Twice in this past year, I have left Chicago for the Bay Area. For various reasons, I have come alone on both trips. These have been substantially different trips than the one in which the four of us came out here together at Christmas. (Remember that one?)
Each time I've come, I've run into this fascinating woman. I have begun to refer to her as my Other Self. This woman, who looks startlingly like me and is my very age, still lives here in California. She is unattached, has no children, and zips around town in a cute little green Prius rather than a beat-up green Legacy. My Other Self is quite busy with her private practice but still has time for lunch with friends, movies, and reading the newspaper. When her watch battery dies, she can stop somewhere and replace it in an afternoon; she doesn't understand why such a task might take me 2 months to complete. She even - gasp! - gets to go out for a run every morning. I'll bet she even goes to the gym regularly, although she doesn't have the heart to tell me this.
She walks around Stow Lake with her friend Barbra, finding the new baby herons way up in the trees and watching in amazement as one flies awkwardly right overhead. She goes to Arizmendi Bakery for some coffee and a scone, and then later meets her friend and colleague Liesl to see her new flat and have lunch with more friends. She gets to spend a few hours on a Saturday with her grandmother. She spends long, uninterrupted stretches of time with her parents, sometimes at home and sometimes in the hospital; but wherever they are, she can be with them, available to help when needed.
My Other Self can read for hours before falling asleep and on weekends can sleep until she wakes up on her own and read some more. I am awed by the fact that her life - her pace - is her own.
There are times when I really envy this Other Self her apparent freedom. And yet I know I would not prefer her life. My Other Self is watching as her friends are marrying and having their first babies. She is yearning for a partner to come home to, who is smart and funny and responsible and sweet AND will also handle the entire household for a week so that she can help her parents. She doesn't know, but suspects, that there is more to children than dirty diapers and sleep deprivation. My Other Self can only guess at the joy of early morning cuddles, brothers holding hands in the backseat of the car, and screams of "Mommy!!" whether she is just home from work or simply out of the shower. She won't know how much she would love living again in a place where time is marked by four distinct seasons, the fun of playing with kids at the beach down the street or in the snow, how happy the autumn leaves would make her.
No, I am glad for the path I have chosen. But my Other Self continues to exist for me here and I love to visit her periodically; for the recharge, but also for the reminder of all that I have.