The five-year itch
Ryan Summerlin January 28, 2014
Every five years or so, I go through a metamorphosis. It’s not quite as dramatic as becoming a butterfly.
But emotionally, it can feel that way sometimes.
I’m not sure why my life has to be this way, but major life events have come in five-year increments. When I was 5 years old, for example, my maternal grandmother, Betty, was diagnosed with cancer. She was given a year to live. I, of course, didn’t understand all the technicalities of her illness back then. I remember going to the hospital with her for chemo and radiation treatments. I would walk alongside her wheelchair as my mom pushed her through the crosswalk from the parking garage to the part of the hospital where people were sick. I was mesmerized that we could walk high above the traffic, hanging in the air and tiptoeing over car rooftops.
Wouldn’t it be great to be 5 again?
I remember a little 3-or-so-year-old girl who would often be there for her cancer treatments when my grandma had appointments. She was bald and, not understanding why, I asked my mom.
No one can ever understand why children ever have cancer.
Not long after I finished my fifth year of life, by grandmother was gone. My mom tells me it was almost exactly one year after she was told she had 12 months to live. Our time together may have been short — I can count the years on one hand — but the impression she left on me as a woman could encompass both our lifetimes.
I often wonder what she would have thought about me going out to Colorado.
When I was 10 years old, I was on the front page of the Indianapolis newspaper. This may seem insignificant to people who don’t care much about newspapers. Funny thing is, seeing my name for the first time ever on the front page made me want to pursue a writing career. What I really wanted to see was my byline as the reporter or photographer who helped write or take photos of the news and share it with the people.
So I became a reporter.
Jump ahead to my 30s. It’s not like nothing happened between 10 and 30. Plenty of things took place. I went to middle school then high school — both traumatic in their own right considering how awkward my years of wearing braces were. I also later graduated college, married and bought a house.
It’s all kind of a blur.
Becoming 30, and truly embracing my womanhood, was big for me. I went down to Tampa/St. Petersburg with my friend Tari and a pilot named Roger. I didn’t know Roger that well but he was a pilot, and that’s all I can remember about that part of the story. Defying the odds, I do recall the early-morning escapade as I ended up with a tattoo on the small of my back. I returned from the trip a changed woman in many ways. I had a terrible sunburn, which doesn’t help the aging process. I also knew my marriage was over and the pilot named Roger had nothing to do with it.
For once, that one was not my fault.
I embraced my 30s with a new sense of responsibility to myself. That admittedly sounds a little selfish, but it was necessary. A lot had happened from 10 to 30, especially involving boys and later men, so I needed a life change. I needed to do what I wanted to do.
I had only been to the state one other time before I moved across the country to live in the mountains. I had skied Breckenridge and heard all the wonderful stories of Colorado from my parents. Essentially, I was a gaper, often caught with my mouth hanging open when I’d see the sun shining on a snow-capped mountain. I didn’t know what I was in for in those initial years in Colorado. There was adventure and heartache. Trials and tribulations. I found love and I lost it. I learned how to really make turns down a mountain.
And I learned how to tumble, skis-over-head, on the same run.
When I was 35, I decided I wanted to live in Flagstaff. There wasn’t any talking me out of it. I was going and no one could, or did, stop me. The experience was short-lived, but the move also changed me. I made this life decision while Def Leppard was playing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” during Rock Jam in Grand Junction in my friend Rob’s green vintage VW bus.
It made sense at the time.
I didn’t stay in Flagstaff, but I did try out for the college rugby team there. I saw the Grand Canyon several times. I learned a lot about American Indian reservations, and it wasn’t what I learned from a textbook back in Indiana as a kid.
Funny how life works that way.
Now that I’m out of my 30s and experiencing the roller coaster ride of middle age, I embrace those big life changes that seem to come to me in five-year increments. Turning 40 was pivotal for me because I was in a dark place at the time. I had been laid off, had some personal loss, and was having a hard time figuring out where life was taking me. I was just along for the ride, confident that work and love would come back to me. Now that the bad year is over, I know it was just there to test me and teach me how quickly life can change. I like to think at 45 I will be a different version of myself, content in happiness and work.
And all life’s big, and little, changes.
— April E. Clark feels for friends who are grieving this week. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.