A few readers have asked what inspired Bright and I've given my stock reply that a stranger with an ax at a campsite sparked the idea—and that's the truth. But all he really did was provide me with a likely villain. There is more to the story than that.
I was approaching my mid-forties and all at once I was very aware of how quickly things were moving, that that there was no going back, and I was almost certainly going to get old (hopefully) and then die. Most of us say, "Everybody's going to die someday," but we mean in fifty or sixty years, which might as well be a hundred when we're young. But when we're in our forties or fifties, "someday" can feel like a car speeding toward you on a one lane road on a dark night with headlights set to bright. The collision is inevitable.
I was not unhappy with my marriage and my life, not dissatisfied with what I'd accomplished (or what I hadn't), but those headlights were a lot closer than they were the previous year. I walked around like this for weeks, unable to shake the feeling of doom, and not at all sure what to do with it. By the time we went camping, I was teetering on the fringes of what seemed to be a ludicrous depression I simply couldn't shake.
Our second night there, we were sitting in front of a fire with glasses of wine, appreciating the stars, and just talking when I wearily confessed to Gary everything I was experiencing. He listened to every word I said without judgement, without impatience, and with unwavering attention.
And he understood. Completely. This is why it's called midlife, he said. Because we're closer to sixty-five than we are twenty-one and the idea of joining a group of people we've always viewed as members from a different tribe is unnerving. And it's normal to feel that way, even to grieve a little over the sense of loss. Then he talked about the new phase of life and the benefits of it (more time to ourselves, more time to pursue our own interests, grandkids, etc) and he encouraged me to look at the changes as new territory to be conquered as opposed to something to dread.
It didn't solve all my problems, but having someone say, "I know where you are. And it's okay to feel this way" was healing. I was able to spend the rest of the trip enjoying my husband's company, hiking, and sipping more wine by the campfire.
When we left for home a couple of days later, thanks to the ax-man and the fact that it was the first time we'd left the kids alone with no way to get a hold of us, and my inner crisis, I was in a strange place.
And--because I'm me--a narrative began running through my head. What if the guy with the ax had been something more than just a jerk who was trying to mess with our heads because we were interfering with his solitude? What if something had happened to us out there? Or what if I was going home to some kind of terrible disaster? And what if I'd somehow caused it all?