Last week, among other things, I bought a banana. A single, slightly green, semi-smallish banana. Which should have been the end of it, really. But, instead, the banana took on a new life, morphed into a symbolic powerhouse, as I stood there in the produce section of the good old supersized supermarket.
The second the banana hit the cart, it hit me that it represented everything my life is becoming – mid-divorce after 30 years of marriage, there is no potassium-seeking husband back at the ranch. Mid-empty nest after 26 years of motherhood, there’s only one of three sons left at home and he is more out than in as a busy high school senior. The truth – the awful truth that was pointing its yellow finger at me as other shoppers milled past – was that life as I had known it was coming to an end.
There was a time when a big bunch of bananas was standard operating procedure, plus enough other food to fill a cart and a minivan. Now, son number three might eat that banana or he might not, and I’m not a fan. There are weeks where bananas malinger to past the spotty stage and end up in the trash, which was why I was taking a chance on only one.
Gazing down at the cart, I saw other evidence of the shifting sands – a quart-sized milk, toilet paper four-pack, half a pound of deli turkey. Egads! I was becoming every downsized, downcast, diminished, doddering, lonely, cat-loving old woman I had ever regarded with a mixture of pity and superiority as I wheeled my bulging buggy by.
What to do? Well, I thought of putting that damned solo banana back and choosing a hearty quintet instead. I wasn’t prepared in that awful moment to face any stares from cute, young mothers or face the music of what it all meant. I only wanted to lull myself back into denial and be able to hold my head high at the checkout counter. Cats? Ha! I had two “family” dogs at home!
Of course, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle as easily as you can ditch a banana. The music gets louder when you turn your back on it. Over the last week, it has been deafening. Everything has been reality, reality, reality – the miniature load of laundry mocking me and my large capacity washer, for instance. The single place setting at the table when my son is away for the evening. The quiet that gets into your bones even when the TV is on.
There have been mighty tears this week. Tears for the broken marriage, tears for my little boys now replaced by men, tears for the past – so full and robust and engaging. The past with a purpose has been squared up against a future that seems frail and spare.
In between wondering if I might be able to adopt some little banana-eating children at age 58, I’ve been struggling with a lot of uncomfortable feelings. My mind knows I did everything I could to save my marriage. My mind knows how great it is that my sons are all turning into wonderful adults. My heart, however, is still trying to catch up. My heart still feels pretty bad.
So, it all seems to come down to purpose, as I peel back the layers of this banana reaction. Raising a family with my husband gave me a purpose – one that felt high and worthy and meaningful – a satisfactory purpose. What’s going to top growing three 200-pound men out of eggs?
I wish I could wrap this musing up in a neat bow with an answer, an “aha” that makes everything all right. But, for now, I must settle for disquiet, more snuffling tears and curiosity, curiosity about what is next, what will make life zing, what will make getting out of bed feel undeniably important.
I am going to buy one banana again this week. Just the one and to heck with it because that is all we really need. I’m going to focus on what a nice, light load I have minus two dozen eggs and 20 rolls of toilet paper and the jumbo laundry detergent. There’s the plus I’ll savor as I throw a couple of bags into my sweet little two-seat convertible. And, if anyone seems to stare at me with a pitying, poopy look, I’m going to simply ignore it. They don’t know what I know: I’m building a new life – one banana at a time.