Beth Rutledge has turned fifty. The number doesn’t really bother her—but everything else seems to be disturbing. She is irritated by her husband, David, and his fastidious and predictable habits. She is missing a part of herself that seems to have gotten lost along the way. She is trying to integrate a new role that she will fill in a few months—becoming a grandmother for the first time. Beth has taken the day off from her interior decorating business, Beth, By Design, to enjoy her birthday. She plans to spend the day in the mountains, hiking and enjoying nature. Of course, it rains. When David suggests the rain will alter her plans, Beth becomes even more irritated. She is feeling rebellious and realizes she doesn’t have a rule about not walking in the rain—that’s David’s rule.
Beth drives to the mountains, her favorite place to think. After her hike, as she makes her way to a diner on the highway to have lunch, she passes a For Rent sign in front of a rustic A-frame cabin that sits back from the road. On a whim, she backs up and stops to explore. She is drawn to the simplicity and charm of the place. She also feels a tug toward a place inside herself that she has not visited for quite some time. She jots down the phone number on the sign, not actually believing that she will make the call.
Against her husband’s wishes, Beth appoints one of her employees as manager of her business, informs her children of her plans to move for a few months, packs up her cat and heads to the cabin an hour’s drive from the city.
My name is Beth Rutledge. Today is my birthday. I am fifty-one years old. I have a thriving interior decorating business, a son in college, a daughter who just made me a grandmother and a husband whom I love very much. My mother will tell you that I have been having a midlife crisis. My best friend will tell you that I am courageous. My husband will tell you that, on my last birthday and for just a little while, I lost my mind.
I will tell you this: Sometimes you have to lose something in order to reclaim it. Sometimes you have to trust the love that holds the seams of your life together and stretch it to a new limit. Sometimes you just have to lose your mind... and follow your heart.
Last year, on the morning of June 3, I got up at six-fifteen, as usual. I had mixed feelings about turning fifty— on one hand, it sounded so old and, on the other, it marked a milestone and sounded so free. I heard the shower and knew that my husband, David, was back from his run. He gets up, quietly, every morning at five-thirty and goes out for a run, returning at exactly five past six. He then turns on the coffeemaker and goes into the shower. I knew the time without even looking at the clock. He is that consistent and predictable. It was something I had loved about David and it made me feel safe and secure—usually. On this day, for some unknown reason, it was irritating the hell out of me.
I heard the water turn off and, within minutes, David emerged from the shower wrapped in his terry bathrobe, his matching slippers flopping across the floor.
He walked over to the bed where I had managed to raise myself into a sitting position, kissed my cheek—David hates kisses before we both have a chance to brush and rinse—and patted my back. “Happy birthday, hon. Why don’t you stay put and I’ll get your coffee?”
I leaned back against the pillows and looked out the window. It was beginning to rain. It figures, I take the day off and it rains. David came back into the bedroom carrying a tray bearing my favorite coffee mug, a cheese Danish and a single rose.
He placed the tray across my lap, asking, “So, what are you going to do today, since you took the day off? It looks like anything outdoors is out of the question.”
He then proceeded to get dressed, methodically pulling on his underwear, followed by his tee shirt, socks, dress shirt, pants, shoes, tie, and lastly, his suit coat. In twenty-six years of marriage, I had never seen him deviate from this routine.
“I don’t know. I was thinking of taking a drive to the mountains and going for a hike, but I guess not. Maybe I’ll see if there’s a good movie playing somewhere. You could take the day off and come play with me,” I said teasingly.
David smiled as he straightened his tie. “You know I can’t do that, but I promise I’ll be home by six and take you out for your birthday dinner—anywhere you want to go.”
I thought for a moment and then said offhandedly, “Okay, how about
He laughed. “How about the new French restaurant downtown?”
I sighed, but not loudly enough so he could hear. “I’ll think about it. Thanks for the coffee and the rose. That was very thoughtful.”
I was disappointed he hadn’t planned something special for this—my fiftieth birthday. Maybe he did, and it’s a surprise? Yes, I was sure of it. He had planned a surprise party and everyone would be at the restaurant when we arrived, or he would find some excuse to turn around and come back to the house and all of my friends would be here to jump out and yell “Happy Birthday!”
He stood before the mirror and, satisfied he was properly put together, strode back to the bed, kissed my other cheek and said, “Have a nice day. See you tonight.”
