Dread

Waking up happens as it does. Varying degrees of was it enough? and shaking off what I dreamed. I attend to the needs of the cats, I sip at something, and I sit.

This is the beginning.

Scheduling is the first work of the day, ensuring that all accounts are covered. There are seven. Somewhere in the first quarter of completion, I will inevitably fold my arms into parallel lines on the breakfast bar and enshroud my head within them for a moment that is always too short.

This is the first moment of dread.

It’s about 6:45AM and the sun is stretching itself into wakefulness, and I wish for the morning that feels still like night. Time is passing. I am in various stages of dress and makeup and who knows what my hair is about.

The only thing I think then is how much time is left until I have to leave the apartment for the office, the place where the real work ends and the bullshit begins.

I was hired under the premise that I would be using my brain, that my degree was essential because this would be an intelligence job, and I was excited for that, for being valued for my mind, for using my mind for more than regurgitating information over the phone. Now I regurgitate information into a computer, from one screen to another while they track how much keyboard vomit I can produce per hour, in terms of numbers and efficiency printed in a public spreadsheet weekly so everyone can see the Winners and the Losers.

The efficiency quotient is based on how much time you physically spend at your desk vomiting consistently, like a terrible bulimia that comes with a paycheck and maddening monotony and this is what I think of at 6:45AM when I lay my head down in something quite like despair, if it weren’t such a melodramatic word.

There is eight and a half hours of this to follow — 9-5:30 — where my eyes turn to glass and my motions become jittery and I can’t think of a thing to occupy my mind and keep the dopamine flowing. The podcasts become grating, and music is mood-influential, and my stomach churns and I will become physically sick on too much coffee or food that I’ve eaten out of boredom.

The sloth and torpor feeling is exchanged for a paycheck that is exchanged for bills and medications and booze, and if you tell me this is typical — I wouldn’t recommend it.

We are all supposed to be unsatisfied right now, in various stages of misery that arise from the deaths of our longstanding dreams, but it’s normal. It’s your quarter life crisis. It will pass, but into where?

Into suburban melodramas of which neighbor didn’t bring potato salad to the barbecue potluck, and gaining weight until my husband no longer finds me attractive, and having a child because I don’t know what else to do with myself and I’m still in the cubicle covered in forest green felt unless they’ve given me an office.

That’s unacceptable. I’d rather be committed and medicated into forgetting that life was anything more than a fever dream because my arms are tight with the want of boxing because I can’t flee right now, so what’s left is fight.

The Awful of it All is there’s no thing to fight. No specific face, or entity. It’s just normal, a thing to endure, and then life, once filled with such promise, comes to put on the mask of slow and torturous death.

Insomnia

It’s one in the morning, and my husband has coughed himself to sleep, and I’m wide awake, drinking the leftover boxed wine like a sleeping pill. My tongue is numb from coffee-flavored vapor with nicotine, and I’m oh-so-tired of the stiffness in my neck, and the shoulders that never settle.

And — I am — afraid.

It stutters like that it my head: first the decision to make an addition, then the declaration of thought like Decartes, and finally — the kicker — the fear.

Every year, we have to file electronic paperwork in my office. Are you a veteran? it asks, and that is firmly no; I could never make it through bootcamp with my politics and sassy mouth. There are only two questions, and the second was once a simple no as well — check the two boxes and back to work; a minor inconvenience, a hiccup in the flow of my workday.

But this year I answered yes. This year I checked the other box. It turns out bipolar disorder is a disability.

Even more perplexing and shamefully shaming is that it’s helpful for me to check yes — there is the other box that states you don’t wish to disclose your status — but I need it to explain my behavior and productivity and errors and how I have fallen from a top employee to essentially a trainee in a matter of months. I need it to give an explanation for calling out on the days when I couldn’t stop crying or couldn’t get out of bed or simply couldn’t breathe — the most basic human function — do you know how it feels to pant instead of breathe?

I am afraid that I will be fired, and I am afraid of what will happen if I am not fired, if I do not quit. Something will have to go, be it sleep, or the office, or the podcast, or my writing, or my magazine — most likely my magazine. It’s logically the reasonable choice. Most of my email comes from my writers, and so does most of my work, but it’s delicious work.

I’ve drunk an entire glass of wine in 15 minutes because I am afraid that I won’t sleep, afraid that I’ll go crazy, or let someone down, especially me.

I’m typing and I can hear the Sondheim rhythms backing up my words, like the score to Into The Woods — into the woods and out of the woods and back before it’s dark. But it’s dark and it’s been dark, getting darker as it creeps slowly closer and whichever way I move, it’s breathing in soot.

This is a quarter life crisis, I tell myself. Everyone has one, and you are having yours. But it’s not the crisis that brings the fear; I have been through crises. I have been turned out of my mother’s house, and turned away from men I loved, and there has been so much hurt, but I could spin it into something fierce and useful, like scratchy yarn from which to make a sweater that kept out the cold and I could keep moving.

This is pitch in the dirt and the darkness comes and I cannot move and I cannot breathe.

I tore apart the box of wine to squeeze the remnants into my glass and took an extra Ativan; if I close my eyes, I feel the familiar oblivion. But what happens when I meet the day? And it churns me up like dirt from behind a plow? Apparently seeds are to be planted, like some second puberty, but combined with death and dismemberment, and the thing I become is a Frankenstein mockery of life.

Or so I fear.

