Just over 14 years ago, on July 7, 2007, my life changed forever. What happened?
In the space of fifteen minutes, an unusual weather pattern took down three trees in the backyard of our home in Charlotte, North Carolina. One of them landed on a neighbor’s truck.
It seemed like every other summer thunderstorm. We didn’t even lose power. Until we ventured outside and saw the damage. Until we talked to the neighbors. Who were not happy, to say the least.
I generally avoid trying to befriend or even casually get to know my neighbors, and these people were the reason why. They seemed like the ultimate cool couple: the guy was a musician (although he worked for a bank) and his wife was a freelance photographer. She had accompanied me on my regular restaurant review column, to Meskerem, the new Ethiopian place in town. We had hung out a little bit socially and I was hoping they would get to be our new “couple friends,” in our neighborhood, instead of a 40-minute freeway drive away, like my in-laws and most of the book club that formed our core social group.
She was livid at the demise of her pickup truck.
“You should have taken better care of your trees!” she told me.
What could I say? They were alive and healthy. Until they weren’t.
One of the unique features of the property, and one of the reasons we’d bought it, was the patch of forest at the back of the lot, bordering on a stream and a right-of-way. In theory, we could have built an artists’ studio or a mother-in-law apartment out there. In practice, we were happy to just let the woods be woods.
That was the last time I talked to those neighbors. After that, they built a spite fence (homemade, out of chicken wire) to divide our properties. I was left to deal with the insurance claim situation — and the expense and logistics of removing the debris. My husband was a busy corporate lawyer. I managed all of our finances, all of the taxes, all of the household issues — from ascertaining that the copper wire had been stolen out of our exterior HVAC units and getting it replaced to putting pressure on the Kingsdown Mattress Company to fulfill their warranty after documenting that our California King pillowtop mattress had sagged measurably in the middle (the dreaded “taco” effect).
I did all of this cheerfully, until 7/7/7.
I used to read a lot into the significance of that date.
Now, not so much.
The angry neighbors. My feelings of isolation and abandonment. My husband’s affair.
I wanted to believe that there was a higher purpose in our separation — that everything happened for a reason.
If you are a recruiter or a prospective employer, this is the reason that my Career in Tech didn’t really get started until Age 32. Up until that time, I was freelancing and homemaking — expecting to be a full-time mom, announcement in the next family holiday newsletter.
Sometimes plans don’t go as expected. I always thought there was beauty, meaning, and purpose behind that. Maybe there still is. I don’t know. Maybe my husband was meant to be with the woman he left me for. She was beautiful. Jet black hair. Trim physique. Yale Law School grad. A coworker. Also married. She lured him with a Margaret Atwood novel. My command of Dan Simmons and William Gibson could not compete.
The affair started a few months earlier, while they were traveling in Alabama together, on business. The hotel accidentally sent them the “couples package” — roses, wine, and chocolates — even though they were were staying in separate rooms.
Ten or eleven years ago I would have told you that everything happens for a reason. That I was destined to be an entrepreneur. Or raise children with somebody else. Now I really don’t believe in destiny — or if I do, it’s not the type that you can read from a three-digit sequence.
Now I think we find our meaning and purpose elsewhere. Namely, in how we react.
The wisdom to know what we can change and what we can’t. The courage to act if we can.
That’s the only meaning that endures, after the acid bath of time has stripped away the rest. I think somebody made that into a poem. I think they called it the Desiderata.