I sat there polishing off the Danish and coffee and twirling the rose between my finger and thumb. The one thorn remaining on the stem gouged into my thumb and I dropped the rose to inspect the damage. For some reason, I was fascinated with my own blood as it bubbled out of the tiny piercing. It was red and warm and reminded me that I was alive. Funny how you can forget that or simply take it for granted.
That’s when it struck me—I had forgotten. I had been feeling insignificant, invisible. I was in a rut. I looked across the room and saw myself in the mirror on my dressing table. The woman in the mirror looked vaguely familiar—only vaguely. I had not given much thought to what it meant to turn fifty. I had kept myself busy enough to ignore midlife and the fuss other people made about it. Now, I realized that if this was midlife, I’d have to live to be a hundred and, in my family, the chances of that were slim! I felt a panic rising in me and swallowed hard. Where had my life gone?
I sucked the blood off my thumb, put the tray aside and jumped out of bed, intending to shower. I walked into the bathroom and looked at myself more closely in the full-length mirror—not bad for an old broad. I looked closer to forty than fifty—didn’t I? I decided to throw all caution to the wind and pass on the shower, dampening my short hair and combing it down. I trembled with excitement at how daring I was, and then thought it was sad that simply choosing not to shower for one morning made me daring. I was sadly in need of adventure.
I pulled on jeans and a tee shirt and grabbed one of David’s denim shirts and my hiking boots. If I left right away, I could get to the mountain within the hour and have the day to hike, still getting home in time to shower and dress for dinner.
I started to reach for my camera, but thought there was no point in taking a camera when it was raining. As I opened the door, I stopped and turned back for the camera—who made up the rule that you can’t take pictures in the rain? Probably the same person who decided you couldn’t go hiking in the rain. My heart raced as I pulled my Nissan out of the garage and headed south, wishing I were driving a Jeep or some type of SUV—a driving-in-the-mountains kind of car.
I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts and got two chocolate donuts and another cup of coffee. What the hell, why not pull out all the stops? I’m only going to turn fifty once. I started to call David at his office to tell him where I was going and then decided I didn’t want to.
My cell phone rang as I was pulling back onto the highway. It was our daughter, Deana, calling from
to wish me a happy birthday. Seattle
“Hi, honey, how are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, Mom, just getting fat. I can still see my feet, but I guess that won’t last for long.”
I laughed, remembering when I was pregnant with her. I ballooned up so fast, I thought I was going to have twins.
“Well, just remember, in a few months you’ll have a beautiful son or daughter to show for all of this.”
“Yes, and you’ll be a grandmother. Are you ready for that, Mom? Oh, yeah, happy fiftieth birthday! Rob sends his love, too.”
“Thanks, honey. And thanks for reminding me I’ll be a grandmother. Your dad and I can’t wait to spoil our first grandchild; don’t you worry. I just wish I could be there with you. Are you sure you don’t want me to fly out before the baby comes?”
“Mom, we discussed this. I will be fine, really. Besides, Eleanor is just in
and I’m sure she’ll be here—whether we want her to be or not. I’d rather have you come out after I’m home and we can enjoy a visit. Maybe for Thanksgiving?” San Francisco
“I’m going to hold you to that. As for Eleanor, I’m glad she’s near enough to come and be with you. I don’t think you have any idea how this is going to change life for both you and Rob. Thanks for calling, honey. I’m in traffic, so how about if I call you in a day or two. Then your dad can talk, too.”
“Sure, Mom. Have a great day and enjoy whatever dad has planned for you tonight.”
“I will, honey. You give my love to Rob and pat the baby for me.”
It was still hard for me to imagine my little girl having her own baby. Well, she is twenty-four, but she’s still my little girl. I knew I would have to fight the urge to jump on a plane and go there to hold her hand, but I had to respect her wishes. This was something she and Rob would do on their own. Rob’s family lived in
and his mother would be there for the birth and to help for that first week or two. Eleanor was a wonderful person and treated Deana like a daughter, but I admit I was jealous. California
It took me longer than usual to get up the mountain. The rain had picked up as I was leaving the house, but had settled into a soft drizzle by the time I reached the summit. I parked and stepped out of the car to check the temperature. It was June, but it had been unseasonably cool. I stood for a moment and felt the slight breeze ruffle my hair. I tossed David’s shirt back into the car, picked up the camera and headed for the trail.
