Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Am I an adult yet?

I remember asking myself that question after I graduated college. I got my first job and lived in my own apartment. By all accounts, I had assumed the life of a responsible adult. But I didn’t feel like an adult. I asked my friends, "Are we adults yet?" and "Is this what being an adult feels like?"

I am here to report, that the moment when I truly felt like an adult – was not when I turned 21, 30 or 35, 40 or 50, not when I got married, bought a house, not even when I had children. In the eyes of the world I was an adult, but those things felt rather more like life pulling me along the passages of... life.

I finally felt like an adult when I got a divorce.

That was two years ago. Now, at 57, I can honestly say, yes, I feel like an adult. It was the divorce. Making a serious decision invoking the law, taking responsibility for my life and my past. Something about paying lawyers and going before a judge to get my freedom back.

My divorce was a defining moment in my life in more ways than one. It was not only regaining my freedom, but it was the most adult and scary thing I had ever done.

What about you? When did you feel like an adult?

1 comment:

randyvt said...

Nice post. We're all different, yet we all arrive at enlightenment after paying attention to some moment. I remember the moment I felt I became an adult. I was a graduate student in 1976. I had married a divorced woman with two young children and bought a house. It seemed I was fully engaged, clutch out, moving ahead in life.

But, there was an event. A seminal moment.

My dad was an alcoholic. He and I parted ways sometime during high school for a variety of unpleasant reasons, not germane to this post. He had left my mother and our family through a path fraught with bankruptcy and the DTs.

He was trying to survive in the area I had attended high school, northeastern suburban New Jersey. He'd lost his job (again), and we'd gotten a telephone call from the Bergen County public hospital that he'd been admitted and was not in good shape. I drove from my home in Vermont to see him. When I entered his hospital room, a wave of shock swept over me. Here was the man I'd grown up calling "Dad" and loving, despite his flaws. Yet at that moment, he looked more like someone from the pages of National Geographic who was suffering from malnutrition and was about to die. Distended abdomen, a variety of attached tubes, oxygen mask, gaunt face, pale, lost tens of pounds since the last time I'd seen him . . . how many months ago was that?

He seemed glad to see me and we exchanged pleasantries. After only 10-15 minutes, he stopped in mid-sentence and asked, "Say, will you do me a favor?"

"Of course Dad, what?"

"Go down to the cafeteria store and get me a pack of cigarettes."

My previous shock left and a new feeling of remorse and confusion permeated me from fingertips to toes. I hated his smoking. I left the room and sought counsel from the nurse on duty. She explained that absolutely not, he could not smoke, not with an oxygen mask on, not in the hospital room, and not anywhere he could move to, because he was so weak he could not stand or walk.

I returned to the room. He was shocked I did not have the requested cigarettes and matches in hand as demanded. I apologized but explained the nurse and his conditions prohibited it.

He would have none of that. He started screaming (as best someone in his weakened condition could) about what a disrespectful son I'd always been, how I never did anything he asked, and why did I come to see him anyway! The nurse came in the room to calm his anger, I left the room.

I drove back to Vermont, watching the road through recurring tears.

Two days later the attending doctor called my mother's home in Vermont to tell us he'd died. She could not talk with the doctor and the telephone came to my hand. He explained the shock of a operating room procedure on my dad's weak body had likely caused a heart attack, from which they were unable to resuscitate him. He wanted an authorization for an autopsy. He explained that a telegram (those were the days) would suffice.

I hung up the telephone, fetched the directory and called Western Union. I dictated the proscribed sentence, informed the operator of the destination address, and signed my mother's name.

That was it. Done. Chapter closed. I was now an adult. Cut loose from the burden of an alcoholic, abusive father, but deeply saddened by the first of what has continued to a series of events that punctuate one's life with sorrow. Thank goodness for the joyful moments that also arrive in life.

Love the one you're with. It'll get you through the night, and the sorrow.