The Girl in the Window
This is not an attempt to take advantage of all the “Girl in the…” books. It’s actually a situation I’m faced with on a nightly basis.
I have had this unusual experience in my life that all my homes and apartments have been literally a stone’s throw away from somewhere I lived in my twenties.
My first apartment was on a street called Doheny Drive in LA. Then the first home I bought with my first husband was just up the hill from there, also on Doheny. I can go through a list of these habitat coincidences but it would take up an entire blog. Suffice to say I always end up back in the same spots.
So, forty years later I find myself in an apartment where when I sit in the bathtub I have a direct view of the window and fire escape of my very first apartment in New York.
And many nights of late when I gaze at that window I see the me who came to New York, at age twenty, full of dreams, living alone in a small apartment, where I would sit and stare through grates that had to be put on the windows as it was the 70’s and despite the fact it was and is a good neighborhood, I got robbed twice even with the grates.
From that apartment, through the grates, I looked directly at the building I live in today, with my second husband and my 18–year-old daughter who in just five months will go away to college. Four months after my youngest goes to college, my oldest daughter will get married and soon after most likely move out of New York. Three months from now I turn sixty. I have put three dogs to sleep in eighteen months. We are selling the home we have had for twenty years. A lot of changes. A lot of subtraction.
But forty years ago I would stare at this building often crying, perpetually confused, wondering, fearful and uncertain of the what the future held for me.
Would I find my way as an actress and achieve the level of success I was so hungry for? Would I find someone to love me for me? Would I have the family I so longed for? Would I ever not be lonely and confused?
I would then pull myself together, read a self-help book, write in my journal, likely overeat and go exercise. A routine, minus the overeating I continue to this day.
While I can sink low, I have always been able through routine and grit to keep marching forward, even while shrouded in the uncertainty of what will happen to me.
Everyone in their twenties grapples with that question. Though I was to learn in the decades to come that that question would crop up many times.
It cropped up when I abandoned acting and turned to writing at the end of my twenties. It cropped up at the end of my thirties when I knew I had to leave my first marriage, but didn’t want to be a single mother living in LA. It cropped up again at the end of my forties when I was aged out of my successful screenwriting career. And it’s happening now again at the end of my fifties, only in the deepest and loneliest way, the scariest and most similar to the one I felt forty years ago looking out of that window into this one. What will become of me?
In the forty years that have passed, I have managed to accomplish and attain much of what I set out to; much of what danced in my mind staring out that window into this one has come to pass – in many ways even better than I had imagined.
While I abandoned the acting, (there wasn’t much to abandon) I did become a successful screenwriter for close to twenty years. When that went away I was able to harness the pieces of my imagination and turn my skills into being an author. I published two books in six years. One was a bestseller. I even got myself the Oprah stamp of approval. And the best part of it was I got to write that book with my childhood idol and crush Paul Williams, who not only became my best friend but my business partner. Who gets to do that? Talk about a bonus round.
I have been married twice. The second one has worked. I blessedly have him by my side. I made a family. The thing I wanted most of all. And I wanted girls.
I didn’t just say, “I don’t care, I want healthy babies.” I said, “I want healthy girls.”
And I got them. Two miraculous young women who I love more than I could ever imagine. I wanted them ten years apart. I had them nine years apart.
And I made the very conscious choice that my family and my work would be my community. I don’t hang out with groups of people where I take part in activities. I’ve worked and raised my kids. That has been my life for close to thirty years. I don’t have a ton of friends, though I have hundreds of acquaintances.
There have been bumps along the way. Divorce. The seven-year itch in the second marriage. Raising kids isn’t always easy. Family issues. Sometimes financial ones. Health scares. Life as life is. Losing my coveted career and starting a new one – twice, make that three times.
But all in all, I got so much of what I wanted.
And most importantly I had this family, that was/is everything to me.
I love nothing more than coming through the door and running to my daughter’s room and finding out about her day. I love setting the table for dinner. I really loved it for four and I adore it for three. For two? I will have to adjust. I love just watching TV, even The Bachelor, anything to be with them.
Those of you who followed my other blog, know we took amazing trips. Every year. Great – spectacular family adventures. All over the world.
And now I look out the window and the fifty-nine-year-old me talks to the twenty-year-old me, and there is gratitude and pride that I can check off the big boxes of what I wanted from my life. Got that. Got that. Got that. But then I start to weep and think, are my best years are now behind me?
It will never be the same again. I will never know the kind of busyness and full-house comfort I lived with for so long. Home from work, make dinner. The lazy family PJ Sundays. All of us coming back to the same house after a long trip. The first day of school. Halloween. Who wants Chinese? And my favorite, my favorite moment of it all, going to sleep on a Sunday night all of us under the same roof, safe and sound and together. And I used to say to myself, “Tracey, breath this in, breath and capture this feeling of all of you under this roof, your joint roof, your girls tucked into their beds, you in yours, a shout away from them, and cherish it because it’s fleeting and before you know it your life will never be like this ever again.”
And it won’t. And I know that. And that makes me cry.
I know so many people face worse things – but for me, this is a big one.
It’s the end of the main course of the meal of my life. And I’m well aware of it.
Trust me, I am deeply happy for them and thrilled they are thriving and headed into their individual trajectories of adulthood. And they love me and are close to me. But one can feel many things at once.
This just makes me stare out the window and ask the question again, in the biggest way I have in forty years, “What will become of me?”
I know it’s up to me. I’m smart enough to know that. I now write self-help for a living. But even self-help people get smacked in the face by life and have to question things. The difference is we are forced to find the answers. And then it is our duty to share them.
And the work thing is big. Sixty for a woman is ancient. Now more than ever. The thing is inside I am still thirty-five.
But, I know one thing for sure, if I feel this way so do tens of millions of women between the ages of forty-five and seventy. They too daily, nightly, hourly ask themselves, “what will become of me?” Some have lost their mates to divorce or death. Many have lost their careers due to ageism and the shrinking marketplace or bad luck. Many have poor health, parents who are dying or very sick or dead and have left them rudderless. Some have lost their children to drugs or accidents. We have all lost dear friends to death. Some never made families and wonder what will become of me now, now that I am older and all alone.?
I was explaining to a friend the other day who was selling her house as she felt who needed all those rooms if only two people lived there? And I said it’s like all the anchors that have kept us moored to the shore are drifting away one by one. Where do we end up?
But, there are many ways to make it work. I know that the way I knew in that window that while I was scared and lonely and uncertain of my path, I would find one and I would stick it out and good things would happen.
But I will have other things and they shall unfold. And I will move forward.
And that is what this site is about. It’s for me to learn how to move forward in my life and then share it with all of you who ask the question – “what shall become of me?” “Where am I going and how do I get there at this point in life?
How do we empower ourselves in a world that wants us to disappear?
We will explore it all. We will find answers. We will stay active. We will not despair and we will not disappear.
We may lament the loss of what our youth and middle years gave us, that is normal, but we must go forth and make these years as productive, purposeful and meaningful as we can.
And that is what stops my tears as I look out the window at that girl who is looking back at me. The young me says you made it work when you had far less knowledge and wisdom and resources and love then you have now. You made it work. You got what you wanted. So, you’ve got this one covered too.
Photo by n_defende