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Madwoman, 4th pass.indd 11 2/27/14 1:28 PM
’ m hu r t l i ng we s t a l ong the 101 Freeway to the Val-
ley to pick my daughters up from school. I am forty-nine
years old, and I have just gotten of the phone with my friend
and magazine editor, Ben. We have been talking about ref-
nancing: It’s a wonderfully mundane topic of conversation—
one of those truly harmless pleasures of midlife. It helps me to
recall not all, but at least some, of the staid, rational person I
was not too long ago: which is to say before I, a forty- something
suburban mother, became involved in a wild and ill- considered
extramarital afair.
“Listen,” Ben says excitedly. “I know two years ago John
Warick got you that thirty years fxed at 4.75 percent, which
as we know is historically unheard of. But I’m telling you, this
new guy who’s doing my next refnance, at Wells Fargo? When
I ran your numbers by him, he thought you could qualify for
an even lower thirty years fxed like . . . 4.275.” Ben is as much
of a math nerd about this stuf as I am.
Indeed, under normal circumstances, I am the sort of
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OCD person for whom the number 4.275 would create a spike
of excitement. It’s the same adrenaline rush I get when success-
fully completing a newspaper sudoku or crossword puzzle with
a sharp number 2 pencil. Ben and I can get truly wound up
around our small personal-fnance triumphs most of the time.
But today even this conversation hasn’t supplied its usual lift. I
fnd myself feeling surprisingly fat.
Until now, not being able to feel things has never been one
of my copious personal faws. I am, for better or for worse, a
person obsessively driven by passions large and small. I fnd
my mind drifting to dinner. I remember in that moment that I
promised my girls that morning that tonight’s dinner would be
Make Your Own Pizza.
I n t he or y Make Your Own Pizza is one of the wonderfully
creative new things my girls and I do. Now that my kids go
back and forth between my ex-husband and me, I have peri-
ods of rest. As a consequence, I’ve been able to bring on an
astonishing amount of high-quality parenting. Ironically, here
is the artisanal attention and care I was never able to provide
as a full-time mother. In our new life together in our big short-
saled Victorian house, my girls and I make lemonade from
scratch, bake pies, and paint Easter eggs. I’ve taught them to
ride bikes, to crochet, and to paint on actual easels with water-
colors. We even go bowling, and we have Make Your Own
Pizza for dinner.
I fnd myself thinking ahead to the burned pizza stone
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languishing crusty and unwashed in the oven. I think of how
sticky the Trader Joe’s dough is, of how I will probably need
to get two kinds, the garlic-herb and the whole wheat. I think
of how needlessly jam-packed the parking lot at Trader Joe’s is
in midafternoon, how surprisingly uninspired their samples—
lukewarm cups of bland organic rotelli, cloudy vials of unfl-
tered apple juice. My feeling of fatness gives way decidedly, at
the thought of Make Your Own Pizza, to sudden and dramatic
I hang up on Ben, pull of the freeway, and park under
a tree in front of a dirty-yellow ranch-style house to collect
myself and instead instantly begin sobbing, producing heaves
of seawater like Jonah’s whale. It’s not just the pizza. Suddenly
an image comes to me, seemingly at random, of my daughters’
hamster. Because they are always begging for more pets, their
dad had given them a tofee-blond hamster named Hammy,
who stayed with me one weekend when they all went out of
town. He spent the day as my little companion, happily rolling
around in his blue plastic ball while I wrote at the computer.
After Hammy went home I heard from the girls that he had
gotten sick—“Probably from eating his own wood chips,” Sally
reported—and subsequently died.
Hunched over the steering wheel, I think—why now?—
of that little face, those little paws, that jingling blue ball. I
think of Hammy’s sunny disposition and friendly, inquisitive
nose, and his essential innocence and trueness and goodness.
I am a forty-nine-year-old woman sitting in her flthy Volvo
parked under a tree on a Tuesday afternoon wailing about a
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hamster. Just how low are we setting the bar here? (And yet,
why of all things did God have to take this hamster? What was
the harm?)
I want to call my older sister, Kaitlin, but I shouldn’t. My
sister and I are so close it’s as if we share a limb. When Kaitlin
and I are getting along, we talk all the time, and she gives the
greatest, most amazing sister advice (call that Pema Chödrön,
after the crop-haired Tibetan-Buddhist nun whose inspira-
tional writings we both adore). When we are fghting I can
almost physically feel the phone not ring, and it feels inten-
tionally strategic (call that . . . Margaret Tatcher). But I’ve put
Kaitlin through a hell of a lot. My afair almost killed her.
After all, I’m not just her middle-aged kid sister but the mother
of her two favorite nieces. No, I can’t call her, because if she
sensed I was going of the deep end again, Kaitlin would have
to stage an intervention to treat the entire family.
