Today is my 50th birthday. I bet it is a time when many people reflect on their life. I thought of my childhood dreams, my fairy tale fantasies of meeting Prince Charming, moving into our castle and having lots of perfect children. For the most part, my dream had come true. Everything had gone as planned. I had married a successful financial planner who made lots of money. My son is perfect. Well, I guess every mother thinks that, so I might be biased. We lived in an exclusive neighborhood in a house that is actually too big for us. I had everything I had ever wanted.
That is, until five years ago today. That was the day I died.
I remember that last week before my 45th birthday as if it were yesterday. I can still recall the conversations I had. It started when I went for my annual physical.
Dr. Hill had been our family doctor for years. I liked his manner. “You seem to be in good shape, Sylvia. Take this lab slip with you and get the tests done. That will complete the physical you need for your long-term care insurance. It’s a good idea to get that when you’re young. You never know when you’re going to need it.”
“Thanks Doctor. I took the day off today because I’ve been feeling a little tired recently, so I thought this would be a good time to see you. Call me when you get the results so I can get the paper-work taken care of. “
That night at dinner Mark seemed a little agitated. “What’s wrong, Mark? Is everything okay?”
He gave me a distant look and said “Just some stuff at the office. Nothing I can’t handle. Don’t worry.” After dinner, he picked up his laptop and went into the family room. “I’ll be coming up to bed soon. I just want to check a few accounts.”
Jeff sat there and looked bored. He attended the same University I taught at, but often complained that he was wasting his time there. In his words, his classes “just didn’t cut it.” All I know is that he spends most of his time in his room doing who-knows-what on his computer.
I cleaned up and sat at the dining room table. I was so tired I could barely see straight, so I decided to go to bed early. Thankfully, the doctor had called today and I was going to see him tomorrow.
Then that fateful day arrived. Mark had gotten up early for a meeting at his office, but had left me a note on his pillow reminding me we were going to celebrate my birthday at my favorite restaurant that night. Jeff was still asleep when I left. I was still feeling tired and dragged myself to the doctor’s office.
“Good morning, Sylvia. How are you today? Please have a seat.” I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination or not, but Dr. Hill seemed more formal than usual. “We got your lab results in. I’m afraid I have some bad news. We found some irregularities in your blood work and we need to do some further testing.”
“What is it? What did the labs show?”
“We’re not sure right now. You do seem to be anemic, which might explain why you’re so tired. Let’s just see what the next tests show us.”
I started to panic. At least there was an explanation for my fatigue. That, at least, was some relief. I called Mark again. He didn’t answer. I went home.
I grabbed the mail on my way in the door and collapsed on the couch. I tossed the junk mail on the floor, put the bills on the coffee table and stared at a letter for Jeff from the University. It had already been opened. I took it out of the envelope. He had flunked out of school. I went up to his room to confront him. I walked in and found him stuffing his clothes in a large knapsack.
We argued until he finally said, “It’s my life, mom. I have plans for myself that don’t include some dumb college degree. I’m moving in with my girlfriend. Talk to you later.” And then stormed out of his room and left the house. My head was spinning by now. His girlfriend, Kat, was a Yoga instructor or something like that. She seemed so dippy to me. What could he possibly see in her.
On my way back to the couch, I called Mark, but he still wasn’t answering his phone. I turned on the TV to an old CSI and quickly fell into an exhausted sleep. A few hours later I was woken by loud banging on the front door. I forced myself to wake up and see who it was.
I opened the door and couldn’t believe my eyes. There were police cars everywhere. I thought I might be dreaming I was in the CSI program, but the officer in front of me was real. He handed me a search warrant and walked by me along with six others who started pulling my house apart. I walked up to a petite woman who had just picked up my junk mail.
“Excuse me, but can you explain what’s going on?”
“Yes ma’am. Your husband has been arrested on embezzlement charges. He stole money from his client’s accounts to pay off some debts. Gambling debts, according to what he told us at the station.”
I started to sweat and felt lightheaded. It was hard for me to breath and then I felt a sharp pain down my arm. The next think I remember was waking up in the hospital.
“Welcome back, Sylvia” said the nurse standing above me.
“What do you mean, welcome back.”
“You had a heart attack. Your heart stopped for a few minutes and we thought we had lost you, but you made it.”
That was five years ago. Since then I’ve had to find a new story for my life, one that wasn’t make believe. The first thing I did was to get a heart valve replacement. The next thing I did was to divorce Prince Charming who had moved out of the castle and into a jail far, far away. I sold the castle and bought a small cottage with some of the money. My new neighbors are caring, friendly people who are an integral part of my new life.
Jeff, my college dropout, developed a Heart Monitor App and adapter for iPhones that patients can use at home and transmit the results to their doctor. But most of all, his girlfriend turned out to be my saving grace. Kat taught me how to meditate and keep myself centered while I was trying to put my life back together. We took painting classes together, something I’ve always wanted to do. I had an exhibit of my work last year and sold some pieces.
Tonight I’m going to celebrate my many milestones with my friends and family – the day I was born, the day I died, and the day I started living.
And she lived happily ever after.