It’s 1979 and I am just barely 26. Hey, I am moving to Madison! My husband is beginning his staggering climb up the professorial ladder.
I should be working on my dissertation proposal, but instead, I take a full time job as a lecturer in the sociology department at UW-Milwaukee. We need the money. Three times a week I commute there, riding the Badger Bus from the terminal on West Wash, the same terminal that is now a block from my apartment, the same terminal that I pass every morning on my way to work.
On the bus, I always sit with Elaine, a woman more than twenty years my senior, but quickly becoming my closest friend in Madison. She taught me how to disregard age in friendship. She is brilliant and extremely laid back – a fantastic combination. I am a wound-up spinning top next to her.
Each trip out to Milwaukee frazzles me. I have never taught before. I am given a class in social psych – 350 students with young-and-know-nothing me there on the stage, and a class in the soc of the family, with a mere 60 in it. I am sure I am a terrible teacher and a complete idiot. Temerity and chutzpah push me through each lecture.
I come home tired. My husband greets me at the Badger Bus station. In the three semesters that I do this, he is never late, not once. We go out those nights, eating dinner, often steaks and hash browns, ravenously hungry at the late hour that I arrive back in Madison.
Early on Elaine tells me she is going to die shortly. I tell her so am I. Except that I am just doing my Polish angst thing and she is not. She dies within eighteen months, from ovarian cancer.
Many people look at age 50 as some kind of a turning point. I am fucking fifty! – they seem to think that this somehow puts them in some pile of wasted human material.
My turning point came at 48, when I passed the age at which Elaine died. I can’t believe that I have now lived four years longer than she did. I never thought I would – it did not seem fair that I should.
The Badger bus plows back and forth between two cities that are as different as can be. I come face to face with the terminal at two periods in my life that are as different as can be.
twenty-six years later, still the same inside