June 5, 2010

Short Story: Mid-Life Crisis

Another of my short stories: Mid-Life Crisis

I've heard it said that most men go through a kind of mid-life crisis, but rarely is it ever mentioned that women can go through the same kind of experience.  For me, the symptoms began to appear in my early forties.  A desire began to grow within me to experience something 'more' in my life.  It was a tenuous yearning that hovered in the background of my mind and caused me to feel a vague restlessness that I could not identify. 

It was when my husband and my children commented about my irritability that I began to suspect something was amiss.  I mentioned it to my friends when we met for coffee a few days later.

"You're probably just having mood swings because of changing hormone levels," Debbie suggested.

"Yes, Jacqui.  You might be going through the early stages of menopause," Tracey agreed.

"It's not that," I said, trying to make them understand, "It's as if I feel something is missing, but I don't know what."

"Well, if your hormones are going crazy, your emotions will be fluctuating as well," Lisa insisted, taking a sip from her cup.

"Well it's like...," I began, "You know, it's like there's something missing.  Kind of like I need to ..."  The desire was so elusive that I could not articulate it.

"You need to, what?" Debbie asked.

"I don't know," I said, shrugging my shoulders, "That's what so frustrating."

"So when do you feel this way?" Lisa asked.  The three of us had known each other for several years and understood each other well.

"All the time.  It just a continuing vague feeling that I'm missing something."

"Are there times you feel it more strongly than others," queried Debbie.

Thinking back to some earlier occurrences, I replied, "Often when I drop the kids off to their after school activities, I'll feel that way.  I felt like that the time I went along to Kiera's piano recital, and when I took Jay to soccer practice.  It's almost as if I resented the kids and their freedom to do whatever they want."

Looking up, I saw my two friends exchange a glance.

"Hey!" I said, "What does that look mean?"

"It's that time of life," Debbie said.  It almost appeared as if she was trying to suppress a giggle.

"We've already discussed menopause," I said, feeling a slight irritation.

"Mid-life," Lisa responded.

"Yes, I know" I replied.

"Mid-life crisis," Debbie finished.

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," I said with a little snort, "That's what immature men go through to prove they're still virile."

“So why don’t you go back to work?” Lisa suggested, reaching for a piece of chocolate cake.

“The kids are old enough to look after themselves now, aren’t they?” Debbie asked.

“Yes, Kiera’s fifteen and Jay is thirteen,” I replied. 

Pausing for a moment, I recalled the years I had worked as an office clerk and shuddered, “Oh, no, I couldn’t go back to work now.  I used to hate my job.  It was so monotonous.  Besides, with computers and everything nowadays, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.”

“So do something else then,” replied Lisa.

“Yeah,” Debbie agreed, “Find something interesting to do.  Isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to try?”

After being a “domestic engineer” for sixteen years, I’d never really had the time nor the energy to consider finding a past-time.  The only two things I’d ever wanted to really indulge in was a soak in the bath-tub and a good sleep-in on the weekend.

“I never did learn to knit,” I tentatively suggested.  The thought brought me no thrills.

“Oh come on Jacqui!  Think of something exciting or interesting or different.”

“How about rock-climbing,” Lisa blurted out.

“Or take up sculpting,” Debbie put in.

“Write poetry, or a book,” Lisa said.

“Try scuba-diving, or tandem sky-diving.”

“Actually that’s not a bad idea,” I replied, “I’ve always wanted to try hang-gliding.”

“Do you mean that giant kite kind of thing you hold onto, and then jump off cliffs?” Lisa said, her face a mask of horror.

“Yes,” I said, remembering some lessons I’d had as a teenager, “I was never brave enough to actually give it a go when I was younger.”

Then their suggestions began to get downright foolish.

“Well, ok then, if we’re going to go down that road, why not consider learning how to be a crocodile hunter,” Debbie threw in with a silly grin.

“Trot along to NASA and sign up to be an astronaut,” Lisa giggled.

“I know,” said Debbie, a serious expression on her face, “For the ultimate thrill, why not train to become an Accountant.”

The last comment threw us into a fit of laughter.

The exchange though, did give me some real food for thought over the ensuing weeks. 

After making some clandestine phone calls, I sat my family down to dinner one evening, and told them that I was considering taking up hang-gliding.

For several long seconds, there was silence.  The three of them stared at me, until Jay broke the stillness with the words, “Oh good one mum,” and burst into laughter.

“Oh mum, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Kiera responded with all the diplomacy a teenage daughter can muster.  She shook her head as if in disgust and continued eating her dinner.

“C’mon honey,” John said, his eyes crinkled in the corners, “What on earth put that idea in your head?”

“I was just talking to Debbie and Lisa and…”

“They’re usually the ones gallivanting off and doing crazy things.  What made you listen to their mad suggestions anyway?” John said

“It wasn’t their idea, and anyway, they’re not always doing silly things,” I said defensively. 

Looking across, I saw that John had resumed eating, so I kept quiet.

“Perhaps it was a foolish, and childish idea after all,” I thought to myself, “After all, I’m practically an old woman.”

