Nobody tells you that you will have to start again one day. That’s one big fat dirty secret everyone older than you seems to keep to themselves.
Standing invisible, looking around at the typical shopper in Tescos in Shoreham on a Saturday afternoon, you would hardly imagine that the 50% of them or so, quite obviously in the right age group, are feeling the pangs of whatever this is. Adding to your sense of isolation, you can’t really believe that they are all currently starting again too.
There are various reasons why you might find yourself starting again. If you were bereaved, it’s not grief any more, because that’s somewhat passed now, thank heavens. It’s what comes after. If you are an empty nester, it’s not loneliness any more, because you are used to your own company, even quite glad of the respite from people who you grew inside you but then who took over your whole life for a time.
If we could name it, this unwelcome need to start again, perhaps it might become easier to deal with.
Is it existential angst? What is that, anyway? Most of those milling about the long rows of discounted fish & chicken, sophisticated sounding ready meals and frozen pizza haven’t heard of that and if you don’t know what something is called, can you still feel the feelings?
Even having escaped from Tesco’s, through the MacDonalds flavoured atrium to the Marks & Spencers food hall, nobody there seems to be navel gazing while putting marinated salmon, chocolate molton pudding and packets of pre-trimmed brussel sprouts in their basket, all part of their “Dinner For Two For Under £10”
Ah, perhaps that’s it. If you are buying an M&S “Dinner For Two” perhaps you are not in the place yet to be feeling it. Whatever it is. Unless some of them are just pretending to be a couple and intend to eat and drink the whole lot yourself, home alone tonight. If that’s your plan, then you are most certainly feeling it.
The “it” to which I refer is of course the hollow centre of the middle age crisis, the not so newly bereaved, or the empty nester, where the people who filled up your life and made sure you had no time for reflection of this very self indulgent kind are suddenly gone, very gone, very gone indeed, leaving a big fat black hole blazing in your core.
The kind of black hole that sucks the light in, devours all energy, the kind that leaves you feeling like a Russian Doll, with layers and layers of personality and preferences and oft declared likes and dislikes, all the things that go towards making you….well… uniquely and publically you. A russian doll with an empty centre.
Layers that have been caked on over the years from when you are in your teens and you had to declare Marc Bolan or Pink Floyd, Queen or Stevie Wonder, Harley Davidson or Fiorucci, boys or girls (or the opposite), Lord of the Rings or Discworld, The Fountain or the Thieves Kitchen, Star Trek or Star Wars, Young Conservative or anti Poll Tax, off to university, into work or perhaps a “vocational” apprenticeship.
No, as you sit there, sipping your cappuccino, pulling your cheese scone apart slowly, you realise that you are stringing it out for as long as possible because you have nowhere special to be today. You are “having coffee” because you’ve picked up along the way that this is something people do to enjoy themselves.
Wondering what is the exact right moment to go; when you have lingered enough and it’s time to vacate the table to the constantly churning, ostensibly free from navel gazing tide of humanity flowing through Holmbush Shopping Centre.
Perhaps it’s time to go at the very moment when you can no longer bear the the sight of the zombie octogenarian shuffle of your not too distant future.
Surely these thoughts alone mean it’s time to download Tinder on your smartphone like your kids lovingly challenged you to do and start swiping left. There might be a handsome divorcee or widower with a similar sense of adventure somewhere in the Food Hall with a recently installed app of his own?
No, it’s a red herring, being single, that’s not the problem. There’s no strong hormonal drive to mate again, if you do it will be for friendship and company, someone to watch Britain’s Got Talent and Vera with. You know from your younger, also single sister, that those on dating apps are usually looking for younger models, anyone looking for someone in your age group will be doing that zombie shuffle already!
The real problem is the hollow space within your russian doll, the lack of a sense of self, the wondering who you actually are, right now. You know instinctively without that, there is no point in window shopping for a new mate, you need to know who the new you is first, or how can you hope to find a match?
When you are born you are just a little bundle of potential, slightly pre-disposed towards certain character traits perhaps, but you were not set in stone, not buried in concrete like a two bit hoodlum in a gangster movie.
You had to spend the next twenty years or so accumulating yourself slowly into a persona that you could live with, one that hopefully someone else will be able to live with too. A persona that you think is going to last for ever, this is it, hard wired, hard baked, the leopard that cannot change it’s spots. Offering both reassurance and protection, once formed, everyone knows you, you know yourself, you have made peace with the outer dollies.
Except that somewhere in your fifties, earlier for some unlucky souls, you run up against this invisible brick wall, where, in the rude and unexpected collision, all your exterior layers are cracked and broken, splintered away, knocked off. Now you are exposed, shivering, blinking in the spotlights of the crash wondering who or what was really supposed to be in that core inside you all that time.
You’ve been pulled up short, stopped in your tracks, corralled into a sheepdip run where you are forced to examine who you are and re-appraise yourself.
Waiting with baited breath for your own verdict. To see if you are going to be worth anything, worth hanging onto, if you are going to be find a chance of a second life or if you have just been taking up wasted space and bubble wrap in the attic or hallway.
How do you find out who you are, this time around? How do you start again to assemble a life worth living for the next 20 years or so? How do you start rebuilding the russian doll and decorating her outside again?
Perhaps, if you are fortunate enough financially, you can take yourself off to foreign parts to try new pastimes, make new friends, soak up the healing sunshine which may help you bake another you.
Or you could go back to a time when you were young and try and remember who you wanted to be, before the irresistible pull of hormones made sure you didn’t escape the urge to mate, to procreate and fill up your home with people, animals and possessions.
Doing something vaguely unsuitable (according to your peers) seems to work for some, taking a younger lover, selling everything and travelling the world with a backpack spending the kids’ inheritance.
Or perhaps you’ll turn to painting, writing, singing or making music in an effort to be heard and seen again, to stop in it’s tracks that disappearing feeling especially prevalent whenever younger people are going by.
The urge to stand in the middle of the road and shout loudly “Look at me, I used to BE SOMEBODY” must be resisted because really, who did you used to be and why can’t you find her again?
“It’s so unfair!”
O no, the thought of going to back to who you were before adulthood, brings the stampy foot of the “rebellious child” part of your ego. She should have been seen off years ago by the responsible adult we are all supposed to grow into, but she’s been waiting in the wings, knowing her turn will come again.
The rebellious child brings back in a rush memories of early teenage years and one particular incident when a much loved but undeniably odiforous duffle coat was burned to make the wearing of the new one non-negotiable.
The days when you shouted at hapless parents “Why are you DOING this to me? I didn’t ASK to be born!” before stomping off to Grandma’s for Shippams Paste sandwiches and fresh picked raspberries, before lying moodily on her living room floor listening endlessly to The Singing Nun, Johnny Mathis and Glen Campbell albums.
“Nobody said life was easy” sang Coldplay “Nobody said it was fair” and they just about had it right, there is life summed up in just that one simple sentence.
So you pick yourself up, brush off the cheese scone crumbs and go home to The Voice and Casualty , trying heroically not to eat both parts of your M&S “Meal For Two” so you can leave space for the new you to slowly grow inside.