The Middle

When the original Sex and the City show came out, I couldn’t watch it. We didn’t have HBO, and it fell into the category of shows that my mom felt like would send me straight to you-know-where if my impressionable teenage mind watched it. So naturally, shortly after I got married, I watched the series to figure out what I’d been missing all those years. Then there came the movies. I have to say, I loved both of the movies. They are my go-to sick day movies now. What I love is this idea of a group of women who completely understand each other, support each other, and just show up in each other’s lives regardless of the need. There’s something beautiful about that kind of friendship. I also love Designing Women and Golden Girls for the same reason. 

Since all these shows came out well before my time, I have the benefit of watching them in whatever order I want. I already know how the seasons end, how the movies end….I have the benefit of knowing the outcome. Maybe that’s why watching the drama of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte is comforting to me rather than anxiety inducing. I know that ultimately their stories have mostly happy endings. But set aside the fact that these are fictional characters for a minute and imagine that they are your friends, you are living life alongside them in real time, and you have no idea what the future will bring for any of you. You have no comfort to offer aside from your presence and your love while you walk with them through their middles. That is where we can all see ourselves.

Lately I have felt very in the middle. There’s a line in a movie (Hope Floats) that says something like, “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts.” It’s a good line, but sometimes it seems like a load of crap. Nothing feels good about the middle. The middle is where the fear, the anxiety, the waiting, and the doubt happen. It’s where you don’t know what’s coming next, and when you think you have it figured out, it changes. It’s the age where you are both the parent and the child, and you don’t feel well-prepared to be either. Sometimes the middle just sucks. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut there, and to feel like your middle is actually your ending. To think that nothing is ever going to get any better, or to (as a friend once put it) dig yourself into a hole so deep you can’t see your way out of it. I have done that twice in the last few months, and both times, Other Half called Christina Yang and said “fix it.” 

The most recent time was last week. Being at the beach was a little sadder than I expected it to be, and it put me into this funk of grief that I didn’t know how to escape. I exploded in tears after work one day—I don’t even remember why— and I couldn’t stop. Shortly after that is when Other Half excused himself to the bathroom which, by PURE COINCIDENCE, Christina Yang sends me.a text that says, “Want to get out of the house for a while?” 

Now, in our small town, there’s not all the glitz and glamour that Samantha Jones would have at her disposal to cheer up Carrie Bradshaw, so we made do with what we had. First stop was the book store. I am a die-hard e-reader fan, but one of the things I have missed during the lockdown was going to an actual bookstore and browsing. There’s a sort of book-scale related to my mental health that Christina Yang understands. If I’m reading non-fiction, I’m OK. I have the attention span and the compassion to keep up. If I’m reading novels, I’m escaping from life. If I cross over into YA fiction though, it’s a little sketchy. The Divergent Series means I just want to relax. The Hunger Games trilogy means I’m not doing as great, but still have a little fight left in me, and Twilight means I’ve given up on life, please send help. Christina Yang was aware that I had recently started book 3 in the Hunger Games series. 

As she’s driving, I say, “I think I identify with Katniss Everdeen lately.” This is where I get an eye-roll. “How do you identify with Katniss Everdeen?” She says. “Well, I keep getting beat down, but I’m too stubborn to give up so I keep fighting and trying to save my family from things we can’t save each other from.” I think it is at this point she realizes she wishes she had ignored Other Half’s text message. Unfortunately for her, it’s too late. 

We go in the bookstore, and right there at the front is a display full of a new Hunger Games book. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lay down and die and 10 being run a marathon, this immediately takes my mood from a 2 to a 4. We walk around the store a while longer while I talk myself out of buying The Great Gatsby even though it was only three dollars, and I impulse-buy a political satire because it made me giggle a little. Then the annoying lady on the intercom kicks us out because it’s closing time. I vow to never buy retail again because Amazon is cheaper and makes it less likely that I will get COVID. She can’t take me home yet because my mood is still at a 4. Time for plan B.

In the first Sex and the City movie, Carrie Bradshaw’s girlfriends go with her to Mexico, but this is not New York. It’s small town North Carolina. We have kids, responsibilities, and limited options. And one of us has to go save lives at 630 the next morning. We decide to go for Mexican food. We end up at a restaurant we have been going to together since we were 15. The prices and decor have changed over the years, but the food has not. We are seated in a corner booth and place our order. We chat about friends from high school and what it’s like to see them as adults, less at the beginning of our collective stories and now more towards the middle. About how some of the people we grew up with are already gone, their stories seemingly cut short. There’s lots of deep introspection, occasionally sprinkled with snarky comments, and then our food is delivered to our table.

It’s the same food we always have, but the fact that it is served on Dixie plates, complete with decorative border, catches me by surprise. Even the drinks are served in solo cups. We look at each other, me trying to cut through my chimichanga with a plastic fork and knife, and giggle a little. “I don’t think this is how Carrie Bradshaw did it,” I say. Christina Yang sips her drink and smiles. The mood is at least a 6 now. The fried ice cream hasn’t even arrived yet, and my baseline is a 7. 

Christina Yang doesn’t know what the end of my story looks like. Neither does other half, or anyone else. But just like Mr. Big knew to call the girls at all the important parts, Other Half gets it too. It might be a little easier for me to cope with life if I knew what the ending looked like ahead of time, but I would miss out on so much. LIke finding out how amazing it feels to be understood so well by other people when most days I don’t even understand myself. It might not be how Carrie and Samantha would do it, but the way Christina Yang and I did it still made me feel better. Sometimes the middle just sucks. But it sucks less when you have the right people, even if all those people do is know when to call your best friend or take you out for tacos and overpriced books. I definitely have the right people. 

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