About three years ago, I began not to recognize myself in photos or the mirror, writes Mandy Behbehani…
(Not a happy moment!) Soon after, my face well and truly fell, and, as a family member was pleased to tell me, it fell so quickly. In fact, she said, it fell between the time she had seen me in August until we saw each other again in December!
No one prepares you for ageing, do they? I mean, everyone tells you not to smoke, and not to drink, and not to do drugs, and not to tan, and not to have pre-marital sex (yeah, right). But no one tells you not to grow old. No one informs you, as my novel’s heroine Maddy tells her divorced-over-fifty support group, “that you’ll get the size of Texas, that your skin will dull, that you’ll have blubber hanging from your upper arms like one of those fringed kitchen curtains from the Sixties, and that when you walk, your thighs will rub together so fiercely you’ll worry they’ll set your tights on fire. They don’t tell you… that everything, even your attractiveness, is finite.”
So, we’re not prepared. At least I wasn’t. And neither were any of the women I know. Visible aging is a shocking thing that often makes women become, well … invisible.
Pondering all this, I continued living my life as I have mostly always lived it, working, writing, walking my dog, but also now pulling the skin on my face upward and outward whenever I looked in the mirror, willing it to stay like that when I took my hand away. (It never did.) And then one day in July 2010, I found myself at my computer with a blank screen in front of me. Three weeks later The Blasphemy Box was written. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t plot it out. It just appeared on the screen before me as I typed madly away. It was the smart, funny and poignant story of Maddy Nelson, a nice, attractive, educated English woman who wakes up one day to find her American husband leaving her for a woman half her age and half her size for no other reason than that she is fifty and he wants a younger, firmer, more exciting romantic partner.
As simple as that. And as complicated.
Maddy goes through what most women at that age in that situation experience: acrimonious divorce proceedings, humiliation in front of all her friends, feelings of loss and terror and uselessness, having to chart a new path when the old one suited her just fine, thanks very much, being forced to get a job — which at fifty is impossible — and having to raise three young children mostly alone.
The point of my book was not, however, to catalogue a litany of Maddy’s woes. Though shattered, she doesn’t become hysterical or drive everyone nuts by crying into their proffered teacups. She takes care of her kids and ultimately creates a new, happier life for herself. She discovers she’s still attractive, and even acquires a new beau. She heals herself by starting a blog that gets her lots of fans, and a book contract, and in doing all of this, becomes a better, stronger person, who is still of consequence.
That is the story I wanted to write without really knowing it: that as we women age, and our attractiveness wanes, our options in this youth-mad culture do diminish, our husbands may leave us, but that doesn’t mean our lives are over. Just because bad things happen, that doesn’t mean good things won’t. We don’t cease to exist just because we hit fifty — or even forty. There are still trillions of attractive, smart, decent, successful women of that age group out there making a difference.
There are so many books out there for young, hip women. I guess I just wanted to write one about the women they become, their older, (better ) selves.
“You know that nightmare you’ve always had? The one where you wake up one day to find yourself fat, frumpy, fifty and alone? I’m living it.” Maddy Nelson has an idyllic existence: a handsome husband, great kids, a comfortable lifestyle. One morning soon after she turns fifty, however, she wakes up in her San Francisco home to find her husband Steven announcing that he’s leaving her for a woman half her age. And a third of her size. Ouch! Feeling totally unmoored and grieving for her married life and husband, Maddy finds herself thrust into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable world of middle-aged singledom. There, she must come to terms with her situation and embark on her new life: divorce proceedings, single parenting, internet dating, and trying to earn a living. It’s enough to drive her over the brink. To help her cope, she shares her struggles in a smart, wry blog named The Blasphemy Box, after her ex-husband’s obnoxious habit of having her drop a quarter into a wooden box every time she said something off color. Her madcap middle-aged adventures find her devoted readers who identify with her challenges. In time, Maddy creates herself and finds happiness in the arms of a good man, and a fulfilling new career as a novelist.
Mandy Behbehani was educated in England. Her first short story was published when she was twelve and she has been scribbling away ever since, as a journalist and now a novelist. She holds a degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and, over her career, served as West Coast correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine, as an on-air reporter at KTVU-TV and, for a decade, as the fashion editor and features writer for the Hearst San Francisco Examiner. She lives in California, and, when she’s not in front of her computer, she can be found reading a good book, and hiking the open space that surrounds her home with her yellow Lab, Lalou.