“Why can’t I try on different lives, like dresses, to see which one fits me and is most becoming?“– Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Its raining. Then it is always raining these days. Some are comparing it to the Indian monsoon. Long and relentless. With no end in sight. While most people I know complain about it, I actually like it. Every time the clouds gather together, covering up the sun, ominously bearing down on us humans, I feel oddly thrilled. It gives me this rush of adrenaline and I want to do something reckless, stupid. Like go for a long ardous run or bike around and hit every single puddle or climb a rock, hike up a mountain. I really don’t know where its all coming from. I have never felt like this before, but then, I have never experienced rain like this before either.
The only thing I hate about the rains in Budapest are the traffic jams. The numerous random constructions do make it difficult on an ordinary day but when you throw in the rains and thunderstorm into the mix, things get really snarly. It was on one such rainy day that I saw her for the first time. I and my friends were on our way to a much needed night out. We were stuck at Andrassy road. The traffic was moving at a snail’s pace. The rain was coming down pretty hard, so hard that even with the windscreen wipers on highest setting it was difficult to see beyond the car just in front of us. We managed to crawl to the front of the traffic and the lights went red again. I had taken out a piece of cloth to wipe down the fogged up glass of the windscreen in front of me, when I saw her approach the traffic from the line of trees bordering the wide road.
I initially thought that she must be a street performer. There weren’t any pedestrians around and she wasn’t even carrying an umbrella. I started feeling bad for her because it was pouring rain and it didn’t look like she was dressed appropriately for it. No, in fact all I could see was that she was wearing a long black trench coat, tightly cinched at the waist, and… high heels? Actually, the whole ensemble looked expensive and too classy to belong to a street performer. She came and stood right in front of my car. My friends, who were chattering away cribbing about the rain and the traffic, abruptly shut their mouths. And we all watched in rapt attention.
She lifted her head and I saw her in the headlights of my car and of all the cars around us. Even with her hair plastered all around her face, she was beautiful. Her red lips a bright spot in that dreary rainy evening. She bit down on her lower lip, as if she was still undecided about what she was about to do. And all of us in the car sighed together. She glanced once in the direction of the trees on the other side of the road, smiled mischievously and looked back at us poor sods stuck in our cars. She then lifted up both her hands, folded down her fingers until only the two middle ones could be seen. Was she flipping us off? All of us burst out laughing. We couldn’t believe what was happening in front of us. This was the strangest thing I had ever seen in my life. She grinned broadly, closed her eyes, looked up at the skies, opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue. As if to say “fuck you” to the whole world and the heavens. To humans and the gods. And none of us could take our eyes off of her.
Once she was satisfied that her message was delivered, she turned and left, running slightly and carefully in her high heels, towards the same line of trees she’d looked at earlier, where now I could see a few women hunched together under a couple of umbrellas, cheering her.
I was sure every one in that traffic jam was as shocked, in fact flabbergasted as my friends were. But I? I was intrigued, enamoured, completely and utterly captivated.
Divorced. I roll around the word in my mind before I say it aloud.
“Divorced,” now I say it aloud and watch what my mouth looks like in my bathroom mirror as I say it. “Divorced,” I repeat, just to make sure that I was the one saying it, and it was my voice that I was hearing.
I am 45 years old and until yesterday, had been married for more than 20 years. I had met my husband… sorry, my ex-husband, in college. We had fallen in love for our shared love for beer and adventure sports. After a year of dating, he proposed and I didn’t even think twice before shouting my “YES” from the mountaintop we were standing on at the end of the most difficult climb we had just completed. There were no doubts in my mind that this was forever.
As soon as we graduated, we got married. Moved to the suburbs and focused on our careers and later, bringing up our children. For the most part we were doing great. The model couple. No cracks to see here. No troubles to report. We hadn’t even realized when we had drifted apart. When had the fights begun, I mean we did fight before, but we had promised each other we will never go to bed in a fight. We had even mentioned it in our vows. I still don’t know how it began. But we started sleeping on the fights. One incident became two, which multiplied, and ballooned and took up the empty space between us.
I think it was on our last camping trip that we both realized that it’s not going to work anymore. We’d cried and held each other tightly, in a last bid not to lose one another. He was and still is one of my best friends, the father of my children. We had already tried couple’s therapy and everything that comes with it to no avail. We knew that our beautiful relationship had breathed its last. It took us a long time and a lot of courage to break the news to our children who surprisingly, took it well. At least better than us. They just wanted us to be happy.
Happy. I think of this word first in my head. Then say it out aloud, “Happy”. Am I happy? Will I ever be happy? All of this starts giving me a headache and I rub my temples to alleviate some of it.
“Knock knock,” there is a not so timid knock on the door and my best friend pushes it open, not even waiting for me to ask her in.
I raise one of my eyebrows as if to say, “Really?” To which she actually replies, “Yes, really. Because you were taking too much time in here and we have to get going. The girls are waiting downstairs for you to make your grand entry into singlehood again.”
Oh yes. Did I not mention that? My dearest friends have arranged for me to celebrate the fact that my divorce was finalised yesterday. I honestly don’t want to go. Not only because I am not in a very celebrating mood but also because I am scared of what they have planned.
