I was recovering from the break-up of a 15-year marriage when a friend fixed me up with Charles. It felt strange to date again after so many years, but I was immediately attracted to this 6-foot-1 bearded teddy bear. After our first couple of dates, we couldn’t stay apart. It was time for my close friends to meet him.
Before going to my girlfriend’s house for the big reveal, Charles and I had dinner together at a local ice cream parlor. As we ate our burgers and fries, my anxiety escalated. How would my friends react? They’d like Charles, he was funny, smart, charming and disarming, but my ex had been a part of their lives since childhood. Now, like replacing a cushy corduroy recliner with a sleek gray leather sofa, I was altering the chemistry of our group.
The waitress handed us dessert menus, as I confided to Charles, “I’m really nervous. This is so weird. I’ve known these people through their friendships with my ex. They’ll like you, but will they accept you into the group?”
Contemplating the merits of a brownie sundae versus fudge covered profiteroles, Charles paused and looked up from his menu. I held my breath, hoping for a whiff of wisdom — or an “it will be all right, I’ll help you through this.”
Instead, I got, “What’s your favorite flavor of ice-cream?”
During our 28 years together, he has not changed. Like a lot of our male contemporaries, Charles still scurries from scary. He dilutes drama with a “no big deal.” When my parents died, while sympathetic, he reminded me, “every person on earth has to survive the loss of a parent.” Another time after a dinner party, when I regretted an inadvertent insult, he countered, “too late now.”
I, on the other hand, become intimate with angst. I jump into its arms and together we “what if,” analyze, obsess, process and emote. If angst becomes too domineering or controlling, I end our relationship with education, confrontation, medication or meditation.
Now, however, my angst has ballooned into terror.
In a couple of weeks, I’m having surgery to reverse a colostomy and remove its accompanying hernia. I have phenomenal doctors and I’m looking forward to resuming a pouch-free life. Nevertheless, at times, the terror is traumatizing — no match for my usual arsenal of tricks.
So, out of desperation, I’ve packed up my fears and moved into my husband’s world of distraction and denial. It’s where I need to live for now, an antidote for emotional poison.
I’ve over scheduled, over planned and overstimulated. In addition to philanthropic commitments, writing and family, I’m learning Hebrew and committed to becoming a B’nai Mitzvah. I’ve planned a family trip to Disney World and hired a developer to create a new website. I’ve downloaded dozens of movies and scores of books. I’ve offered to host all family birthdays and holidays through the end of the year. I socialize and discuss everything — but that which is vying for control of my thoughts.
And, it is helping.
Until now, I thought Charles’ way of approaching stress was cheating, a copout. But, I’ve learned, sometimes it’s easier to lose myself in an episode of “The Crown” than focus on fighting the fear. And I still have my other strategies. I walk on the treadmill, ride the recumbent, put in my earbuds for 10 minutes of Headspace and ingest an occasional relaxer. I’m OK.
Charles assures me the surgery will be “no big deal.” When it’s over, and I’m allowed to eat nuts, I’ll have a bowl of my favorite ice cream — butter pecan.
Laura Black (laurablack.net) is working on her second book, “The Weight of a Woman: A Memoir of Pounds, Power, Pressures and Purpose.”