This is a story of my soon-to-be-published collection of short stories. I would really like to know what you think, whether it’s drivel or you think I should continue with publishing this. I am thinking of leaving this particular story out, as it’s not action oriented and consists of internal dialogue of the protagonist, Adrienne.
Sixty. Adrienne’s awareness gently nipped at the word while she sat on a stool at her breakfast bar, overlooking the valley from her second story kitchen window. She noticed Gallagher’s Canyon in the distance, hardly visible, falling snow obscuring the valley from her view with a delicate, sheer curtain. Could this milestone mean that she had passed through two thirds of her life, or was that view too optimistic? She rather effortlessly had moved into her fiftieth year and on from there, not noticing a lot of difference from one decade to the next. Up to now: this year was different. She felt the pressure of time, the weight of all those accumulated years bearing down on her. Some people around her had died and others had become ill with chronic pain and physical limitations. Her neighbour had moved into a condo, as she was unable to physically undertake the yard work after two heart attacks.
Adrienne looked at Eckhart Tolle’s work Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose in front of her on the breakfast bar, unread. A friend had gifted it to her for her last birthday, together with Tolle’s volume The Power of Now—apparently highly recommended by the queen of daytime TV. Adrienne had not found enlightenment in Now. She had read all of it, thinking that it all was so self-evident what Tolle wrote; he just formulated it in new age language. Yet, some considered him a prophet of our times. She could not work up enough of an appetite for another volume of the same, although her Calvinistic upbringing had instilled a strident work ethic: that all work must be finished. Working through the book might effectively spoil her love of reading. Adrienne left her breakfast bar, finished with her brown toast and poached eggs, and took her coffee mug with her to the living room.
She spread out on the couch for a leisurely read of the newspaper, one of the delights of a Sunday morning at home. Her mind strayed: if she still had been with Alex, they would have gone skiing, a perfect remedy for the winter blues. The physical exertion of skiing would produce endorphins, the feel good hormones, and daylight exposure would activate production of seratonin, the sleep-wake cycle regulator, allowing for the combined benefits of fun and a healthy sleep afterwards. The adrenaline rush from the thrill of swishing fast down steep hills in the quiet, snow-white fairy tale forest would be an extra bonus, heightening their sense of being alive. She missed skiing, missed Alex.
Although it had been more than six months since their break-up, Adrienne acknowledged that her feeling of desertion was now stronger than it had been in previous months. She did not quite understand why that would be so on this particular morning. She got up and refilled her coffee mug. Yesterday she had felt a pang of envy that constricted her thinking for a few moments, when her friend Annie told her that their mutual friend, Beatrice, had gotten engaged. She had to force herself to be kind and optimistic in her response to Annie. Although she wished she had found new love, not Beatrice, Adrienne realized at the same time that she might not have much appetite for the difficult process of finding someone, for engaging in another relationship with all of its flaws, even if she did find someone compatible. She had not yet been willing to meet new Internet dates after the last fiasco with Alex. In the end, she had been unable to make the compromises needed for maintaining that relationship.
In her early thirties, Adrienne had come to Canada as an immigrant, joining her boyfriend under the official category of family reunion. She was then an independent and creative young woman with a master’s degree in fine arts, leaving a well-paid social work position behind when she joined her Canadian lover, Bert. After seventeen years of marriage, with one child, an undergraduate degree in social work, and several employers later, the marriage broke down. Their daughter had just turned sixteen. She had to get used to being single again. Alex had become Adrienne’s first lover three years after her divorce; the relationship lasted four and half years. Would she ever meet somebody who could adapt to her and she in turn to him?
Adrienne was well aware of the limited capacity for change in the elderly, but had never seen herself as part of that group yet. She had to admit that her strong personality and her resistance to slipping into somebody else’s idea of a life mate might have become added barriers, facts she was well aware of. She had always believed that some day she would write a novel, after she had gathered something to write about. She considered whether that moment had arrived, whether any material swirling around in her head would be suitable for publishing.