The clouds were spectacular and the trees along the trail shielded me from most of the rain. By noon, the humid air started to get sticky and bugs were everywhere. The rain ended and the sun struggled to break through the clouds. I thought that there must be a rainbow—somewhere. I waved the bugs away as I climbed the trail, high above the river, my boots squishing loudly in the soft earth. I could hear the breeze ruffle leaves, the crunch of twigs beneath my boots and the occasional rustle of a chipmunk rummaging through the undergrowth. This place had its usual effect on me—I felt alive. As I walked, I recalled the many times I’d come here, either alone or with David or
, my best friend. This was the place I would come to for spiritual renewal, the place where it seemed nothing existed beyond myself and nature. I remembered walking these woods after David had proposed and again when I was trying to decide about opening my interior design business. The quiet made it possible to think clearly and to connect to what my heart was saying. I stopped walking, found a downed tree trunk to sit on, and listened. My heart didn’t feel fifty. When I thought about being fifty, something quaked inside of me. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready to pass into the next stage of life. Lydia
The quiet was soon interrupted by the growling of my stomach and I headed back to the car. I would drive to the diner out by the highway and get some lunch. I glanced at my watch, reminding myself I needed to keep track of my time.
I almost missed the sign, but it seemed to wave to me from the overgrown lawn: For Rent. I slowed and pulled over and, seeing there were no cars coming behind me, backed up and looked. There was the ‘For Rent’ sign and sitting back off the road was an A-frame cabin. A rutted, dirt drive led up to the front. I was afraid the Nissan would get stuck, so I pulled as far as I could onto the shoulder and walked up the drive. The steps felt solid as I went up onto the porch, peering into one of the front windows. There were some furnishings, but the cabin appeared to be uninhabited. There was one large room inside with a circular, hooded fireplace in the center and a small dining table off to one side, by the windows. Beyond that was a small kitchen and it looked as though there was another room off to the other side. I looked up and saw a loft and doors, probably leading to bedrooms. The deck encircled one entire side of the cabin, so I walked around to the back to look in the kitchen window. The place needed a good cleaning, but looked as though it had been a very cozy hideaway at one time. It probably could be again.
I tried the door, but it was locked. I looked around. The lot was a nice size and there were trees everywhere. Whoever built the place had deliberately kept as many trees as possible. There was a small shed in the back and the door stood open, revealing an old lawnmower and a few gardening tools.
As I walked back to the car, I felt myself being drawn to this place. I could envision myself here—in another life. I could see myself in jeans and a flannel shirt, stoking a fire in the fireplace and then sitting down to read a novel, my cat, Gizmo, crawling under the book to curl up in my lap. I would paint again, letting nature serve as my muse. I wanted to live here—just me and Gizmo—and to live simply, with no frills, no expectations, and no rules.
I decided to play with this fantasy for a while and, as I got to the car, took out a notepad and jotted down the phone number. It was fun to at least think that I might call. I took one last look and then pulled back onto the road and headed for the diner. Lunch would have to be quick if I was going to get home and dressed in time to go out with David.
I ordered a chicken salad and sat toying with the phone number I had jotted down, all the while sipping on a chocolate shake. Without a second thought, I reached into my hip pack for my cell phone and dialed the number.
“Hi. I’m calling about the cabin for rent on
Forest Lake Road. I just drove by and saw it and was calling to ask...” My voice trailed off as I wondered what I was doing.
The woman on the other end of the line picked up, “I’m asking $75.00 for a weekend and $200 for a week—Sunday to Saturday. My husband and I used to go up there on weekends, but he died a few months ago and I just don’t have the heart to go there anymore. One of the grandkids might want it some day, so I don’t want to sell, but someone should be living in it.”
“I’m sorry about your husband,” I said sympathetically. “Is there any way I can take a look inside? I’m just up here for the day... just a few more hours actually.”
“Well, I can’t get there right now, but my brother lives two houses down and he’s got a key—name’s Burkett, Phil Burkett and the number’s on the mailbox, number 1620. If you want to go there, I’ll call and tell him you’re coming by. My name’s Alice Stanford,” the woman told me.
I hesitated, thinking this was nuts, but then heard myself saying, “Tell him I’ll be there in fifteen minutes…”