errands. These two women are both part of this new person who is making an appearance in my life; clearly, I have brought much of my history with me. The piles of boxes of my mother’s journals and photos in our basement are tangible evidence of her presence. The painted portrait of my grandmother hanging over her piano in the living room is confirmation that she has come along too.
Still, there is more to me than history or inheritance. And, while many of the images that came to my mind are of an elderly person (me) coming to life rather passively, I know that I have some agency in all of this. I am creating this emerging person at least as much as she is materializing before me.
On the one hand, I am this seventy-some year old retired person, who, with her spouse has downsized her life and is living within the restrictions of an auto-immune disease. There is so much I can no longer do that I once loved – gardening, building, kayaking, camping, driving at night, even simple things like swimming and walking are sometimes beyond my abilities. Sometimes, I am discouraged, depressed that life seems to hold so few possibilities. The last person whom I had been close to in the generation before me, my mother’s cousin, Mim, died last summer. Funeral services show up on my calendar far too often. Too many of my friends are no longer around. Next week, we will have a memorial service for Suzanne, one of the women from my conscious-raising group, an artist and beautiful person who first came into my life over forty years ago. Last year, we had to sell our little blue and yellow house on a lake in Maine because Rosemary and I could no longer drive up to care for it in a proper way. Sometimes it seems like loss is the overwhelming theme of my life.
But there are other sides to my story. I have a partner eleven years younger who refuses to admit that I am no longer the active, thirty-six year old that she first met. I joined the YMCA and swim on the days that my RA (rheumatoid arthritis) allows. I walk with Rosemary along the marsh when I can, spend part of most weeks in the Big City, visit grandsons (and their parents) in San Francisco and Boston, and travel to new places. Renovating both our newly purchased condo and our down-sized city apartment reminds me that there are still choices to be made, still possibilities.
One of the silver linings of our new political reality has been the rebirth of the activism that had been my life in the sixties and early seventies. As I ran through Grand Central Station and grabbed a discarded protest sign to meet Rosemary amid the crowds of the women’s march, I felt quite alive. I changed my party affiliation from Democrat to Working Party when the Democrats turned their back on my Bernie.
I began putting the narratives that constantly play in my head onto paper, and writing often keeps me up past my bedtime. I have been a member of a Proprioceptive Writing Group on memoirs for over ten years, but now I began connecting with other writers. A few months ago, a neighbor in our new condo asked me to care for her cats while she was away, and I asked where she was going. “To a writing retreat on memoirs,” Anne replied. We became writing buddies and went to a writing retreat together in Rochester, Vermont, last week.
One day recently, as I walked down the sidewalk of our condo, I looked up and saw a few white clouds floating over the marsh. When I was younger, in the same way that I could visualize parking spaces, I could also make clouds disappear. I hadn’t tried it for years, but I tried it now and, again, it worked! Maybe there is more life ahead after all.
But I need something to remind me each day to connect to this latter reality rather than to my inflamed wrists or my unsteady gait. Those are still often present, of course, but they needn’t define my life. This retired, white-haired woman has another countenance, and I wanted some way to hang on to this part of me that I was both rediscovering and discovering. I decided to take a new name and chose Brynna. Brynna is Celtic and Gaelic and means strong. While it brings forth my history, it has some newness in it as well. Also, it’s similarity to Brenda should make it easier for family and friends to make the shift. I started this blog to chronicle the birth, the story of Becoming Brynna.