And with that thought and the accompanying anticipatory butterflies in my stomach which were threatening to make their appearance along with the salad I had for lunch, I step out of my bathroom, climb down the stairs to the hoots and cheers from my friends, who compliment me for my little black dress and my make-up and my hair.
“Okay, okay..I get it! You guys don’t have to do all of this to make me feel better. I am okay. And I am ready. Let’s go”, I say as I pick up my clutch from the doorside chest. The antique chest that I and my husband had picked out together. All those years ago, when we had first moved into this house. The memory hits me out of nowhere and I feel light headed. Which is of course noticed by my best friend, who has taken to watching me like a hawk these days.
“No one is doing you any favours by being here, you know that right? We all love you and would like you to kindly get the fuck out of whichever funk you are in”, she tells me in the nicest possible words. Well, nice for her.
We have a silent argument in our minds where I tell her I can’t do this and she says you fucking can and you fucking will! I roll my eyes at her for overusing the f-word. She is a kindergarten teacher, she doesn’t get to use it during the day, so she makes sure to make up for it in the evenings. Which somehow makes complete sense.
She approaches me with confidence and holds me by my shoulders and says, “My dearest best friend! Do you have any idea how awesome you are? You are an accomplished businesswoman. You inspire me every single day. And you have so much more to offer. You are only 45 years old, there is so much more of life to fuck up ahead! So let us get your hot ass out there do some shenanigans! What say ladies?” At that all our friends who were listening in start cheering again.
We share a small smile and she whispers “You got this!” And I reply, “If you say so.”
We load into my car and she puts in our first stop in the navigation. I realise that we are going to Heroes Square first. Weird. I thought we were on our way to the pub. As we make our way to the car park, she speaks, “So before we make our way to the club I thought we can have some fun. When we were younger my best friend here had a wild fantasy” And I think to myself, “Oh no”. She continues, “Once we were crossing the road in front of a huge line of stopped traffic and she said what if we stopped and flipped them off.” Everybody laughs. But I don’t because I get a distinct feeling of dread for what is going to come. “So in the interest of making this evening more memorable, she will do it today. Flip off a whole lot of people waiting for the light to turn green.” There are gasps and encouraging hoots but all I feel is “I am gonna kill her!” And as she can always read my mind, “No you won’t! You promised that you will what I ask you to do.”
“I hate you.”, I tell her categorically.
“I love you too darling.”
So that’s how I find myself, holding an umbrella in pouring rain, standing on one side of Andrassy road, mustering up the courage to walk towards my friends on the other side of the road, huddled under their umbrellas, making encouraging gestures. As I stand there, I look around myself how normal people were running to take shelter under awnings of the buildings or in nearby cafes. I was never normal was I? Adventurous. Wild. Carefree. Not the settling down type is what some used to say about me. I remember how when I had this idea of flipping off strangers stuck in traffic. How it was my best friend who had stopped me from doing this incredibly stupid thing that day! I smile a little thinking of how she’d physically held me back. And now she was standing on the other side of the road waiting for me. Fine.
The light turns red and I think to myself, “Let’s do this shit! But first… “, I abandon my umbrella. Because if you are going to do something wrong, do it the right way. And I could tell from the stunned expressions on my friends’ faces they weren’t expecting that. But they recover quickly and cheer me on. I tighten the belt of my coat, throw back my shoulders and walk across the road until I am right in the middle of it.
I look up and see only the blinding lights from the headlamps of the cars stuck in traffic, with their wipers on high. It’s raining so hard that I can’t even make out the faces of any of the people in those cars. That gives me a little more confidence and I glance at my friends, my best friend gives me a double thumbs up. I look back towards my audience, imagining what I would do if I was one of these people, stuck in traffic waiting for the lights to turn green and watching as an insane woman stands in front of them in pouring rain. That thought gives me the necessary adrenaline rush. I bite my lower lip and smirk. I lift up my hands, fingers up, fold down each of them until only the middle ones were showing. Yes! For a second I am not even there, the sense of freedom that I feel is unparalleled. I look up to the sky, feel the rain falling on my face. I grin as I feel alive, present, in the moment. I look up at the skies and stick out my tongue as I taste the sweetness of liberation.
When I come back to myself, I can hear that people at the back have started honking, which means its time to go. So I quickly gather myself and jog slightly towards my friends who are cheering loudly, my best friend whistling with her fingers in her mouth.
And I? I can’t stop smiling. And it’s not because I am finally free of an unhappy marriage. No. I was happy in my marriage. It gave me my ex-husband, who was the most loving and supporting partner a woman could ask for, my two beautiful children, who are a reflection of our relationship. It’s because I can see a life beyond this time. Just because I was married and now I am divorced doesn’t mean that my life will stop. That time will stop. It will go on. I will grow older, I will have more experiences, I will see more of the world, learn new things. It’s because I have realized now that I wasn’t defined by my marriage, I wasn’t defined for being a mother. And now I won’t let myself be defined for being a divorcee. Seriously, fuck the labels. Oh It feels good to be back!