Some time ago I saw the movie The Wife. Glenn Close received a Golden Globe for this role. As usual, one video led to another until I got to her speech at the Globes. As she speaks, I realize that my focus sharpened when it came to the part where she says: “… I’m thinking of my mom, who really sublimated herself to my father her whole life. And in her eighties, she said to me: ‘I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything.’ And it was so not right, and I feel what I have learnt through this whole experience is that you know, women, we are nurturers; that’s what’s expected of us. We have our children, we have our husbands if we are lucky enough, our partners, whoever, but we have to find personal fulfillment, we have to follow our dreams, we have to say I can do that and I should be allowed to do that.”
I am 50 years old. I have more than enough time. The children are not living with us for a long time, and my husband is dedicated to his work. He works on research about the connection of ants with climate change. Oh God, how obsessed he is with that! He always speaks with incredible passion about his work. At least when he’s home.
Everyone has their own driving force. They were MY driving force. My children and my husband. Now the only thing I have left is free time. I have children and a husband. I was lucky enough, I repeat Glenn Close’s words while I approach the part about personal fulfillment. I come to a gray zone. Fifty-years-old gray zone. My mother’s words are coming back to me: “The most important thing is your family. You need to look after your children and your husband.” And here I am in my 50s, without the role I was given from birth. I fulfilled it, mother! Now what?
I never asked myself what I really wanted. What is left when I remove that role of a wife and a mother? I feel my body slowly filling with discomfort. I worked so hard on it, without complaints from the other side; I was there even before being summoned. I had nothing to think about when everything was pre-planned, my role, my tasks pre-determined. It has always been so. It is decided whether a woman should be educated or not, whether she should vote or not, whether she should be a virgin or not – of course she should, whether to stay in the kitchen or be allowed to work in factories – it depends on the need, at the height of industrialization whether to leave the country and go to the city, or go back as a present trend, whether to give birth, whether to read, whether to be. Everything is known in advance. And the man – well, he’s entitled to every single right from his birth. Above all, the right to decide on women’s rights.
I sit alone with these 50 years of mine in this big house, which has been impeccably clean for the last five years since my children moved out. Nobody asks anything from me anymore. I do not cook, I do not clean, I do not fulfill desires, I do not run after anyone. Then what am I supposed to do? What is left for me to do now that they are gone? I feel like someone who has lived in a bunker for 50 years. And my eyes hurt from the sudden light. How can I know what I want when I’ve never asked myself that question in 50 years? Do I have any desires? Well, I want my children to be healthy, happy, for my husband to discover the connection between the ants and climate change… No, you do not understand, I tell myself, what do you want for YOURSELF, not them. But I am them. Oh my, at the age of 50, I realize I actually do not exist!
Was it always like this? My thoughts travel alone back through the past with unstoppable force. It was as if the ghost of my past paid a visit, as if I were in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In my mind, I met with the girl who was obsessed with animals and collected album pictures, the girl who particularly admired dolphins and read about their language, about their way of communication. She wanted to travel and study them. I got overwhelmed with excitement.
I do not know if anyone remembers this Shirley Valentine‘s movie (a friend of mine surely does). She, Shirley, gets tired of life, of cooking and pleasing her husband, so she decides to travel. And I realize I need to travel too. And not tell anyone about it. I do not need permission from anyone. Glenn Close, can you hear me? I do not need permission from anyone! I’m surprised by my own attitude. But that only fortifies my decision.