Unlike my grandmother who personified the archetypal transition from Motherhood to Cronedom at menopause, her daughter, my mother, was a Queen long before her time. Her story is quite a common one now, shared by many millions of women, but in the early 1950’s, she was a lonely pioneer when she sought a divorce at the age of forty-five.
My mother did not get divorced for reasons of adultery or cruelty or even irreconcilable differences, not that her marriage wasn’t severely flawed. But her desire to separate actually had little to do with her husband, my father. When that momentous day came, her radical decision was really about her sudden, urgent and undeniable drive to make her way in the world on her own.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight
in bud became more painful than the risk to bloom.
– Anais Nin
Like so many women of her generation, she had graduated directly from her mother’s extended household to her own nuclear family, and had no experience of living alone. So, one morning, she simply woke up knowing in her bones that this life that she had not so much chosen, but fallen into, nearly two decades before was no longer — if it ever was — good for her.
After nineteen years of homemaking, she was suddenly thrown back into the job market with two kids to raise, no alimony, minuscule child support and pitifully archaic office skills. As if the situation wasn’t challenging enough, she had to endure a fall from suburban grace, the censure and not-so-subtle stigma of being a divorcée. What she did have going for her, however, was a mighty determination for a second chance at life — this time on her own terms, thank you very much.
After a few years of acting out of fear, foundering, failing and starting again from scratch, searching for and finding herself (during which time she miraculously kept us all afloat), my mother finally cast her lot with a start-up land development company in desperate need of her considerable Virgoean organizational skills. By the time she reached her early fifties, she had worked (and I mean worked) her way into a vice-presidency of the corporation. The only woman executive, she had a huge budget and hundreds of people in her charge, not the least of whom was herself. She cast herself as a Joan Crawford-Barbara Stanwick-Rosalyn Russell character — a scrappy, independent, smart-as-hell, chic-suited career woman with shoulder pads and an entirely black and white wardrobe — the star of her own version of a 1940’s film.
It was only when I was about half finished writing The Queen of My Self that I realized that my mother, Adelaide Trugman, was the Queen incarnate, my own personal archetypal role model. How fortunate I was to have witnessed the process — the struggle, the strain and the joy — of my mother’s midlife transformation from a suffering and subservient wife and unfulfilled PTA mom into a Queen who refused to be invisible, spoke her own mind with authority and demanded to be heard.
The pride and pleasure she derived from her achievements was electrifying, animating her energy and coloring her cheeks with a contagious royal flush. She moved through the world now with confidence in her abilities, and a completely new charisma. With no one to answer to, she was free to pursue her greatest pleasures, long denied. She sold the house and got and decorated the apartment of her dreams. She traveled, took painting and ceramics classes, went to lectures, plays, concerts, and played cards with her friends, the “girls.” She even bought herself a mink coat, a particularly satisfying accomplishment, since in her day, in her crowd, the husband paid for the furs.
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