The idea though, continued to resurface again and again in the following days, and so I made one more call.   


Two weeks before my forty-third birthday, I drove out along Henderson Road, that ran parallel with the highway and then curved left into a farming area, about ten kilometers south of my hometown.  A sign in front of the property read “Hills Hang-Gliding” with a cartoon picture of a smiling koala bear hanging onto the bar beneath a flying hang-glider.  'He looks like he’s enjoying it,' I tried to reassure myself, as my stomach nerves began to tighten.

Five minutes later I was out of the car and taking my first lessons with Mr Hill.  In his fifties, Horace Hill was a veteran hang-gliding enthusiast.  He’d won various competitions in different parts of the world, according to the numerous trophies displayed around the walls. 

“I’m also an amateur inventor,” he said, “I’ve created some minor adaptations to the basic designs, and have built and flown most of my own gliders.”

“Two years ago I patented a new design for teaching people how to hang-glide,” he continued with enthusiasm, “You see, one of the biggest problems has been the inherent danger in the sport.  Throwing oneself off a cliff is perilous enough when you’re an experienced flyer.  When someone is just learning, it’s quite frustratingly dangerous.”

“As I mentioned to you over the phone, this new method poses very little risk to a trainee,” he said.

As he made his way around to the side of the building I followed.  Parked in the gravel driveway was a small truck with a large, square platform on its rear.  Atop that was a hang-glider, latched firmly onto a special bar that was welded onto the back of the truck’s cabin.

“My wife Cheryl drives the truck along that large area out there in the paddock while you and I are on the back.  When we pick up a little speed, you then push the hang-glider bar forward a little, and voila, lift up into the air.”

“But won’t I tip over?” I asked, a slight tremor in my voice.

“The chain linking the hang-glider to the back of the truck is quite short.  This will allow you to have a little lift in the air, but you can go no further than to the edge of the platform on the back.  And anyway, if it looks like you’re about to tip over, I can help you to keep it straight,” Horace said with confidence.

“Don’t worry, love,” he said, “I’ve done this a hundred times.  It’s safer than learning the usual way, and you can fly on the very first day.”

“Ok,” I said.

For the next half an hour, Horace went over the basics with me: push the bar forward if you want to go up; pull the bar towards you if you want to come down; and don’t make sudden jerky movements.  We even had a practice run on a hang-glider he had suspended in the barn.

Then I donned a safety helmet and goggles, climbed up onto the back of the truck and strapped myself into the harness in the hang-glider.

When we were ready to go, Cheryl Hill clambered into the truck while Horace and I prepared ourselves on the platform in the back.

“Right to go?” he asked me with a smile.

Smiling back, I replied, “Absolutely!”

My stomach was turning over.  I felt so excited, I could barely contain myself.

Cheryl started the vehicle, and we slowly made our way to the paddock.  There was a huge area that had been flattened from being driven over many times before. 

As the truck picked up speed, Horace yelled, “Anytime Jacqui.”

Pushing the bar gently forward, I felt myself being lifted up.  It was the most wonderful sensation.  I felt as if I didn’t weigh a thing.  There was an incredible feeling of lightness and floating and I wanted to be up and away from there.  I didn’t want to be tethered to the ground anymore.  I wanted to fly – to soar forever, going higher into the clouds.

“Down for a moment, Jacqui,” Horace said, tugging at the bar with his hand.

The truck slowed as we came to the end of the paddock, and then turned around.

“Again!” I shouted, “I want to go again!”

Once we picked up speed, I pushed the bar forward, not needing any instructions.  That superb feeling enveloped me again.  When I squinted my eyes and looked up, it almost felt like I was gliding with birds in the heavens.

Within a fraction of a second, my situation changed. I heard Horace swear as the truck lurched violently.  A gust of wind swept down from behind, and there was the sound of snapping metal.  Suddenly, I felt myself swept up into the sky.  It took several seconds for the realisation to hit me, that my wish had been granted.  I was indeed flying.

My mind began to clog up with myriad thoughts, but nothing coherent came through.  “John…truck…push to lift…ground…chocolate cake."

“Ground!” the word screamed out in my mind and I looked down.  The ground was an awfully long distance away. 

In my panic, my body had stiffened and I’d pushed forward involuntarily on the bar.  Naturally, this had caused the hang-glider to rise further into the air.

“Come on you silly goose,” I remonstrated myself,  “You can do this.  Just gently pull back on the bar.  Whatever you do – don’t panic.”

Over and over, I kept repeating the words to myself. 

Then ever so gently, I pulled back on the bar on the hang-glider.  At first, nothing seemed to happen, then I saw the objects on the ground grow a little bigger.  Gaining confidence, I pulled at the bar some more.  Then all at once, I was hurtling towards the ground. 

“Push!  Push!” I screamed to myself, but my reaction was too strong, and I felt the hang-glider suddenly rise up.  Panicking, I pulled the bar towards me again, and for an instant, the hang-glider and I hung almost motionless in the air.  Then I was tumbling, every which way, twisting and turning.  I caught glimpses of the earth, as it rushed toward me and then smack! I hit the ground!

