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Susan Estrich
25 Apr 2014
The New Politics of Crime

This week's announcement that the Justice Department will expand the criteria for offering clemency marks a new,… Read More.

23 Apr 2014
The Next Step on Affirmative Action

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18 Apr 2014
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With luck, Michelle Friedland, a highly qualified appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the … Read More.

Just One

Comment

It was early in the morning — very early if you add in the fact that it was a weekend. We had changed gates three times already, hordes of people racing across the terminal as if those who got there first and claimed their space would also get to New York first. By the time I got there, dragging my suitcase, coffee and paper, virtually every seat in the "lounge" area was taken. And then I saw it: one seat. No suitcase in front of it, no handbag on top of it, a pleasant-looking woman in the next chair, a place to park for the next delay.

I sat down.

She looked at me like I was out of my mind.

"My husband is sitting there," she said, not smiling, not friendly, but more like, "Of course I have a husband sitting next to me. What did you think?"

"That seat is taken" would have sufficed, before I sat down and settled my bag and arranged my coffee on the nearby table. Even the person sitting on her other side looked up to see who had done something wrong. I skulked away.

Eventually, I found an empty seat, actually two empty seats, with another woman planted in the middle. Now I was being careful. "Is anyone sitting there?" I asked, before assuming that she was actually traveling without a husband or, worse, didn't have one. At least she smiled. "Be my guest," she said, pointing to one of the two seats. "My husband is sitting on my other side."

Maybe it's because I've been feeling so overwhelmed lately, with my daughter getting ready to leave for college, so many friends sick, and so much pressure and sadness around me, but all of a sudden I looked around that lounge and it felt like I was the only person there over the age of 27 who was facing the world alone. Lonely doesn't begin to describe it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for what I have, kinnehora (keep that evil eye away). In recent weeks, I've been trying to help two friends with metastatic cancer, another whose father is declining because of Alzheimer's and another who ran into a brick wall in dealing with an insurance company that refused to approve the surgery she needed until yours truly jumped into the fight. All of them have partners and spouses, but that hardly protects them against the pain, fear and helplessness that come with illness.

I've also been to the wake of a friend who had a beautiful wife, three beautiful children and horrible cancer.

I'm not looking to trade places. I don't pretend that going through life with someone you care about and who cares about you is any protection against pain. But still.

I was talking to a friend who is supposed to know about such things (she is, by profession, a therapist after all) — about the day that is coming soon when my daughter will pack up at least some of her things and go off to college. When I went to college, I never came back. Everyone tells me that it's different these days, that rent is more expensive and kids tend to be more connected, and that going to college doesn't necessarily mean they're gone forever the way we were.

I am happy for my daughter, but I can't help feeling like a part of my life, the happiest part, is ending. My friend told me about the day when her son left. She, who knew about such things, had prepared herself and was one of those busy bees who never sits still and has never faced depression, sat without moving in a room without lights all day long, overcome by her sadness. Then her husband came home and turned on the lights, and they went out to dinner and on with their lives.

It was fine, she tells me hopefully, even though the only part that registers with me is the part about the husband coming home and turning on the lights, and her having a life with another person she loves to go on with.

My daughter leaves in a few weeks. My son is three years behind her. I already know that three years is nothing, that they will pass in a heartbeat. And then it will be just me. Just one. Me and the dogs. And they don't travel.

Half of all marriages end in divorce. The world is full of people who never married or whose marriages failed or whose husbands or wives are gone now. Some of them find someone new as soon as they are alone. Truth be told, some of them find someone new before they are alone. But for women of a certain age, women who spend the mid-years raising kids only to find that the men their age are now dating women closer in age to our children, it just is what it is. We do our best. And if such a woman sits down next to you in a crowded airport lounge, traveling alone, carrying her luggage and her coffee and her paper, maybe you could just smile and say have a nice day.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