She spoke with an audible accent, was obviously a foreigner. “Hey Adrienne, I hear some sort of an accent; where’re you from?” “I am originally from the Netherlands.” The next question invariable would be: “How long have you been here,” in conversations with others, and her explanations would follow of how she came to be in life where she was, the extent and depth of the conversation depending on how much she wanted to share with that particular person, their type of relationship, and her own level of patience. Putting her thoughts on paper seemed to come more naturally to her, although at first not in her second language. She had needed to make adjustments, had taken additional English courses, and had achieved a better feel for the idiom. In spite of the extra difficulties so many immigrants face, she had pushed ahead and became a decent English writer. She particularly enjoyed that element of creative writing in her work as a social worker.
Her improving skills had been very useful, among other places in court, where she had become adept at presenting tightly written and concise reports to the presiding judge, proving the unavoidability of keeping a child from her parents to prevent further harm to that child. She had earned the respect of the courts and of her colleagues, in part due to her ease and confident presentations in court that was supported by her written submissions. Weighing the last years’ events and assessing where she had put her energies and her emotional attachments, she concluded she was left empty-handed.
Adrienne and her small family had moved to different cities and provinces and finally settled in the Okanagan Valley, which had an international airport: a requirement, as her ex-husband had worked overseas. Her parents, siblings and old friends lived back home in the Netherlands, so she made trips to see them every two, three years. After the divorce, she had bought a smaller home in the city of Kelowna and had renovated it to her liking. Adrienne’s only child had spread her wings and was on her way of making it in the world. Chelsea had no need for a babysitting grandmother for her children yet—she had none.
Adrienne’s parents had died in their own home, with close relatives at their bedside to support them to their death, not a particularly common occurrence in her adopted country, where care homes and hospices often took over that function from the family members. However imperfect and unimaginative, it frees up their mobile, adult children, to follow their own path, parachuting in for occasional visits with their parents, until death came. Adrienne had friends who were grappling with that same issue, trying to decide to have their parent move in with them, or look for a care home. Some day, she might be on the receiving end of her daughter’s decision. Adrienne contemplated whether Chelsea would feel enough of an attachment and have a real opportunity to execute her promise when the moment would have arrived: ”Of course you come and live with me, mom! I would never let you go to a care home. I’ll look after you myself.”
Impatiently, Adrienne put aside the newspaper, not able to concentrate on it. Instead, she focused on the discovery of new strategies for making sure she was staying healthy and content. She had found yoga already, a great stress reliever; it kept her flexible. She had observed that about half of her classes consisted of women her age, while the rest were younger women, with the odd male as the companion of one of the women. Wherever she went, she saw a good deal of aging baby boomers, even at the last blues concert she had attended recently. She then understood that her generation still dominated society, with money to burn and a lot more time to spend–at least for a few decades longer.
Adrienne realized that she needed to make the last third of her life meaningful and satisfying in new ways. Her work would end in a few years with her retirement. Granted, she might have to work a few extra years to make up for lack of funds, but nevertheless, her job was going to end. Today, writing would be a good replacement for reading Elkhart Tolle’s book, lying on the bar in front of her. For the unavoidable days without scheduled activities, writing would keep her mind active, would provide an intellectual home. Adrienne could no longer find obstacles substantive enough to postpone putting her long held desire into concrete action.
She went into her home office and rummaged around, found a writing pad and refilled her silver Parker fountain pen—a gift from her ex–and returned to her stool at the breakfast bar with the view over the valley: her crow’s nest. From the safe harbour of her home, she would write what she had observed and heard on her journey through life. It would be a bonus, if her book were successful, entertained others, offered some solace, or inspired others by reading about her adventures and the healing propensities of time passing. Adrienne started writing a list of ideas she wanted to use and thought about a premise for the overall book. She then drafted a structure of chapters, that same morning. She took a new blank page and wrote: Chapter 1. Her instructor’s voice permeated her awareness and she almost could hear her say: “First, make the reader care…”