There was no pain.  For some time, my head spun in dizziness, and I couldn’t focus my eyes.  Eventually, once the world had righted itself in my vision, I took stock of my situation.  Testing my limbs, I discovered that I had not broken, nor even sprained anything.  Looking down, I noticed that I was sitting in a pile of hay.  In fact, I appeared to have landed in a very large stack of it.  When I stood up, I noticed that I had managed to land on the only stack of hay, in the entire paddock.  The odds of that occurring were unimaginable.

Just as I was congratulating myself on my unexpected luck, I heard a noise from behind me.  It sounded like a cough.  Turning around, I expected to see the embarrassed face of Horace Hill.  Instead, I was confronted by a bull.

It was a large bull.  It was a large, and very unhappy bull.  It snorted again. 

Swallowing at the big lump in my throat, I began to take some small steps back.  The bull lowered its head and snorted again.  I then took some larger steps backwards.  Every one of my senses was alert to the animal’s movements.  Snorting, it lowered its head again and pawed at the ground. 

I turned and ran for my life!  “Why is the fence so far away?” I asked myself.  There was the sound of thundering hoofprints on hard earth, and as I reached the fence, I threw myself over.  I swear, in that last second, I’d felt its breath on my skin.

Rolling over into a ditch on the other side, I landed with a splash in a puddle of mud.  It was a large enough for me to great a really, good, thick coating of it, from my head to my toes.  Wiping the mud from my eyes, I looked up into the face of the bull.  The creature looked down on me from the other side of the fence.  It wore an expression that came close to gloating. 

Sitting up, the mud dripping from me, I looked at him and said, “You can laugh now, but just remember that I eat beef.”

In the distance, I heard the sound of a siren.  Horace and Cheryl Hill soon arrived in the truck, both horrified at the events of the day.

Although I’d asserted that I was physically unharmed (I did not mention my pride), the Hills insisted that I undergo a thorough medical examination.  Before long, the ambulance arrived and I was whisked off to the local hospital.


“Now Mrs Parker, where does it hurt?” the young intern asked.

“I’m fine, doctor,” I replied, “The most I’ll have from this experience, is a couple of bruises.”

“It’s very foolish for someone of your age to take up such a dangerous sport,” he said shaking his head.  Lifting my arm, he began checking it for damage.

Bristling at his tone, I replied, “It’s a dangerous sport at any age.  And anyway, I’m not that old.”

“You were very fortunate, Mrs Parker,” he said, finishing his examination, “There is no serious damage. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”

I felt like slapping the condescending look right off his face.  Instead I replied, “Yes doctor.  I’ve decided to stay at home and knit.”

Ignorant of the sarcasm in my voice, he nodded in satisfaction as he left the cubicle.

Exasperated, I dressed, grabbed my handbag and walked down the hallway towards the exit. 

I could hear the sound of a brass band drifting up from outside of the building.  Some of the nurses had earlier been discussing the ceremony that was being held to celebrate the opening of the new pediatric wing of the hospital.

As I arrived at the lifts, I noticed how empty the area was.  I recognised that most of the staff were probably at the opening festivities. 

The attitude of the doctor still rankled me, and when I was about to press the button for the elevator, I saw the stairway leading downstairs.  A rebellious little voice in my head said, “Go ahead!  Nobody will see you!  It’ll show that impudent young doctor that you’re not so old.”

After looking around and checking that the area was clear, I walked over to the stairs, swung my leg over the shiny metal banister, and with a loud “Woohoo!” I slid down the railing!  It was almost as good as flying, and for just a few seconds, I felt like a child again.

The feeling though, didn’t last very long.  I discovered that wearing nylon trousers, and attempting to slide down a smooth, metal banister was tantamount to disaster.  Picking up speed, I found that I could not stop the momentum.  There was a long, elegant curve in the railing, and as I a came around the bend, I felt my body fly through the air.  I bounced along the ground, rolled through a doorway, over an embankment, and then fell straight down onto the midst of the brass band.  The crowd began to scream, and I saw the flash from several cameras as I stood up.

I must have looked a sight.  There was grass in my hair, dried mud from my earlier escapade, and I had just put my leg straight through a bass drum. 

The Mayor, who had been about to begin his speech, looked at me as if I’d escaped from a local institution. I smiled weakly at him, and mouthed the word “sorry”. 

Then I was half carried, and half dragged inside the medical facility again. Placed in a chair in the emergency department, I sat with one of the band members on either side of me.  They weren’t concerned for my health.  They just wanted to get their tuba back.

I knew that the headlines in the local paper the next day were going to cause some considerable embarrassment to my teenage children.  How was I ever going to explain to my family, that I’d ended up with my arm wedged in a tuba, because I’d been hang-gliding.  Somehow, I doubted that I was going to ever live this episode down.

It was at that moment that I heard a familiar voice.

"Mrs Parker?" said the intern, "Why didn't you follow my advice?"

I grabbed hold of my handbag hoping for an opportunity to accidentally hit him with it.

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