This month one of my book clubs read “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?,” a fictional story of a highly creative, up-and-coming architect who becomes a recluse after suffering a professionally tragedy. After years of keeping to herself—and becoming more than a bit nutty in the process—she actually physically disappears to Antarctica of all places, and her husband and daughter must find her.
I wanted to love the book since it had rave reviews, but even though it was funny at times, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough. Antarctica? Really?
The real problem, though, was that I somehow missed the underlying point of the story, which is right there in the title. Bernadette disappears physically, but the point of the book is how years of losing herself in motherhood and not feeding her creative soul led to losing herself completely.
I wasn’t the only one who missed the point, which was amusing because everyone discussing the book that night is a mother of young children. As soon as one insightful member said she related to this woman “losing herself,” the light bulb went on and a rapid-fire discussion ensued with us all wondering where we had gone.
On the surface, these women are all “proper” mothers and wives who work and tend to their families. Yet, each of them has a back story. Two were in the Peace Corps and had traveled to places like China, Australia and Africa. Two had lived in New York.
The insightful reader among us had been in a band that had played every club in Milwaukee. A recent rare night out to see a band had left her filled with nostalgia. Hers was the same longing I feel every time I hear a song from college that reminds me of the drunken nights when I couldn’t stop dancing. Fueled by liquid courage, I danced on the dance floor, danced while throwing darts, danced while ordering a drink at the bar, even toilet danced while taking a piss.
Having always been a “good girl,” that last year of college has always felt like the only truly carefree time in my life. I never wanted the music to stop, but somehow it did.
Yesterday morning one of the women posted in our Facebook group that she couldn’t stop thinking about the book. She had done all these amazing things in her life and now, as a mother of two toddlers, she is wondering how to add that person back into a life that is filled with coloring, diapers, cooking and answering countless questions.
Her comment got me thinking about my own former self. When my dancing queen self has emerged on rare occasions, I’ve squashed her. The longing and sadness I feel when she appears is nearly overwhelming. I miss her, but she scares me because she prompts crazy thoughts like hopping in my car and driving far away, leaving my family and responsibilities in the dust so I can get drunk and make out with cute college boys. Perhaps Bernadette’s escape to Antarctica wasn’t so far-fetched after all?
In reality, I don’t aspire to life as a “cougar,” but I do think maybe it’s time to let that girl in a bit. I was pondering how to do this as I was rushing out the door to a networking meeting, when Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” popped into my head. That song has always left me both happy because of its joyous tone and sad because of its depressing lyrics.
I was even humming the tune as I fired up my car. Just as I was putting on my gloves, the radio station went from commercial to the next song: “Glory Days.”
You can’t make this shit up. This actually happened and it was alarming and freakishly funny in the way that only weird coincidences and/or signs from the universe can be. I cranked it up and sang my heart out, trying to let the words soak in.
Then, even though my meeting ran late and I had work to do before my daughter came home from school, I took the long way home. I drove along Lake Michigan, that beautiful body of water that feeds my soul and which I rarely see any more because in my town, giant mansions block the view. (Just to clarify, I do not live in one of these mansions).
When I got home, I turned on my computer and instead of getting to work, I went to YouTube. I found three sounds that never failed to make my booty shake in my college days: “Oh What a Night,” “Come On, Eileen” and “Brown-eyed Girl.”
I forced myself to dance. It was painfully awkward and then actually physically awkward because I had my eyes closed and smashed my hip into the dresser. But I kept going and searched for that dancing queen I used to be, the one who danced like no one was watching.
Finally she emerged, and I danced with the wild abandon I had in college. I danced until my hair was wet and I needed to remove my conservative wool sweater, until I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, until tears welled in my eyes and my soul was filled with nostalgia.
I remembered that those days weren’t as carefree as I tend to recall them. That dancing queen was terrified by college graduation and wondering what she would do with her life. She was recovering from a breakup that had shredded her heart into thousands of pieces. And yet, in those moments on the dance floor, all the sadness and anxiety melted away and she found exquisite joy in just being in the moment.
In the midst of the daily grind, it’s easy to forget how to live in the moment. We instead put ourselves on autopilot to get through the day. Even worse, it’s easy to forget who we used to be. And then one day, we wake up like Bernadette and wonder where the hell we went.
We can pine over our “glory days,” or worse yet, try to forget we ever had them. Or maybe we can “recapture a little of the glory” by routinely reminding ourselves of the times when we felt most alive and letting those moments live within us.
That dancing queen is a part of me and perhaps she makes me sad because I refuse to acknowledge her existence. Maybe it’s time for her to see the light of day. I’m not going to ply her with vodka and grape Kool-Aid because that shit makes her impulsively crazy—and those drinks would wreak havoc on my acid reflux disease—but why shouldn’t the two of us have a retro dance party in the living room from time to time?