By Jennifer Lauren
It’s four years ago, and I’m obsessed with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
When my husband’s in the bathroom, I repeatedly rewatch the cheaply animated introduction and smile at a wide-eyed Rebecca ch: successful New York lawyer, makes a fortune, corner office, crying her eyes out. She has it all, but she doesn’t want it.
Enter Josh Chan, her never-forgotten high school summer camp love. He’s leaving New York to go home to West Covina, California. As he waxes poetic (“two hours from the beach, four with traffic”), he keeps saying “happy.”
Happy. The word follows Rebecca, mocks her from billboards and commercials. She’s not happy. She should be, but she’s not.
I laugh, then clamp my hand over mouth because my husband is still in the bathroom, and it’s that laugh. You know the one, the half hysterical, teary eyed, holy shit laugh that’s just a little crazy. Because I’m Rebecca. Hell, every woman I know is Rebecca. She’s us after too much wine, in the middle of the night, bewildered by our perfect-on-paper lives and asking, is this it?
“Why isn’t this enough?” women all ask at some point, and then every Tuesday. The rest of us shrug. Because it’s not enough for us either, so we offer a hug and more wine. It’s not like we can do something about it.
I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend because Rebecca does something about it. She quits the New York job and moves to West Covina. Because she thought she could be happy there. Maybe. Even though she’s kind of chasing a boy.
We call her crazy.
“Wait, no I’m not,” she says. And we laugh at her obliviousness.
Except I don’t think she’s crazy. I’m like – whoa. That would be so cool. I am a successful lawyer. I have the perfect-on-paper life. And I totally want to ditch it and move to West Covina. Well, at least California. Or anywhere sunny. I want to get a dog and walk in the sun and write books. I want to quit my job.
But I can’t, because I have everything.
“You should quit your job. You should write,” my husband says one night when I’ve had a couple mojitos, since I’ve never been much of a wine person.
I think of Rebecca, and I say ok. I put in my very long notice two weeks later. It’s rainy and cold and we don’t have a dog, but I’m happy. I start a novel. I ignore the raised eyebrows and tight smiles I get when I say I’m leaving law.
It’s Christmas Eve.
We are putting cookies out for Santa with our ten and seven-year-olds, and my husband calls me from the bathroom. I’m irritated. I want to get the cookies out and the kids to bed. I want to do the present thing so I can collapse into bed.
He can’t move his left arm. I tell him to sit and he lies down on the floor at my feet.
The doctors can’t believe my marathon-running, kale-eating, 35-year-old husband had a stroke. They run more tests, but they say the same thing. He video conferences into Christmas morning with the kids long before Corona was a thing.
But he’s lucky. The kale-eating, marathon-running thing probably saved his life. He’s fine. No residuals. He goes home the day after Christmas.
The doctors and nurses keep using the words “life changing.” I don’t want my life to change. I quit my job. I’ve changed it enough.
“Some people come away from this full of fear,” one doctor says. “Others decide they will finally live the way they’ve always wanted to live.”
I choose fear. I ask for my job back. I stop working on the novel. I obsessively research stroke recurrence rates. I stop sleeping. Eating. I lose 25 pounds in three months.
After a year or so, I break down completely. Like an overloaded car that can’t go any further, I just stop. I’m afraid I’m going to die. That I’m already dead, having lost some essential part of me forever. In that hospital room. In too many courtrooms. In the moments between doing when I caught my breath and realized I was missing my own life.
It’s two years later when I come up for air, blinking against the rare Seattle sunshine. There’s no magic moment, no Josh Chan on the sidewalk, but slowly, subtlety, “happy” begins to follow me around like a puppy.
I get a puppy. I quit my job. Again. This time I don’t ask for it back. I take yoga teacher training. I decide to finish the novel.
It’s early March, 2020, and a new virus erupts in the nursing home down the street. My daughter’s girl scout troop leader, who works at the elementary school, says schools may close. I startle. That seems extreme.
They close the next day. First for two weeks, then for two months, then for the rest of the year. Then everything else follows. My husband’s office. Shops. Restaurants. Yoga studios. Like the world itself had too much to carry and broke down like an overloaded car.
Now there’s stillness. Like the stillness between the beats of busy that used to make me wonder if I was missing my own life. But I’m not willing to miss anything anymore.
I try to stop watching the news. Instead, I look at houses in sunny cities. Pretty mission style homes near California wineries replace Trump briefings. McMansions by the beach in Florida distract me from daily death counts. I spend my quarantine dreaming of sunshine. Beauty. Living somewhere it doesn’t rain ten months of the year.
I’ve always wanted to live somewhere warm. It’s the last item of my trifecta.
It’s two months into the pandemic. I’m sitting with my husband, noticing the stress lines disappearing from his face. The way he listens more, smiles larger. Working from home is working for him.
I take a breath, remembering when he told me to quit. To write. I don’t expect to say anything, my voice surprises me.
“You can work remotely. Forever. It makes you happy, I can see it. What if we moved somewhere warm? Not when the kids are gone, not when you retire, but now. Because we can.”
I don’t say, because we don’t know how much time either of us have left. Maybe the next time it’s my arm that goes dead, or maybe you’ll lay on the floor and never get back up.
I don’t say this because I don’t have to. It hangs in the air between us. The choice between living with fear and living the life we’ve always wanted.
It’s today, and we’re moving. I tell myself it’s a trial run: we’ve rented a house for three months in Austin, Texas. We can come back. But I don’t think we will.
In the series finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca is surrounded by friends. She’s quit law. Taken a break from chasing men. Took singing lessons and written songs. The camera cuts as she opens her mouth to perform for real. For the first time.
My eyes tear up, because I never expected a happy ending for either of us. And here we are, me and Rebecca Bunch, doing something crazy. Slowly putting together the puzzle pieces until we’ve formed a life we actually want. A life we have no right to demand.
It’s ridiculous. Selfish. Stupid. Impossible. Crazy.
Jennifer Lauren is a recovering attorney moving from Seattle, Washington to Austin, Texas. Ever since she wrote her first masterpiece, The Creature, when she was five, Jennifer wanted to be a writer. But life happened, sidetracking her with pesky bills and peskier children. She’s worked as an award-winning reporter at a nationally recognized newspaper; fundraising director for inner city schools; and civil litigator for 13 years. In May 2019 she had a mid-life crisis and quit her day job to write, teach yoga, travel, and chase her dreams. The travel dreams proved ill-timed when the coronavirus hit the U.S. two miles from her home. Check out her blog, Crazy Ex-Lawyer, at jenniferlauren.net.