Once I kissed my father good-bye, I hopped in the car for one of my favorite activities in the world: driving up the 101 ("Ventura Highway" of America fame). The ocean erupts on your left as you hit Oxnard and north. The beaches on the way to Santa Barbara are almost close enough to reach out the driver's side window to run your fingers through the surf.
Because California loves me, the sun shone and the clouds skipped town.
I made a quick phone call to my best friend from high school whose home I would stay in that night to give her my ETA. Dana answered, on her way to drinking mimosas with a friend who needed help preparing papers for a custody battle—midlife mess erupting on the phone.
"Aren't you glad your marriage and family life are sane?" I sighed.
Dana paused. "My life is not sane, Julie. We'll talk when you get here."
I clicked "end" on my cell, preparing myself for news I immediately knew and didn't want to know.
A little historical context would be helpful right about now. When I was 16, Dana slept over the night my parents announced that my dad would move out. She and I were laughing and talking in my bedroom when my mom called me to the kitchen.
In the too-brightly-lit space, my brother and sister draped themselves over a couple of orange chairs and my mom fiddled with the pink saucepan she'd been given for a wedding gift 17 years earlier. My dad stood awkwardly in front of the sliding glass door, which showed me his back. He made a simple statement: he'd gotten one of those awful apartments with the incessant fruit fly problem over near the Topanga mall. He'd move out in the morning.
No conversation. No discussion. I walked back to my bedroom, a different person than when I'd left it: child of separation. Dana and I didn't laugh. The night was wrecked.
Of all the people in my life today, only a handful knew my parents as a married couple. Dana is one of them. She watched my family, so good, so wholesome, so together, completely fall apart. Her own mother picked up the pieces of my emotional life by serving me plates of the best spaghetti ever made and letting me drink big glasses of wine, even though I was only 16. Dana likes to tell me, "I've never forgiven your parents."
So there I was heading north aware that Dana's news would be of the particularly awful kind. Her daughters in high school and college were facing the very unforgivables I had lived already, at the same ages. And all I could do for any of them was show up, pour wine, and tell Dana that I wouldn't ever forgive her husband for what he'd done to her, either.
In the strange universe of yin and yang, we'd swapped places. Midlife takes no prisoners, apparently.