Five years ago, I fell in love with a little red convertible. Thus began age 45, when I'd pass a mirror and alarmingly recognize my mom in my face.
Though my body was going to heck, my mind became more honed than ever.
My greatest professional challenge was a six-month project when I was a content editor for a software program that would compete with a program being developed by a team of 200. We had two people on the project: my husband was the programmer. We developed our product in six months.
Our software was good -- theirs was great, but we had marketplace success as the cheap competitor.
It went to our heads as incentive to do more products before the bottom dropped out of the mass market software business.
With the children grown and gone, my husband and I worked 12- to 16-hour days. We saw the fruits of our labors -- we threw a nice wedding for our daughter -- but weren't having much fun working insane hours and living in a brand-new house.
I dropped into bed nightly in utter exhaustion, wondering if I would die in my sleep, stricken down by overwork. Husband barely slept for 10 years. I did that pace for five years. Both of us exceeded the speed limit of life.
Then, one day I saw Thelma, my nickname for a red 1991 Mercury Capri XR2 convertible with removable hardtop. Her photo was tacked to the bulletin board of a restaurant in Gold Canyon, Ariz. I tumbled into love for $1,600, buying Thelma from a man whose wife was expecting -- she decided the car was not suitable for an infant and wanted a soccer mom van. The seller nearly cried upon parting with the keys.
The first time I took Thelma for a topless spin on the Superstition Freeway, my heart raced with joy. The warm February sun of the Valley beat down on my shoulders, the wind rushed through my hair as I tested her passing moves in traffic -- perfect cruise control, flirty pop-up headlights, and best of all, a radio/cassette deck. The turbo engine was responsive. Thelma climbed mountains easily, but if I didn't watch it, we would be airborne. Downshifting was also a nice feature.
I felt young again when I drove Thelma. I felt groovy, cool, free. I made mix tapes for traveling music, though I had no idea where I would go. People talked to me and treated me differently, almost as if a convertible is an invitation to spontaneous conversation.
A few months after I bought her, my dad passed away and there was a lot of family drama, so much so, that I asked my husband if I could stop working for a few months to get myself pieced back together. I wanted calm, rest, peace. He agreed I should have a vacation. He alone held the fort.
Thelma took me on a trip to Utah, where our son worked and attended college. I spent a night with him at his converted sheep shed. He found two snakes in my car, which had hitchhiked along for hundreds of miles.
I enjoyed long stretches where the speed limit was 75 miles per hour. I listened to mix tapes that looped over and over. I sang along. I talked to myself. I enjoyed the journey.
The destination was Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. I rented an apartment within walking distance of a beach and a lake. I painted watercolors on the beach and wrote bad poetry, my guts spilling out on paper, until I felt healing happening.
I walked 10 kilometers daily and lost weight. I became a fan of fresh salmon. I took thousands of photos. I observed marine life. I swam in the ocean and in a blue lake so cold that I gasped from the shock of it.
I did what every person should do when life gets wound too tightly from tragedy, stress, perfectionism and die-hard workaholism. I nurtured myself. I learned no one can do that for you, but you.
After a few months of beach bumming, driving around in a red convertible, I felt better. Sometimes I get out the sheaves of watercolors that mean so much to me. They aren't very good, but they were part of my transition from young to middle-aged.
I still have my car. Thelma has been on many trips, but is too old to be driven far -- it's now our Payson-only car.
Sometimes it takes a little red convertible, admittedly a midlife-crisis car, to take you on the road to the next part of your life.
As you grow older, may all of your journeys observe the speed limit.