Woman All Over the Place

Woman, you have a lot to pack into a relatively few number of years. Between eighteen and thirty never hit pause. 

First, get through college. Going for an advanced degree? Don’t take time off, go straight through, even summers. 

Build your career fast because when the right guy comes along you want to be on an equal footing. Also, your parents told you that you could be anything, do anything. You were taught there are no limits. 

You meet him at work, or a friend plays matchmaker, or he’s a neighbor in the building. He’s attractive and clean and you laugh at the same things, so between your twenty-sixth and twenty-eighth year, marriage happens; or maybe it doesn’t. 

If you get married, you and your husband buy a house, work hard, switch jobs for more pay, spend your free time exercising and socializing. 

Married or not, your new job is going well. You spend the first two years gaining experience and proving yourself. Then you get promoted. And promoted again, until you are in charge of a few people; and then you’re the boss of several people. You assign tasks; you take meetings and address large groups. Your husband is proud. Your parents are proud. 

Or maybe you don’t work in the corporate world. Maybe you’re a sixth grade teacher, then a principal for a few years; and then, you’re so good at what you do, so innovative and dedicated, that you are voted in as the superintendent of the entire school district. 

And then it’s time for a decision. If you don’t start having babies now, when will you ever get to it? 

The first baby comes and you and your husband are joyful. You continue working and the baby fits right into your day. He’s easy. Put him in his carrier and take him everywhere. Or maybe your baby’s a girl. Either way, you raise your child the way you were raised—there are no limits. You can do anything. 

You love to read to your baby. He or she learns to talk—three questions discussed every minute. It’s your chance to pour all your ideas about teaching and nurturing into this one compact pitcher. 

Or maybe children simply weren’t meant to be, and you’re okay with that. If you got married, your couple life is great. Your husband is your best friend. You support each other and tell each other everything about your days. You go out to dinner a lot and you have season tickets to the symphony and the baseball games. You’ve heard that Italy’s a great place to go, but there isn’t time. You’ve got your place in the company, or in the school system. Or maybe, as superintendent of the schools, you got a taste for politics and you decide to run for mayor. 

The middle years are like a pleasant ride along the coast—except for that painful time when your husband fell into deep love with a much younger woman, a woman who was very much like you when you were in your twenties. 

Was he trying to recapture the early years? Maybe you work things out and stay together. Maybe you lose him and find another. Or you might decide to remain single. 

Either way, there comes a time when your child, or children, are grown and gone. Or maybe there were no children. And sadly, your parents are no longer among the living. You miss them every day and spend lengthy segments of time remembering things that happened long ago. 

You stayed with the first husband or turned him in for another one—either way, he’s dead. 

Or he never existed. 

You retired a year ago. The people you worked with loved you. They gave you a dinner and a substantial financial send-off. 

What’s your next step? 

In a small town in Texas there is an old hotel for sale. 

You pull into its driveway and continue through a portico that’s supported by four sturdy brick columns. A gate can be installed across this entry.

A block off the highway, the hotel has only recently closed; but it’s been poorly maintained. Weeds pop through cracks in the tarmac and paint peels along the trim. Green, red, and blue doors are faded. 

A single story, it’s one of those L-shaped structures where every room looks on to a hardly magnificent, but respectable, pool. 

You roll to a stop in one of the slanted spaces facing the rooms. Getting out of your car, you enter the front building, reception, where there’s a counter and, beyond, a dining room and kitchen. The fusty smell of dirty fixtures and fabrics makes you sneeze. That carpet will have to go. 

Pulling out your phone, you call Liz, a friend who’s in the same position as you—no husband, no family nearby. 

“I’ve found it,” you tell her. 

“I’ll let everyone know,” she replies. 

Four months later a dozen women occupy the premises. Walls have been knocked out to make the units larger. Old carpet has been replaced by tile. The trim has been painted and the parking lot resurfaced. The pool is cleaned weekly and there are daily water aerobics classes. In the water old women with flabby arms sway and march. Some giggle and splash and some take this workout seriously as they look doggedly forward, determined that the pain of arthritis and sciatica won’t defeat them. 

The kitchen has been renovated. And out in the dining room women play mahjong and bridge every afternoon. A book group meets every other week. There are movie nights; or someone might want to watch television in her own room. 

You take turns with the shopping and cooking. You all move slowly and you laugh a lot. Your hips are broad and your boobs sag. And you look out for one another, giving rides to doctors or chemo or church. 

This isn’t permanent; it’s just another stop along the way.

 This isn't the best quality photo because it's taken by a modern Poloroid. This is me with Curtis, our oldest. He and his wife and her parents were up from Houston for the weekend. We boated and ate a great meal and laughed a lot. 

This isn't the best quality photo because it's taken by a modern Poloroid. This is me with Curtis, our oldest. He and his wife and her parents were up from Houston for the weekend. We boated and ate a great meal and laughed a lot.