THE NETWORK OF CLUELESS TWENTY-SOMETHINGS
I don sunglasses to work as I slip past the lime green walls of perpetual cheeriness, as I pretend to be a silent movie star with a dramatic past walking inside my fourth floor office, here at the Network of Clueless Twenty-Somethings.
As I sit down at my computer, I notice a billboard across the street, which dons an advertisement of a female soldier, dramatically defending her world, ready for combat. I relate to this woman, as every day has felt like war for the past year.
Lost in the limbo land of “separated with no divorce date on the horizon”, I fell into a whirlwind romance with a handsome film executive who took me for a ride. Not the good kind of ride. The kind you close your eyes and hold on for dear life until you slam to a stop, your insides landing somewhere around your toes.
I log into e-mail, my online dating profile dancers dangerously in front of me:
Zoe : 39, DWF, sexy, single, successful cable television producer, holding onto the last hours, minutes, and seconds of her fleeting youth.
Despite my lack of success in the dating arena, the number of losers I don't want to meet dance in front of me, as I look up at the calendar on the wall for another harsh realization. Circled in red, cheerily screaming out from the calendar is the news I really don’t want to hear - today is my birthday.
Certainly, the fear of dating seems far less overwhelming than crossing the demarcation line between “39” and “40”, the difference between "hip" and "old", “In” and “out”, and “life” and “death”.
I rip down the calendar and throw it in the trash. Divorced. Peril-Menopausal. Somebody, get me a gun. Quick! Kill me now.
Get a gun quick: the Millennium, Divorce, and the big “4-0”.
You see, my marriage came to a crash along with the millennium, as the impending Y2K computer scare fed our worst fears of doom and gloom.
I obsessed endlessly - I'm separated, alone, in my late Thirties, and my computer will crash? My computer lasted, but my husband of fifteen years, Eric , and I did not. After years of working in television, while he studied for hours on end with his study group, we passed each other like ships in the night, turning us from lovers into “roommates”. Eventually, after years of therapy and couples counseling, I met someone who gave me the impetus to seek greener pastures. What a shocker.
Jim seemed to be the perfect package- handsome, successful, sexy, as we started innocently enough with lunches at trendy LA restaurants, until we progressed to dinners, where he confessed his marriage woes. It was just the impetus I needed to jump ship, after a few months of life in the Oakwood, a singles apartment complex where dating is the most popular sport , Jim found a charming Craftsman in a quaint Santa Monica neighborhood which he dangled it before me like cotton candy.
“Look, I know we said we were going to take some time and move slowly,” he said appearing earnest, despite the veneer of manipulation I could smell a mile away, but didn’t want to acknowledge.
“A real estate agent friend of mine faxed it to me this morning, right before it went on the market, and it’s absolutely perfect”. He smiled, with those big blue eyes twinkling. How could I resist?
A perfect Craftsman indeed, down to the built in china cabinet, vintage O’keefe stove, and walk in closets. Needless to say, I took the bait hook, line, and sinker and moved in with Jim only a few months after leaving my marriage. Call me insecure, I just wanted to skip the step where you live alone, dating for several and shopping for one at Trader Joe's on a Friday night. I longed to go right into domestic bliss, skipping all the stressful steps related to being single.
Unfortunately, life has a way of sending lessons in the form of bad relationships.
Over the next few months, I watched Jim reveal his true self, from the perfect illusion of Mister Right, into Lord Voldermont. Jim became controlling as he obsessed over my every move, convinced I was either getting back with Eric, or flirting with some mystery man looming on the horizon.
Sadly, my only escape was work, as a Producer on "The Totally True Tabloid Story", a tell-all on Hollywood's latest losers, where it’s my job to oversee production on the infinitesimal and not-so-famous. It’s not a bad gig, minus the long hours and meager pay. At least I get to work in the big world of television. Cable television.
Okay, so, it wasn’t exactly PBS. I've been telling myself to look for a better job and win that Emmy will collect dust on my proverbially mantle. But instead, I live comfortably in fear of failure mode, doomed forever in the never-never limbo land of cable television, where everyone is Twenty.
