A Curious Case, like Benjamin Button - 07/20/2020
One of my favorite movies is "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," the 2008 film which starred Brad Pitt as a man who is born old and gets progressively younger throughout his life, until he becomes a baby again and dies. A theme of the movie is the love story between Benjamin and a ballet dancer, Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett, and how they "meet in the middle" when they become about the same age. As they are looking at themselves in the mirror in her dance studio, Benjamin comments, "I was just thinking that nothing stays the same, and what a shame that is." This quote gets me in the heart every time I think about it. Because, of course nothing stays the same; everything changes, especially relationships. Even ones that aren't challenged with the couple moving in different directions.
I often feel like I am a female Benjamin Button. When I was a young girl, I was very serious and studious, and liked to talk to adults more than children. I was often told that I "talked old." I read serious books like Wuthering Heights in the seventh grade, and dreamed that I must have been kidnapped from my "real family," because I was so different from my siblilngs, who often made fun of me. When I reached high school, I was suddenly the focus of a lot of attention from boys, because I had developed a very womanly figure at an early age. It made me nervous, and only a few months into my freshman year I started dating the boy who would become my first husband. We dated for six years before we got married, and although I often thought about breaking up with him, comments from my parents that we were "like an old married couple" and "meant for each other" always convinced me to stay with him. I only went out on dates with three other boys throughout high school. I remember on my wedding night, at age 20, looking out of my hotel room window in LA, on our way to Hawaii, while my new husband slept, and thinking, "Is this really all there is?" I felt like my life was over.
Over the next few years, my life changed dramatically as I graduated from college and went to work in sales in the brand-new computer industry. Suddenly I was earning good money, and no longer shy about presenting to customers. I learned I had power beyond my looks, and that if I used my brain I could excel in my career. My husband was threatened by my success, and when I was asked to move to Birmingham from our home town of Huntsville, Alabama, to go to work for AT&T, he recruited his boss and our friends to lobby against the move. But when I told them how much money I'd be making at AT&T (the starting salary was twice what my base was at my job in Huntsville), his boss said, "Son, it sounds like you should just move." But the move ruined our marriage. He was floundering, moving from insurance sales to Amway and getting caught up in that cult-like group that told him his wife should be staying at home and he should be the breadwinner. After two years of fighting with him, I finally gave up on the marriage. And felt at least 100 years old.
Newly single, and clueless about how to meet people in the days before online dating, I threw myself into church activities. I tried to be a good girl and make up for the fact that I was divorced at only 24 years old. I'd been raised in a family of liberal Methodists who didn't attend church regularly, but I revised my beliefs and joined a conservative Southern Baptist Church to fit in with my friends and co-workers in Birmingham. I began dating a "preacher's kid," who I married impulsively after a year of dating, primarily because I didn't know how to live on my own. I missed being married and not having to deal with the pressure of meeting men and choosing who to date and how serious to get. I was absorbed in my career and I wanted a husband; everything would be so much easier. But once again, immediately after the wedding, I found myself thinking I had made a terrible mistake. It took four years of marriage for my second husband to agree with me. So I was a two-time loser at marriage at only 32.
I went to the Owen School of Management, Vanderbilt's prestigious business school, from age 32 to 34. Many of my friends got their MBAs in their mid-twenties. I was old to be getting my degree, but it opened doors for me at my employer. I dated quite a bit through the first half of my 30s, making up for all the dating I didn't do in high school, before meeting the man I expected to spend the rest of my life with at age 35. I had a 17-year relationship with my third husband, but our marriage broke down due to my early retirement which was necessitated by my Lupus diagnosis when I was 42. Single again, I moved to LA to start a new career as an actress,again something that most people do when they are in their 20s. I worked as an actress from age 42 to 58, before moving to Tucson to retire. And what am I doing now? Driving a delivery job for DoorDash. Most of my fellow drivers are far younger, although there are a few retirees like me who are either bored, broke, sick, or some combination of all three, like me. The job is easy and the hours are flexible, and the money is surprisingly good.
In the movie, Benjamin travels the world as he becomes younger. I traveled extensively around the US and the world until I moved to LA. My goal is to move to South America to teach English. I have been studying Spanish for a year now, rarely missing a day of lessons on my smart phone. There is an immersion school in Ecuador that I'd love to attend for a month, to see how I like it and how good my Spanish really is. I'm only 62, and my health isn't terrible, as long as I don't work too many hours or get too stressed. But in these COVID times, I can't begin to think of planning a month-long trip to South America. Ecuador isn't even admitting Americans right now, like most of the rest of the world. The Pandemic has made many of us put our dreams and plans on hold.
I don't think I'm done with my Benjamin Button life yet. Going to live overseas sounds about right for my last career move. I think I may be done with dating and romance; my heart just isn't in it, and I definitely don't want to get married again. I've learned to love the freedom of the single life. Like Janet Jackson sang, "I've got my own life, gonna make my own decisions....I wanna be the one who's in control." And I'm going to get a new dog, just like I would if I were a kid again. The best relationships I've ever had were with my dogs, and they lasted until death parted us, unlike my marriages. It's tough dealing with relationships when nothing stays the same. In the end, Benjamine went back to Daisy, who cared for him as he got younger and younger. I think I'll just go to Ecuador and live out my life teaching young people, who make me feel younger than I ever have. I think Benjamin would approve.
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