I’ve been doing my blog reading in fits and bursts lately, as I am quite overwhelmed with drudgery and haven’t been in a frame of mind that supports much reading or writing. I notice that many of the bloggers I follow are in that same state of mind and place this time of year, too. It’s winter in more than one way: cold, barren, lead sky, frozen, hibernating, asleep. One shivers and is miserable sometimes.
I hope for the spring but then try not to, because it’s good to stay in the moment and there’s much that’s good about winter. This winter has not been the winter I would have wanted, though. The winters I want have cozy fires made with seasoned wood, good books and good company, philosophical discussions and movies watched in a darkened room, from under a soft throw. A dog at my feet and one curled against my back. Mulled wine or cider. Mahler or Beethoven or Wagner.
This winter has not been so. It is only all about bad news every day on the news, fools running our country from both sides of the political aisle and pretending that the common-sense way one runs one’s own household is not the way we’re supposed to run our country. And then I think, “But maybe most of America is living just like that: to excess, in the red, on credit, living beyond their means, borrowing money right and left, and selling their birthrights for a mess of pottage.” Maybe so. But not this woman. Not this household, this family.
I keep my head down and plod along.
It is tax time. We’ve just come through four years of such a bad economic downturn that we lay awake nights and wondered when we would go bankrupt, when we’d have to tell our employees that they would have no jobs, when we would have to pass the grief on to them and their wives and children. I had thought, before this, that the experiences we’d already had, including that of losing a child, would be the most grueling in our lives. I was mistaken about that. Having everything you’ve worked for your entire adult life threatened, and your ability to provide for your children and the children of employees you love and appreciate—that will suck the air right out of you. That will make anxiety flood you and wash you along day after day after day.
But I keep my head down and plod along, ever in harness, ever doing my duty, ever and always Doing The Right Thing, even if with a bad attitude: Do you see me, God? Do you see me, plodding along? Is this what I was born for? This small life of clod-breaking? And why didn’t You warn me that the happiest days would be the ones when my children were still children, still babes playing in the dirt, building villages with sticks and rocks and blocks, sprawling all brown-legged among the Legos and breast-feeding their baby dolls and teddy bears as their daddy and I chuckled. You never said how much harder it would get, the older they grew. How much harder I would get, how much older I would grow.
And I had just finished reading my friend Deb’s blog and about how she broke down and cried at the pharmacy the other day, and about the shocked looks of concern on the pharmacist’s faces, and had been sitting with that, putting myself in her place, feeling the empathy flow out toward her and being what I know so many of us are for her and one another, a silent, spiritual presence standing just behind her and each other, a comforting hand on the shoulder, a sympathetic smile, knowing that tomorrow or next week it may well be one of us, crying at the pharmacy or bank or dry cleaner. And I had just finished that when anger over a stupid and slavish school project for our twins erupted between my husband and me, and he said something unkind that, for this one time, pierced me to my heart like a well-aimed javelin and came out the other side.
I found myself sobbing at my desk, sobbing and crying and feeling the deepest and darkest winter of my entire lifetime. And snot ran down my face and it was over the fucking cardboard windows on the fucking colonial houses we had to make with (for) our twin daughters at their fucking wonderful school where the fucking projects are fucking never-ending. And yes, I should be grateful every day that we have the money for private education and access to excellent schools, and that we are able-bodied and have a good vehicle to drive them in, and can afford clothing, food, and clean water and a wonderful house. And all that. And I am grateful. But I wonder: when does the stress ever end? When does the doing and meeting of deadlines and always having one… more… fucking… thing to do ever END?
I thought, “When you’re dead.” That’s when it ends.
I Am Not a Victim of My Own Life
But around 4:00 this morning I came wide awake after dreaming that my child was dying. She was skin and bones and within hours or days of dying, and she was small and black, like my daughter Olivia had been, and she had open sores on her back and along her spine. She was just lying out in the yard, and I had put her there for dying, and when it was clear that she was nearly unconscious and almost dead, I had finally gone to get her and was carrying her off-handedly in one arm, and doing something like sipping tea or coffee with the other, and talking with others as though a dying child wasn’t really in my arms at all. And her eyes rolled back inside her head and I saw myself being so uninvolved over this dying child, and I knew even in my dream that she was me, some aspect of me that I was indifferently letting die.
I thought to myself, once awake, “You’re not a victim. You don’t have to be so weighed under all this stress, all these many things to do. You can take some action. And you need to.”
And so this morning after dropping the kids at school and starting my work day, I sat down and began to work with a sober determination to clear my desk of all the odious tasks I have to do as a small business owner and householder and hearthkeeper. The tasks of the business owner, especially, are the worst for they all involve bookkeeping and accounting, tax work and bean counting for which I am the least suited and which has provided many an hour of anguish and loathing because I know I am a slave. I was brought to the doorway of my master’s house and an awl put through my ear lobe in His service and I know exactly what I am doing and why. And I hate it every single day because I am human and part of the human race and there’s not a person alive who doesn’t have to do one thing or many things that he doesn’t want to do. We all have to do that.
But I, I was going to be energetic and smart and I was going to clear my desk of this crap, by God. And so I did. I cleared it and began to feel good about how I was not going to be kicked around by my goddamn job any more, and I was going to get to the bottom of this pile of I Hate This.
And so I did. And then I opened the mail, and there it was: an audit notice from one of our state agencies that has to conduct routine annual audits. I was back in hell, having to locate and organize and submit records and have this auditor meet with me and take up more of my time, doing what I most hate in life and what I loathe and what makes me breathless with anxiety and a slavish kind of keeping-my-head-down and plodding-along, like an ox pulling a plow in a storm.
And I laughed out loud.