Thursday, 26 July 2007

Silver Divorce, Golden Opportunity

Machiko only wanted what most women want: security, respect, love -- and romance. The problem was, she was 61 and already married. But while her husband gave her security, he hadn't even come close to fulfilling, let alone understanding, her other needs. They'd been married almost forty years, after all. Why should she want love and romance, especially at her age?

"I've given up on your father," she told her middle-aged children. "I'm sick of all his affairs, his boorish behavior and his patronizing attitude. I want a divorce."

The whole family did their best to discourage her, but Machiko stood firm. Her friend Fukiko, a widow, had found love and romance, and she was 62.

Machiko's children were utterly disgusted with her. "Your friend Fukiko has money," her eldest reminded her. He could have added that Fukiko was also beautiful, but he left it unsaid. His mother was a little bullet of a woman: tough, energetic, and feisty. But you couldn't call her beautiful by any stretch of the imagination.

Behind her back, Machiko's three children said a lot of cruel things. "She'll regret it! A year from now she'll be begging him to let her come back;" and "No man will look twice at a woman her age; it's crazy for her to think anyone will!" They reminded her that with only forty years experience as a homemaker, she could not possibly expect to make a living for herself. Divorce, they insisted, was not in her best interests.

But Machiko was shrewd. She waited until after her husband retired in order to get a share of his retirement severance payment and other benefits, including half of their household assets. That way, she explained to her exasperated children, even if she didn't find love and romance, she wouldn't starve. She found a stylish little apartment and set up housekeeping. Her children seldom visited her, but once in a while they would call her.

"How's the dating going?" her daughter asked her somewhat cattily. "It's a little slow," admitted Machiko, "but I love living by myself. How's your father?" Her daughter sighed. "He can't find anything. And he doesn't know how to use the washing machine." Machiko smiled. "He's a smart man. He'll learn."

Six months later, Machiko's eldest called his sister and brother. Their mother, it appeared, had a boyfriend. She'd been going out with him for several months and claimed that it was serious. "He's obviously after her money!" his sister exclaimed, and her brothers both agreed. "We'll have a chance to meet him," he told the other two. "They've invited us out for a meal."

Machiko's boyfriend turned out to be a widower exactly her age, and a real charmer. He taught food science at the local university, owned his own house, and claimed that he loved to cook. "Too good to be true," all three children agreed. "Time will tell." They felt a little sorry for their mother, but what could they do?

A year after her divorce, Machiko remarried. Her professor friend is now retired, and they travel around the world together. The two of them have taken up Spanish, and they're thinking of signing on for ballroom dancing lessons.

"When do you find the time?" asked her daughter, "what with that big house and the garden?" Machiko shrugged. "We've got a gardener. And a lady comes to clean the house once a week."

Her daughter stared at her. "But what about cooking?" Machiko laughed. "He does the cooking. In fact, he's much better than I am at it. After all, he taught food science."

"Why Spanish?" persisted her daughter, genuinely curious. "Why not English? It's much more practical." Machiko smiled. "We're thinking we might like to spend our retirement in Spain. We both like Spain: it's so romantic."

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17 comments:

Carole said...

Woo Hoo. So take that you little punk children and you jerk husband. Machiko decided to walk outside the chalk lines and look what happened. Of course she was a brave little soul which reminds me....Is this fiction? I love this story. Good title.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- This story is 99.9% true; the only bit I added was the part about them studying Spanish. It is also a very common story now in Japan: whereas only a very few mature women used to file for divorce, the number has skyrocketed in recent years. Not all of the divorced women are lucky enough to meet good men afterwards, but I was so happy that Machiko did.

I knew the oldest son (I was friends with his wife), and when they told me this story, I thought it was fantastic. What really got my friend, the daughter-in-law, was how the professor husband doted on Machiko -- to the extent that he would leap to fill her teacup when it was empty. Machiko used to have to leap to fill her husband's teacup...

Katie Alender said...

What a great story, Mary. I always feel like I've learned something when I read your blog entries.

Paul said...

Great story, Mary. I know you say it's 99.9% true but it's the writing that makes it good to read. I loved the description of Machiko as "a little bullet of a woman".

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- Thank you for that compliment, but I fear that it is probably the teacher in me coming out, and what an awful thought. You can always tell a former teacher: loud, well-enunciated, no-nonsense voice. Mine is just the opposite, but I worry that the 'teacher attitude' is still there, lurking in my writing...

Paul -- It is so nice to have one's writing complimented by other writers, particularly after receiving tet another depressing round of rejection letters!

Kanani said...

Nice.
Romance is wanted at any age... or at least by some!

Carolie said...

Awww...you brought tears to my eyes, and a big grin to my face! Loved this story. Thank you (and Machiko!) for reinforcing the idea that a 61-year-old woman is still a lovely, vibrant, desirable person!

Mary Witzl said...

Kanani -- Romance is wonderful stuff, at whatever age. It is what makes us all more human.

Carolie -- Thank you. I have a tender spot for Tatsuo too, the gentle professor who recognized Machiko's worth and made it all happen. May his tribe increase!

Kim Ayres said...

I love stories where people take charge of their own lives

Jewell Ertman said...

This kind of story really inspires me. To think that after living unhappily for so long she could make such a change. Truly wonderful. I feel for women who get caught in such relationships, and to think its common...

kathie said...

Mary, I love this!!! Just in this short bit you painted such a lovely gentle picture--especially for such a difficult situation! Will you write more on this?

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I love stories like that too. And conversely, I hate stories about people whose lives have gone out of control and who are so steeped in misery and trouble they cannot fix them.

Jewell -- The older I get, the more inspired I am by Machiko's example myself. When I was younger, I thought what she did was great, but now I am even more impressed by her bravery and the fact that she lived her dream.

Kathie -- I've written a short story based on Machiko and I have been toying with the idea of turning it into a book. It is nice to find that other people like the story too, and I feel greatly encouraged!

Writer, Rejected said...

I think it would make a great book. Or a good basis for a short story colleciton. Have you ever read Yiyun Li's A THOUSAND YEAR'S OF GOOD PRAYER? Something here reminds me of her work in a really good way. It's a fantastic story colleciton; the reader enters a hugely foreign world, but feels immediately at home in the human emotions.

Mary Witzl said...

Writer Rejected -- (I will call you Writer Disgruntled from now on, as I am working hard not to focus on rejection myself, preferring to think of it as the R-word)

Thank you for commenting, and telling me about Yiyun Li's book. I once read a review of this book; I remember that one of her stories is about a woman who is so overwhelmed by her huge, fancy new television that she loses interest in it -- a woman after my own heart.

Katie Alender said...

Oh, no, I didn't mean you were a teacher. I'm very selfish -- I meant learning something for myself. After all, it's all about me, right? The whole blogosphere?

Mary Witzl said...

Actually, Katie, I was highly complimented by your comment! And I love to think that I have managed to teach anyone anything.

Pam said...

Wonderful story!!

One is NEVER too old to pursue real happiness!