#8220;I’m stuck,” she said. “But knowing I’m stuck doesn’t seem to help. I still can’t seem to do anything about it.” I was on the phone with my girlfriend. She lives in a small town she alternately hates and embraces. She has an on-again, off-again boyfriend. She’s often talked of leaving, but the years passed and she doesn’t.
“I wish I knew what to do,” she told me. “If I move, I have to find another job and I’m too old for all the new technology that’s required. Anyone younger than me is going to get the job first.”
The reasoning surprised me. Phyllis is among the most talented illustrators I knew.
“Maybe your work doesn’t do jumping jacks, but not everyone wants a graphic artist who does a back flip. Your aesthetic is beautiful, classic.”
“My style is out of vogue. It’s dated. There’s a new hip style and I don’t have it. I’m actually lucky to have a job at all.”
Encouraging her just created a tug-of-war. It made me wonder what it was she really wanted. Maybe just someone to listen. I pulled back.
“It sounds difficult,” I replied. “I know you’ve been trying to figure this out for awhile.”
“It is difficult. The worst of it is I feel so stupid.” Her voice strained. “I used to be so free and easy to make change. But I didn’t feel so old then. I would pick up and move to another town and not think twice. But I don’t have the courage or energy I used to have.”
Her voice was now thick and slow.
“Phyllis, you talk about how old you are, but if you’re really so geriatric, how come you have this guy 10 years your junior still hanging around?”
“Oh him. He just likes me because everyone else here is so boring. I guess he thinks I’m interesting in comparison.”
She gave a little self-deprecating laugh and our conversation continued over familiar terrain.
“I know you’re sick of hearing me say the same thing over and over,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m boring and depressing. Maybe we should just talk about you.”
Listening to Phyllis I thought of myself. I could throw no stones. I lived with a man for many years past the day I stopped caring for him. I complained to my girlfriends about his habits and my inner angst. I repeated the same lament for years, as if by repeating it I could somehow change my situation. But I stayed.
My life and his entwined; our routines, our silences, our arguments, the way we lay in bed but never touched.
Phyllis’ words made me grateful for my escape. I tried to remember how I pulled away and finally offered up advice.
“I think everyone has something in their life they feel stuck about: a job, a relationship, wanting to finish or start something. Life is complicated. This may seem all about you, but it’s really just the human condition. We all feel this way sometime.”
She sighed deeply and laughed suddenly. “You mean everyone is as messed up as me? Now I feel much better!”
We both laughed.
When I hung up I thought about my younger self and the choices I made. I realized my advice to her was also advice to me: The time had come to let up.