Today’s excerpt comes from a book I started last year. I was sailing along and then I got sidetracked by another idea, probably Beyond the Cracks. This is Fighting Forty which I not only have two thirds of the way complete, but I also have the title and a cover concept all worked out.
It began the day after my fortieth birthday. Matt came sauntering into the kitchen in nothing but his boxers, a boyish smile on his face, his hair falling in his eyes, and I instantly hated him. Well, maybe I didn’t hate him exactly. That might be a little strong. Maybe I just resented him. There was definitely a feeling of animosity, lets say.
He looked happy, and although up until that morning I’d have told you I was happy too, suddenly I was miserable. I felt as though I had been slapped in the face, and not only was it startling, but it was painful. Everything about Matt’s appearance screamed young and content, while I was no longer either of those things. I was just forty. Not in my twenties, not in my thirties, but now in my forties.
Never mind the fact that Matt is two years older than me. He is a guy and I’m a girl. At least I used to be a girl. Once you hit forty, you can’t really refer to yourself as a girl anymore, now can you?
Matt kissed my forehead.
“Good Morning Beautiful,” he said, moving towards the coffee maker.
“Nice of you to dress up,” I grumbled.
He laughed and went about the business of making our usual morning coffee. We’d been together for twenty years at this point, so my grumbling was nothing new to him. He knew I required a wide berth so to speak, on most mornings, so it came as no surprise that after a late night party I would be less than pleasant. Casual as he appeared, he had to know that my turning forty was bound to have some repercussions. After all, we are both actors and everyone knows that forty is the kiss of death for an actress. Thus the reason my party had been celebrated in the theme of a wake. Up until that point it had all seemed funny, but that morning the humor had suddenly and abruptly, worn off.
“What time will your mom be returning the kids?” Matt asked, a few moments later, handing me a cup of coffee with my usual three heaping teaspoons of sugar and a beautifully swirled spray of whipped cream on top, just the way I like it.
I had been leaning against our new farm-style sink, a birthday gift I had campaigned hard to get, and which had been installed the day before, staring out into the backyard with it’s beautiful Jacaranda tree. A tree that in the light breeze was dropping purple blossoms directly into our gorgeous swimming pool. I have a real love/hate relationship with that tree.
“Yoo-hoo, Emily,” Matt said, waving his hand in my face.
I slapped it away and he grabbed my wrist, leaning in to kiss my neck.
“What are you doing?” I growled.
“Has dementia set in so soon?” he teased. “When are the kids coming home? Have we got time to go back to bed?”
“What for?” I asked, sincerely not knowing.
Now lest you should think I’m an idiot, remember that I just told you, we had been together for twenty years. We had children that were teenagers. There were no romantic trysts in the morning, even when I still liked him. Not in the past ten years at any rate. There was the occasional quickie when he woke up aroused, but that usually consisted of my merely leaning into him, while hoping he wouldn’t disturb me so much that I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. Passion was reserved for vacations away from the kids, and lately those had been few and far between.
“Let’s go back to bed,” he grinned, pulling me into the hallway.
“I’m forty, get real,” I objected.
“Exactly, use it or lose it babe,” he laughed. “We can’t have you rusting up like the tin man.”
“I’m not in the mood,” I snarled, breaking free of his grasp.
“Because you are forty?
“Sure, whatever,” I said, turning to leave.
Much to my surprise, he grabbed my hips and ran me back to our bedroom, despite my objections. He then lifted me and tossed me onto our bed, another clear indication that while I was ageing, he was somehow managing to get younger. That only increased my dislike of him.
“This isn’t happening,” I announced, as he leapt onto the bed and I rolled away from him.
“Why not? How often do we get the house to ourselves? Come on Em, even if you aren’t into it, take one for the team,” he pleaded, giving me his most charming smile.
“My life is over!” I wailed, collapsing back onto the bed to have a big old, self-pitying cry.
“There, there old woman,” Matt teased, “you’re only as old as you feel.”
Matt continued trying to tease me out of my mood for the rest of the day, but to no avail. My mom returned the kids and sympathized when I stood on the front porch complaining, but her only advice was that I should lie about my age from now on. Either that or prepare to become a character actress. My fifteen year old, Samantha, heard that and groaned.
“Oh god, just retire. The last thing I need is to become the daughter of a character actress.!”
Although perfectly normal at her age, Sami, as I was no longer allowed to call her, felt everything revolved around her. Anything any of us did, reflected on her and if we knew what was good for us, it had better reflect positively.
