Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Forever Within Numbered Days

I miss childhood when life stretched before me with vast, limitless possibility. It's not just the possibilities hiding around the corners of living that I crave, though. I miss the infinity of time that life seemed to present to me then. 40 was ancient and holy shit, 80-years old? Unfathomable! Even just one summer stretched for several lifetimes as you contemplated it from the end of a school year. Years were very sensibly divided by school grades, too. I distinctly remember what went down in third grade or seventh grade or eleventh grade. But, like riding a bike downhill, as you go along you pick up speed and the scenery eventually blurs. Adulthood becomes a busy haze and you start to mark the years of life with great and terrible events. That's the year Violet was born, that's the year I got a divorce... Your memory of what happened that year radiates out from around the event.

I turn forty in a few months. Like a lot of people approaching a definitive age, I feel reflective. It's awfully tempting to assess my current life circumstances from a failed viewpoint. I'm divorced with three children; finances forced me to downsize into a small duplex I would've laughed at a few years earlier; I live paycheck to paycheck. And this year: Jesus H. It kicked off with yet another failed attempt to make my relationship with Serge work. The untimely death of my dog that coincided with my car getting repossessed. My power was shut off. I made the surprising realization that I no longer care to write professionally, at least right now and, as a result, could no longer afford to live where I lived. Moving to aforementioned duplex in a town I never imagined living in. Learning to be honest with myself and realizing the uncomfortable actuality of certain relationships that have seen me through decades of life... Not to mention the state of America and the recent (ahem) election. It's been a real fucking slog, this 2016 bitch. Worse than the year I got a divorce, without question. We can all list those years in our lives that stand out as real motherfuckers. For me, that would be 2016. Nearly every, single day has felt like a teeth-gritting, grinding climb, no end in sight.

I wouldn't change where I am right now for anything, though. If life came easily I wouldn't receive the opportunity to learn these lessons and get close to understanding the truth of what it means to live. You have a choice when the bad stuff hits: You can feel sorry for yourself (I've spent a lot of time in that place) and then continue playing life's victim for the rest of your days and everything bad that happens after that is justification of your poor-me cause OR you can dive into the shit and fucking LIVE the blues. Feel them hard and recognize the lessons that only tough times can teach. You study them and learn from them and allow them to shape your responses to hard times. You feel empowered with understanding which builds the kind of character that will always see you through whatever happens and assist you in helping others going through the bad stuff. When your worst fears happen and you make it through... You can do anything - even write through your embarrassment, enhanced by a childhood on food stamps, about being broke.

My mind feels good, real good. When the length of your life feels considerably shortened, when you sometimes wake up at three in the morning with mortality hunkered heavily on your chest, as happens naturally with aging, (and divorce!) you are able to let go of the bullshit. Or you at least recognize bullshit when you encounter it so it has less of an impact on your daily life. You learn how to strategically react to the crazy, hard, sad shit life throws at you. Overreactions became infrequent. You learn to appreciate what's important, especially when your power gets turned off. It's stunning how quickly sitting in your cold, dark house can hammer home what really matters. Maslow and his needs heirarchy are correct: food, water and warmth are a pretty big deal and we mostly take them for granted, even when we're the ones who pay the bills to keep them flowing. When you don't have them it can make the excesses of others and even your own "needs" seem extravagent. Coloring my hair feels ridiculous in the wake of struggling with an electric bill, you know? Helllooo gray.

Anyway, I'm fine. We're fine. Because another beautiful lesson you learn when you're lower than low is who your real people are. You can quickly identify the good ones. There are so many people who came through for me this year in very real and meaningful ways; it brought me to tears every, single time and often, they were unaware of how intensely their gesture was needed. So many people; huge gestures and small ones. It meant everything.

That's what life is about. Like Maslow said: Physiological needs are a necessity and after that it's all about relationships and showing up for people. All the other bullshit falls away. At the top of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs is self-actualization: creativity, acceptance of facts. I am realizing that self-actualization, for me, as I decide what I want to model for my children, doesn't involve much in the way of materialism. I mean, yeah, I envision a non-duplex home somewhere here - near where their dad lives. A place they can run wild, have animals and roam freely between my place and their dad's house. And I look forward to experiences: Road trips to New York City and anywhere else we can get to within a day's drive. I see forever summers in between their school years filled with visits to the lake, hiking and camping. But that's it. I don't want a busy life filled with extra-curricular activities and rushing around and mindlessly scrolling social media in spare moments, no chance to really look at each other and understand who we are. I want to live mindfully and fully experience it all as much as possible because in a blink it'll be over for me. They'll be growing their own children using the seeds of what I am now learning and teaching them about life.