The day after the 4th of July, I went to the local McDonald’s to get my caffeine fix and sit in the air-conditioning while making a list of errands I needed to run.
I was trying to busy myself because my kids were gone for a week with their father and my heart was aching. I had purposely stayed in all day on the 4th, having declined all the nice offers and invitations I received.
I couldn’t bear the thought of going outside my house and seeing happy families wearing red, white, and blue, holding hands, watching parades, posing for pictures and eating fair food like we’d done for so many years. Some old memories are better left unseen.
But the next day, I felt safe and maybe a little stronger. I sat with my back to the front door, watching families rush in and out, obviously heading home from the holiday. I was making plans to meet a friend for lunch, reminding myself I only had to make it a few more days until I could see my kids again, when I heard some racket behind me. I couldn’t tell if someone was hurt, scared, or extremely excited.
I looked over my shoulder (along with everyone else in the place) and saw two women in their 70s embrace and jump up and down as they were clutching each other — one even lost her sun hat in the process.
Naturally, I started eavesdropping. Turns out, they hadn’t seen each other since they were in their 30s, and one said to the other, “When I left my husband over 40 years ago, you were the only one who said ‘Good for you!'”
They giggled like a couple of school girls, and it was amazing.
They had no idea everyone in the crowded fast food joint was watching them between bites of breakfast sandwiches and sips of hot coffee. Maybe because we don’t often see women that age with the energy of a couple of kids, which they had.
Or maybe it was because here was this woman, dressed in red high heels and a white dress with big red flowers on it, who was still celebrating a friendship — and her divorce — even though so much time had passed. It was like watching magic.
They sipped their coffee as they talked of their lives since they’d last seen each other.
The woman who’d supported her friend’s divorce was still married to the same man, still in love, still happy. Hearing her story made me feel happy such love stories actually do exist, but it made me sad, too, because it wasn’t my story.
If it were, I certainly wouldn’t be sitting in McDonald’s without my family the day after a holiday, missing them so much I could barely breathe.
And yet the other woman was just as happy — no, she seemed even happier than her long lost friend. She had a zest and passion I’ve never seen when someone is talking about their life.
She talked about her house in Massachusetts, how she bought a special place she had always wanted to buy, and made it her home on her own.
“It’s all mine,” she said, “and it’s wonderful!”
The way she moved and the things she said made it clear she loves her life — and has for a very long time.
“I’ve loved my life, I’m so glad I decided to leave and start over. I was scared, but still excited so many times throughout the years.”
She talked about how she is still single and how she had the best time in Maine visiting friends for the holiday and was heading off to visit her son and his family on her way home.
I don’t doubt for a moment she hasn’t seen dark times and struggles. I think that is why she is so beautiful and happy and relieved and able to see life in the way she does. You don’t find that kind of contentment from having it easy or always staying comfortable.
They talked about her work and her love for the ocean, and a man approached the two women and started trying to bust into the conversation. They let him, kind of.
I love my work.
I love the ocean.
I love wearing high heels.
I moved my seat to get a better view because my neck was getting sore from turning. Their conversation kept getting better, and I didn’t want to miss a thing.
The man couldn’t hear well, so he was shouting a bit and said,” YOU ARE A DELIGHT. I WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN. I’M INVITING YOU TO DINNER.” He was wearing a rugby shirt, shorts, and knee socks and was so adorable, I wanted to go out with him.
She reminded him she lives in Massachusetts, but he didn’t seem to give one single fuck.
Her posture was impeccable, and she had a confidence about her that was kind and gentle, not arrogant, but I could tell being approached by a man happens to her often.
She was polite, but you could tell that having a partner is not what makes her happy and whole and fulfilled; she knows it’s an inside job, and she hasn’t stopped working on that.
She tried to show him how to put her number in his phone, but he was clueless so she grabbed it and entered the numbers for him, got another coffee, and then hugged her friend goodbye.
Everyone watched her leave, but she didn’t notice. She didn’t even look back, she only looked forward. She didn’t feel sad that her amazing, supportive friend is still married to the love of her life. She didn’t seem sad to have spent the holiday without a lover or her kids. All she could see was the wonderful life she made for herself despite the fact it didn’t follow the script she thought had been written for her.
It was clear that she loves herself, loves her story, and loves being herself.
That day in McDonald’s I saw a light I hadn’t been able to see since my divorce. It covered me like a blanket and has stayed with me every single day since.
I am going to be okay.
On the days I’m not so sure, I think of her.
If I don’t spend every holiday with my kids, if I don’t find love again, if I live alone when I’m a grandmother, I am going to be okay.
And even if I don’t wear heels or rock a white sundress in my 70s, I am going to be okay. I mean, those things would help quite a bit, but regardless, I am going to be okay.