Tonight at the stroke of midnight, I officially leave "Thirty Something", for "Forty Something", crossing over the line into Auntie Mame territory, where I'll be forced to wear the Scarlet Letter of "ELDERLY" across my chest. You see, I am one of those well kept secrets who to dance around the truth whenever someone makes the mistake of asking my age, when my usual response is "Young enough to lie about it, and old enough to threaten with death". This usually shuts them up.
"40" IS THE NEW "30".
From the break room across the hall, I catch the tail end of a water cooler conversation, where a young hopeful says, "Can you imagine if we were working here, like, when we were 40? I would kill myself!".
I'm turning 4O. I want to.
YER BIRTHDAY BLUES
The sound of the phone ringing disturbs my "mental health moment", jolting me back to reality, here in my cubicle at the Network of Clueless Twenty Something's revealing the 404 area code, where my Mother, Maryann, calls from.
"Happy Birthday, Zoe! Am I calling at a good time?. What are you doing?", she asks excitedly.
"Catching grenades for a living as usual", I say flatly.
"Well, I decided to call now, because I know you will be busy later getting ready for your big 4-0 birthday party", Maryann's voice booms through the phone all the way from Atlanta, where she and my Father relocated years ago to be near my sister, brother in law, and kids. They vetoed Florida where all their other exiled New Yorkers to, land of golf cart meets early bird special and lives happily ever watching reruns of "Benny Hill".
"So, do you feel any different, today, now that you are Forty?", she teases.
"Almost Forty! Nope. Just tired and bitchy, as usual", I reply.
"Charming. Well, say a quick hello to your Father, because he's right here in the wheelchair next to me waiting to talk to you" as she passes the phone off. A long amount of time passes and my Dad's voice is a bare whisper when it finally comes on at the end of much heavy breathing into the phone.
"Hey, baby doll" he says, as I close my eyes and think of him thirty years earlier, in his "Tony Curtis" days, all dark and handsome. It's the way I chose to see him , instead of how he looks now, with a the hole in his neck so he can breath through a ventilator.
"Hi, Daddy", I say into the phone "Thank you for putting me on this earth today!”
"I love you", he barely whispers into the phone, before my Mother grabs the receiver away, as she booms into the phone.
"By the way, we have a problem!", her voice changes to a shrill tone, as the dogs in the neighborhood begin to bark.
"Please, just tell me, I hate when you drag it out".
"The latest on Aunt Lou, poor thing, is she has one leg amputated from diabetes, sits in a wheelchair all day, is blind in both eyes, and now, they just detected Cancer!"
I listen in horror at each unnecessary detail my mother loves to announce, taking it all the horror my poor Aunt must endure.
"Hello? Anyone there?", she booms through the phone.
"What would you like me to say? How fabulous?"
Upset by this news, I attempt to multi-tasking by typing on my computer, something my Mother can tell three thousand miles away.
"Any more lovely details you care to share with me?", I ask, "What would you like me to say? It’s horrible and I'm so sorry she's suffering, that’s all.”
"Unfortunately, that's life, kid. We get old, we suffer, and we die – it’s all downhill from here!", she says dramatically, making her voice trail off into the distance as if she suddenly sees the big white light or something.
Evidently, Greta Garbo's channeling my mother.
"Happy thoughts, Mom. Try and think happy thoughts" .
"Maybe I should just call back another time when you're not so busy", she snorts into the phone.
"Why are you so bitchy today? You should be happy. Life is to be celebrated even if you are now... middle age!", my Mom laughs into the phone. She has a habit of thinking she's very funny. Funnier than she actually is, really.
"I am busy. I'm interviewing a high powered celebrity who does amazing things with her mouth for a living. As well as having a nervous breakdown at the thought of being an old maid. Any words of wisdom to help ease the pain?", I ask.
"Enjoy yourself while you can ", she says back with a sting.
"Wow. That was truly inspiring, Mom", I reply.
"Well, you know what Oprah says, "40 is the new 20", she snickers.
" Who believes that crap? Nobody that’s turning Forty, that’s for sure!", I snap.
"Well, dear child, better go. Happy Birthday!”, she “clicks” off the phone.