Comments

9 Comments | Post Comment
Let me offer some tips. Seats in a public place are there for the public. You..are the public. If you find an unoccupied chair, don't ask if it's occupied. You can see that it is not. Take it. If someone says their huband/wife/luggage/whatever, is sitting there, politely say: "No, I am", then lift up a hip and look under it and say, "nope, don't see him" then smile and say no more. Not rude, assertive. This works, unless, of course, they've paid a renter's fee for the seat. I'm careful about handing out this piece of free advice because I'm afraid they'll put "sitting meters" on public seating, so while it's still free, stand your ground (or take your seat)! The loneliness factor is real, and a stranger's rudeness can seem magnified when your emotions are swirling. Take no heed, if this truly is a "dog eat dog" world, take the first bite. Either way, it's gonna hurt. Peace.
Comment: #1
Posted by: liz
Wed Jul 30, 2008 2:21 PM
AMEN, Susan!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Betty
Thu Jul 31, 2008 6:48 AM
Please stop with the pathetic "boo-hoo-I don't have a man" stuff! When your kids are finally gone, you'll begin the BEST part of your life. Alone isn't loneliness, it's FREEDOM. You'll be able to do anything you like, any time you like, with whomever you like. Enjoy it!
And dogs do travel--by car. Get a nice big one and go on road trips! You'll be free to do that, too!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Denise
Thu Jul 31, 2008 12:40 PM
Please stop with the pathetic "boo-hoo-I don't have a man" stuff! When your kids are finally gone, you'll begin the BEST part of your life. Alone isn't loneliness, it's FREEDOM. You'll be able to do anything you like, any time you like, with whomever you like. Enjoy it!
And dogs do travel--by car. Get a nice big one and go on road trips! You'll be free to do that, too!
Comment: #4
Posted by: Denise
Thu Jul 31, 2008 12:40 PM
Susan-

I'm a solid conservative and Republican. However, you are one of the few libs that I like to listen to and respect. I read your articales. I forwarded your last article to my wife regarding your Father because it was relavent to what her situation was/is. We all have a path. You're are a unique person- and at the end of the day I beleive you will find another someone. Thats if you want to- I appreciate your honesty and humility.

I also love the new hair style. It looks really good on you.

-alan
Comment: #5
Posted by: Alan Gregor
Thu Jul 31, 2008 12:45 PM
I shed a tear at the end of reading your column. Partly, it was because I was in an identical situation at JFK last week, late in the evening after a stormy day. What a mess!
But more it was that I share your loss of a daughter going off to college. Mine started freshman year in far-off Boston last September, and saying goodbye that day was one of the most heart-rending events of my (and her) life. While my distress first focused on the fear of a new emptiness, I soon realized the majority of the emotion was the realization that her childhood had now ended. That is deeply traumatic for both child (whoops--offspring) and parent
With time, things improved, but--as a single father--it's still not easy.
Maybe we can talk about it when I'm in LA.
Richard
Comment: #6
Posted by: richard judelsohn
Fri Aug 1, 2008 8:17 PM
Dear Ms. Estrich,
When I read your article, what resonated with me the most was the theme of "being hit when down" (or some variation thereof).
I have clinical depression. One of the reasons why I suffer is because I had major life issues COMBINED with the random, frequent abuse of others in public. I would be hurting so badly from a terrible work situation that ended in my dismissal, only to be "eaten by the wolves" on public transit, to give you an example. It was because of this overwhelming negative feedback in my life that I sunk to such a low. You have my sympathies.
I think my experience is indicative of "When you laugh, the world laughs with you. When you cry, you cry alone". I believe that people are more inclined to respect those who they perceive are indifferent, happy or confident. In reality, however, we are not made of teflon and cannot always wear a poker face, nor are we always happy.
I also appreciate your candor. It's nice to know that people from all walks of life can share in their humanity.
By the way, I tend to identify myself as part of the "Religious Right". You may wish to consider the very damaging perception that me and my counterparts are purveyors of hate. Basing your assessment of this group on one individual, such as Ann Coulter, is dangerous.
One of us may offer a seat to you at the airport sometime.
Chelsea
Comment: #7
Posted by: Chelsea
Mon Aug 4, 2008 2:21 PM
Sorry. You may wish to "reconsider" your...

Chelsea
Comment: #8
Posted by: Chelsea
Mon Aug 4, 2008 2:24 PM
Ok, no partner! How about only child, without a spouse (divorced twice), without children! I think I was meant to learn to truly be alone in this life. I'm glad I still have Mom at this time, but I sure think about that time when I'm truly alone! I think there should be a club for those of us in that group! haha
Comment: #9
Posted by: Anne
Tue Aug 5, 2008 6:21 AM
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