From a very young age, she had always been far more accepting of Matt’s career than mine. Matt could be killed off, or the one doing the killing on any TV show around, and he was considered cool. When I was killed off, or killing, I was dressed wrong, or my dying was lame. Matt, she felt, was far better at dropping dead than I was. Likewise, when Matt played a love interest, it was just funny to her. When I did so, I was slutty or just plain pathetic. Whenever Matt got a role in a film, it was cause for celebration, but if I did the same, I was an absentee parent who didn’t care enough to be there for her when she needed me most. It was a battle I had long since given up on trying to win.
“Maybe I will,” I told her.
“Maybe you won’t,” Mom said. “Not if you know what’s good for you.”
“It’s just going to be demeaning from here on out,” I sighed.
“Absolutely,” Mantha, as I was now supposed to call her, concurred. “Quit while you’re ahead.”
“You know what, maybe you are right,” Mom said. “Stay home and help Mantha navigate the tricky road of dating boys and when to first become intimate.”
“Oh Frick my life!” Mantha dramatically declared.
My mom smiled and gave me a hug.
“You are every bit as young and beautiful today as you were yesterday, and don’t you ever forget it. I love you.”
“I love you too. Thanks for taking the kids.”
“No problem,” she smiled, walking back to her car.
“You realize she’s only saying that because she’s your mother,” Mantha told me.
“You realize she only took you for the same reason,” I muttered.
“Real mature, Mom,” she said, rolling her eyes and going inside.
I walked over to the rose bushes that line the fence between our house and the Rosenfield’s and began picking at dead leaves. Max, our thirteen year-old, burst out the front door, skateboard in hand, and flew by, saying he was going down to Kevin’s.
“Kyle is having a shit fit, btw,” he called back.
“Why?” I asked, but Max was already out of earshot, having jumped on his board and skated off.
Kyle was our surprise. The result of one of those aforementioned vacations eight years earlier. I have read somewhere that seven is the age of reason, but at seven and a half, Kyle had yet to have more than a moment’s reason. Matt takes his volatile personality in stride, whereas I find him to be overwhelming. I love him to death, but I would be lying if I said I understand him, or know how to reason with him. Because of this, I pretended not to have heard Max and continued hanging out with my bushes. That is until I saw Carolyn Rosenfield drive into her wrap around driveway. Then I rushed back into the house in an effort to avoid being dragged into an awkward discussion as to why we had held a party and not invited the entire neighborhood, not to mention given fair warning as to how loud it would be. Much like Mantha, but far less understandable, Carolyn also believes the world revolves around her. She is a master at sticking her nose into everyone’s business.
As soon as I shut the front door I realized the flaw in this was that I was then thrust into Kyle’s meltdown. He was standing in the living room, facing off with Matt who held both remotes to the TV. Kyle was yelling that something was stupid and upon seeing me, he did his best to bring me around to his way of thinking, tearfully explaining what he perceived as a great injustice.
“Daddy won’t let me watch the movie and I have to watch the movie because everybody, all my friends get to, and I don’t, and it’s not fair!” he cried.
Let me state, just for the record, that Matt and I have incredibly beautiful children. They have each managed to gather the best features between us and come out as stunning physical specimens. Kyle has the most incredible blue/green eyes, and sun streaked dark blonde hair, as well as a year round golden tan. He is on the small side, so he looks even younger than he is, and there is a sweetness about his face that makes you want to side with him even when he is clearly in the wrong. This time was no different than any other.
“What movie?” I asked.
“The Avengers,” Kyle sniffled.
“He is seven and a half,” I reasoned.
“Yeah!” he huffed.
“It will give him nightmares and we’ll be up all night, not to mention, I have already told him no,” Matt informed me.
“No it won’t. Mommy tell him!”
“Is it really that violent?” I inquired.
“Yes, for a kid like him, yes,” Matt insisted.
It was true, Kyle is very sensitive. Even a lyric in a song can set him off.
“But sooner or later, he’s going to see it.”
“Not today, he’s not.”
“Sorry Babe, I tried,” I shrugged.
Kyle fell to the ground in what looked like a convulsive fit, and Matt simply went to where he was flopping about, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him back to his room, where he told him to stay until dinner. It was a futile attempt at domination. The kid was out of that room like a shot, collapsing in front of us, yet again, but with the same result. This went on for a good twenty minutes until he had sufficiently exhausted himself to the point of no return, literally.
With this ugly reality refreshed in my mind, it became crystal clear to me that retirement was not an option. No matter how small or embarrassing the part, I knew that were it offered, I would accept it. Leading lady or hideous side kick, it would still be an excuse to get out of the house, and out was where I needed to be.