Instead I fnd myself dialing Ann. Ann is not necessarily
my closest girlfriend, but she is the most sensible and the lon-
gest happily married. (I’ve had my share of crazy girlfriends,
and since my divorce it seems like everyone else’s twenty-year-
long marriages are now suddenly toppling over like dominoes.
All these wild-eyed women want to meet for cofee, as though
I’m a sort of underground-divorce-railroad Harriet Tubman,
and the vibe is unsettling.) Ann is together. Ann always has
a good plumber, contractor, or electrician. Ann knows which
Beverly Hills specialist to call if you have a mysterious spot or
rash. Ann has a beautifully organized shoe closet.
“Hello?” Ann says after two and a half rings. Barely able
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to choke the words out, I tell her about my sorrow over the
hamster, and about this sudden, violent stab of midafternoon
midlife malaise.
She says: “Oh sweetie. I’m so sorry to hear that. Can I
ask— when did you last have your period?”
“I have no idea. I can barely keep food in the fridge and my
daughters in underwear.”
“But might you have missed any?”
“Oh sure.” I frown. Good God—who keeps track of peri-
ods anymore?
“I think . . . ? Maybe . . . ? Because it sounds so familiar . . . ?
You may not want to hear this, but you could be entering
“Menopause?!” I cry out in relief. “Just menopause? Tat
would be awesome! I thought I was going mad or something!”
But now Ann goes on to describe a personal daily routine
that is about the most complicated one I have ever heard of. It
is a rigorously titrated cocktail of antidepressants, bioidenticals,
walks, facials, massages, dark chocolate, and practically throw-
ing salt over the left shoulder.
“And it’s most intense at that certain time of the month.
Tat’s when I have these bouts of progesterone depression bal-
anced with rage—tons and tons of rage. I’m shouting on the
streets, in trafc, at my husband. I almost killed someone in
the parking lot at B of A. I can feel like I’m really going crazy.
I throw things. For no reason. Weird things set me of. So just
for those days—it’s four to fve days—I have to up my Estro-
vel. If I remember. Te hardest thing is just to remember.” She
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recommends her dream gynecologist, Dr. Valerie. I take the
number without admitting that I’m not sure I’m ready to see a
doctor, because quite frankly I can’t face being weighed.
Later I’ll go home to my laptop for a crash course in the
history of the change. Wow—there’s so much I didn’t know.
Menopause was frst mentioned in ancient Greece by writers
like Aristotle, who pegged both menstrual periods and fertil-
ity as ending at the same time for women, then around age
forty. Cited in European scholarly texts in the Middle Ages,
menopause took an unattractive turn in 1816 when the French
physician Charles de Gardanne termed “ménopause” a ner-
vous disorder. Tis no doubt contributed to medical thinking
in the later 1800s that menopause was a time when a woman
“ceased to exist for the species” and “resembled a dethroned
queen” (these from a description of female diseases). Te frst
complete book on menopause, with the warm and fuzzy title
of Te Change of Life in Health and Disease (1857), by John
Edward Tilt, apparently cites 135 diferent menopause symp-
toms, including curious manifestations like pseudonarcotism,
temporary deafness, uncontrollable peevishness, and “hysteri-
cal fatulence.” Yikes!
By contrast, it appears that non-European cultures have
more organic, female-friendly approaches to menopause. Mayan
women famously report not having any negative menopausal
symptoms at all. American Indian women and their faraway
Chinese sisters have long treated menopausal symptoms with
such healing natural remedies as angelica (dong quai). In India
a woman’s ascent into this next, nonmothering phase of life is
seen as a sacred time of greater spiritual depth and exploration.
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Instead of “ceasing to exist for the species,” for Hindu women
menopause opens the door to enlightenment, growth, and
wisdom. As I’ll learn in the chapters to come, enlightenment,
growth, and wisdom are only part of the package.
A s A nn and I hang up, mostly I’m relieved at her diagnosis.
As though a temporary fog has been blasted away with lemon-
scented Febreze, I turn the key in the ignition, pick up my girls,
go to Target, and follow that with Trader Joe’s. Invigorated
by this new information, I’m again rocking my chores. In the
checkout line I fumble with keys, sunglasses, debit card, and
change, as is increasingly common for me these days. I have
this thing where if I forget my canvas bags, I feel so guilty
about the harm that plastic wreaks on the planet that I stack all
my groceries into my arms. Doubled over, I shufe out to the
car, leaving a trail of broken eggs, milk, cantaloupe.
“You need a hand, hon?” the female checker asks. “Oh no,”
I say. With a big smile I turn to the entire line behind me and
grandly announce: “Don’t mind me—I’m just forty-nine and
entering menopause!”
Madwoman, 4th pass.indd 19 2/27/14 1:28 PM

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