At age 42, Stacy Horn had a mid-life crisis. Single but feeling ready to settle down, she remained “as far from marriage or anything like it as I was at sixteen.” She lived alone with two cats, both of whom were diabetic and one of whom had renal failure and needed fluid treatments. Her business, an online community called Echo, was struggling, and she was working to keep it alive long enough to sell it. And there was a ghost in her apartment. Most of the time, she preferred watching TV to doing just about anything else, but she did sing in a choir and play with a drumming group, and she attempted to go somewhere that she might meet a potential husband once a week.
So those of you who know me well will probably know why I had to read this after seeing Citizen Reader’s review (a review that happens to feature a When Harry Met Sally reference). I am 41, single and ready to settle down but meeting no single straight men and disinclined to do the work involved to meet said single straight men. And although my current cat is just an amputee and pretty easy to take care of, my previous cat had renal failure and needed daily (and then twice-daily) fluid injections. At least I don’t own a struggling business or have a haunted apartment. However, as my body begins to show signs of age, I’m increasingly aware that I may have less life ahead of me than I have behind me. No sign of a mid-life crisis so far.
Horn copes with her own mid-life crisis partly by looking at death and aging head-on. She interviews older people, asking them how they feel about life and death. She visits cemeteries, something I think she enjoys anyway. She polls her friends on Echo about the big life questions that are on her mind: “What do you want more than anything else?” “What do you miss the most from your youth?” and “Are you happy? Please express your happiness level in percentages.” She makes lots of plans for what she might do if… the business fails, she never meets anyone, the cats gets sicker, and so on. Also, she fantasizes about saving John F. Kennedy Jr.’s life, meeting her ideal man while giving a talk about cyberspace, or giving her cats a last, perfect day. And she panics when she realizes that her TV crush, Seth Green on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is much younger than she is. Wanting her fantasies to at least be somewhat reality based, she looks up the actors’ ages and decides that Anthony Stewart Head is her man. (My own Buffy crush is on Oz, not Seth Green, who does happen to be about my age.)
Horn’s short chapters drift from topic to topic and back again. She’s sometimes funny, sometimes morbid, sometimes whiny, often curious, occasionally heart-breakingly sad. (See the book title. Messy, wheezy sobs.)
Early in the book, she received some advice—some advice of it super-optimistic, pull-yourself-up-by-sheer-force-of-will variety that I find extremely unhelpful. But in the end, she lands in a place that I find comforting.
What do we learn as we grow old? We learn how to be forty or fifty or sixty or seventy or eighty.
Rick Carrier said, “You are in charge of what you are, have been, and will be, and if you do not accept this you will become everything you do not want to become.” I no longer know what I don’t want to become. It used to be “a woman living alone with cats,” but that’s what I’m doing now and I’m happy.
Yep. Happiness isn’t necessarily about achieving big goals or living out grand plans. It can be in small things that we find on unexpected paths. I didn’t expect at 41 to be living in a small condo in Northern Virginia (for years, I vowed never to move to Northern Virginia), alone with a cat, and a small circle of friends who don’t all live nearby, but that’s how things turned out, and I’m OK with it. Most of the time, I’m happy. Will I be happy living this life indefinitely? Maybe. Maybe not. But the only way to know is to keep living and figuring out how to be who I am at fifty, sixty, seventy, and so on.