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The Ability to Change

March 31, 2011

This person does not look like Janice.

Though she doesn’t like to admit it, Janice is 88 years old.  She has had a colorful, old world sort of life.  Though she was born and raised in Miami, Florida, when she was little, she travelled frequently to Paris with her older brother and younger sister.  On one of these trips, when Janice was quite young, her little sister caught pneumonia and quietly passed away.  Her family never talked about it.Still, Janice grew up in a land of yacht clubs and perpetual tans.  At the proper age, she went to Duke University, and there met the man who would she would marry.  She wanted to attend school not for the Mrs. degree, but rather to become an independent woman.  She wrote a column for the newspaper in her twenties, and started her own travel agency.  She also married the tall, quiet and handsome ex-Navy man, also a Duke graduate, and moved back to Florida.

Janice gave birth to three children, a boy and two girls.  She named her littlest girl after her dead sister.   Her husband was an attorney.  They both chaired and donated to many causes, including museums and clubs.  Old newspaper clippings from the 1950s and 1960s depict them both in black tie regalia, honored, feted and important members of the Fort Lauderdale community. The children were raised by a no-nonsense black woman who served as the cook and housekeeper and babysitter all in one, who loved her soaps and would shoe the children out of the kitchen if they were underfoot.

Children always wore shoes to the dinner table and drank from silver goblets.  Emotions were not appropriate to bring to the dinner table anymore than the little lizards that roamed the garden were.

The children all grew up and moved away.  The eldest boy married his high school sweetheart when he got her pregnant, and divorced her a few years later.  He became an attorney like his dad, lost his license and was arrested for practicing law without that license.  He and his second wife then stole credit card numbers from Janice and her husband, or the sisters, when they could.  The middle girl became a high powered DC politico, getting women to go out and vote.  She wore all black, was anorexic and bi-polar, and married a man that was much like her father, someone who was quiet and allowed her to wear the pants in the relationship.  The youngest girl, named for the little dead sister, moved to Boston, got a degree in social work, met an attorney herself, and had three children.  She had her midlife crisis a few years early and decided that she needed to find herself by divorcing her bewildered husband.  She found someone she truly loved again ten years later.

Janice grew older.  Her hair which had always been long past her hips now needed to be colored before it was twined into its customary beehive, her make up jobs became more spotty.  Her husband began to grow even thinner.  Her children rarely came back to visit, and when they did, the family rattled and argued in the home like passive aggressive strangers.  Janice’s husband began to lose his memory.  He mumbled and forgot names.  He grew weak.

He died.  At the funeral, the children spent more time bickering about the inclusion of the eldest son and his pickpocketing ways than remembering their father.  Janice still couldn’t connect with them, and so she complained loudly about her aches and pains, hoping to garner sympathy.  She received little.

After that, Janice felt her age.  She fell down one time, breaking her knee.  She needed a walker, a cane, someone to help her make her weekly hair appointment to maintain the illusion of that beehive without a strand out of place.  Her children had all left her.  So she hired a man to help her.

John had a colorful history of his own, involving orphanages and running from mobsters in Las Vegas, an Austrian wife and car garage business run out of his old backyard.  He began to help Janice with her needs.  At first the help was physical.  Then it became emotional.  Janice complained about her children.  And instead of agreeing with her, John told her that their response to her was her own fault.  No one had ever told Janice, in her whole life, that anything was her fault.

She told him to leave.  He refused.  She stewed.  She bemoaned that none of her children ever hugged her.  And he told her it was her fault.

She told him to leave.  He refused.  She stewed.  And she admitted that maybe it was a tiny bit her fault, her coldness, her inability to deal with emotions, transferred to them.  They celebrated that night with cheap wine, this discovery of blame and of self understanding.  Janice began to try to reach out to her children.  Instead of calling them to complain, she asked how they were.  She said to them ‘I love you,’ over the phone.  And after a shocked silence on the other line, they usually said it back to her.

Janice is now 88 years old.  She has developed a better insight into who she is in the past two years than the rest of her life put together.  She is changing herself, learning how to admit that emotions exist, that feelings can be valid, that wanting is not weak.  She is examining her inner life for the first time in her entire existence.  She is doing all this in the twilight of her years because she does not want to die with a bad relationship with her children.

I am 22 years old.  I am a fourth of Janice’s age; and already I run into people who tell me I can’t change.  That they can’t change, that people can’t change!  How everyone is is also how everyone will be.

I’m not sure, but I think Janice would disagree with them.

Reach out for connection.  It is never too late.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 6, 2015 5:08 AM

    I can’t get over how eloquent your writing is. Seriously! Keep it up.

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