From Five to Fifty-Five

Reflecting on a milestone birthday

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By Terri Rimmer

I was supposed to be born on St. Patrick’s Day but, just like my life, I was late.

To the tune of two weeks to be exact so I showed up March 31, 1966.

I never thought I’d make it to 50, much less 55.

To say I had a tumultuous childhood is like saying The Great Depression was a laugh factory.

I recently lost two immediate family members in the span of four months, one half-expected, the other not so soon.

I knew them both since I was nine, but I was only close to one of them, both men, both complicated and alike.  

I haven’t particularly been looking forward to turning 55. My 50th was pretty disappointing.

Even though I’ve worked for ten newspapers, some magazines, and been published online for years,  winning a Florida Press Association Award, and continue to have my work accepted for publication on various web sites, I haven’t been able to make a living at it for a very long time.

This past year I was laid off due to COVID.

When one of my immediate family members who I was very close to died March 7 this year that just added to my depression so I stopped looking for work. Then, it was as if I could hear him say to me, “Don’t use my death as an excuse.” So I started up again. He gave me my first job in the summer when I was 12 at his company, answering phones, cleaning, filing, typing, whatever I could do at that age and I made $20 a week. I worked there every summer until I was old enough to get a real job.

He taught me to look people in the eye when you talk to them, to get up on time to get to work, to say “Yes Ma’am” and “No sir.” About honesty, perseverance, and about being thorough.

My mom also gave me a good work ethic. When she was “no higher than a bean pole” as her relatives would say she was working in tobacco on the farm next to her parents and siblings. Then when she got older she was expected to have the family meal ready, a multiple course dinner for when they got home from working in the fields all day. She dropped out of high school to take care of her dad, then later went back, got her Bachelor’s and her Masters in her 50s.

Two years ago I totaled my car because I had a panic attack and couldn’t afford to get another one. I lost my job and my faith off and on. Then my college-aged daughter stopped speaking to me and it’s been a little over two years since she has.

Now I’m moving in two days out of a house I’ve lived in for 16 years and I’m scared to death even though it’s going to be a much better place.

This house has been a parallel to my rough life. It has three underground water leaks, needs a new roof, the foundation needs to be re-done a third time, there’s rats in the walls, you can’t take a shower without water coming up to your ankles, you can’t operate two appliances at the same time or you’ll blow a fuse. It doesn’t take much to lose power during a storm. The garage gets a little flooded during lots of rain. A big puddle forms at the bottom of the steps if we get tons of rain so you have to wear rain boots to get to the car. There’s a steel factory in the back which makes all these noises and the house is so drafty you freeze in the winter unless you run the stove.

I’ve gone through three dryers, three washers, one fridge, three ovens, two dishwashers, one sink, and one tub.

This house is a perfect example of what I’ve lived through in my life – chaos, survival, persistence, pain, fear.

And yet, I’m going to miss this house.

There were good memories.

Like my life.

Despite all my bouncy, topsy-turvy life of mental illness, recovery from alcoholism, despair, death, grief, wrestling with forgiveness of family members who hurt me because of their own addictions, I shocked myself by continuing to survive, and not just that, but find some kind of wisdom after all the mess.

I outlived two people who broke my heart, who I thought would destroy me forever.

But it doesn’t feel good to be here instead of them.

Instead I just wish they hadn’t traveled down the road they did and had been able to experience the life they could’ve had.

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