I believe in the power of words, of fear is the mind killer — it is the antithesis to solution, to action. But my cat is circling the barstool on which I sit, wanting up, unsure of jumping, and so I pull him and place him up my lap. Because I too am afraid and I need the comfort.

The wine and Ativan are working, but then what? Morning will come, and then what? I will wake and I will sleep and I will fear —

and then what?

Mean Morning.

It’s a Mean Morning, the kind where you get out of bed tired and coffee doesn’t kick, where putting on clothes is a Task To Be Completed and makeup is too much to attempt, where the idea of sitting at a desk for eight and a half hours is enough to make you double up on your Ativan, and the day’s just begun.

We have a point system at work — so many taken away for being late, many more for a sick day, despite the fact that it all comes out of our vacation time regardless. If I weren’t already on faux-bation, I’d take the day and spend it all in bed, shades drawn, laptop nearby with a handy screen for staring and a download folder filled with movies, but let’s not explore my fantasies.

I simply want to disappear.

Some people have lives with topologically normal hills and valleys, vehicles cresting smoothly over and up like a children’s roller coaster. There are maybe the faintest of screams. It feels today like some Nascar race, no comforts within the steel cage of a car and the seatbelt is malfunctioning while for hours I continually turn left with supreme concentration and almost hope for a crash so I can get out. No one would blame me for quitting the race because then the car’s on fire.

This is not a metaphor for suicide; I don’t want your messages of hope. But it’s a good day to get fired.

It’s a good day for telling my boss she’s incompetent or screaming, not from the top of my lungs, but the very bottom, somewhere near the gullet where the bile is, a roar of FuckItHelpMeSomebodyGiveMeAnAnswerBecauseI’VEGOTNOTHING.

Take your medication, Elizabeth. The fuck is that supposed to do? Well, it’s meant to stabilize you, to pat all this shit down into a pancake that you cook up and eat. I’m not hungry.

Does any of this make sense?

Today is a good day for feeling crazy, for opening the window in spite of the deep-freeze and screaming back at the swaggering dudes outside who think they’re going to be rappers. Today is a good day to kill someone else’s dreams.

It’s a good day to gather up my Little Cat, to put her on my shoulder and let her sleep because there’s a soporific gland on her belly and I want to be anesthetized. It’s a good day to get in a fight with someone on twitter who’s being a fucking dumbass, or to tell a friend she’s being a drama-queen-privileged-idiot-fuckwit, or to listen to The Used.

It’s always a bad day to pick a fight with my husband, but to hell with it — let’s throw that on the pile.

It’s a good day to get in a fight. I want to feel my fists and feet explode into someone’s body and cause pain because then it’s in them, in their bruises, and that’ll heal with time. Crazy fucking girl came out of nowhere, man, and starting wailing on me until she sat down in the street and cried. It’s a good day to feel ineffectual.

These are the days to believe in God, but in that department I’m S.O.L. I’m a Buddhist. We believe in impermanence, that eventually everything ends: you, me, this Mean Sonuvabitch Morning. But there’s no timer — no one’s telling me when and where the Demon Dogs stop chasing and humanity begins again.

It’s a good day to burn your tongue on the coffee, and a good day to stock up on more.

It’s a good day to ask for help because the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, but I’ve hit that step, and the second one is to “believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” but I already said that I’m a non-believer, so I guess I just have a Problem.

This isn’t the sort of thing that ends with “it’s a Good Day,” on that uplifting note that brings hope and closure. This isn’t the sort of thing that closes. It’s a wound that doesn’t want to heal despite the gauze and the tinctures and the antibiotics and the traction. And it doesn’t help that I keep picking at my scabs.

It’s a good day to write like I’m in high school again, glamorizing the throat pain of cigarettes, or to contemplate becoming a truck driver, or to pour a glass of wine at 8:10 in the morning, and I don’t mind if I do.

Never mind the glass — the bottle’s quicker.

It’s a good day to be soothed by vices, to skullfuck your deadlines, to eat so much Doritos-and-Cake that you get sick and take a bottle of gingerale to bed. It’s a good day for nicotine, caffeine, and benzodiazepines. It’s a good day to fawn over Sylvia Plath.

It’s not a good day to cross my path, but it’s a great day for convenient rhymes and bad cliches.

It’s a Mean Morning, and by the looks of it, the forecast is going to hold all the livelong day.

Upset

Yesterday was my third anniversary.

I adore the fact that it’s one day before Valentine’s Day so the pressure is off — we go out to eat a day early, someplace nice. My husband wears his wedding suit, showers, shaves, removes any stray back-of-the-neck messiness, and let me say — he cleans up good.

I put on a dress, which is a rarity — full makeup, beautiful heels. I even curled my hair once, back when I had more of it, though trying to curl what I’ve got going on now would certainly be a fun experiment (any advice?).

This all went according to plan. I looked beautiful, my husband looked handsome, and we hustled our way through the cold and the block and a half to Our Place.

Tapas 177, bar upstairs, restaurant downstairs, dance floor adjacent to the dining room. We considered having our wedding there before we pulled the killswitch and opted for Vegas. Everything is lit up in red, a romantic version of ladies in Amsterdam windows. Usually we sit upstairs, chat with the bartenders and the waitresses while they’re waiting for their trays to fill. They let me smoke my e-cig up there, they’ll let Nate smoke after hours up there. We scoot our barstools together so we can lean on each other, and some of the drinks come for free and we hassle the owner for one of the black and white employee shirts. It’s the first place we ever went on a date — the owner, Demetrio, remembers. We’ve been up on the roof past 2AM, seen the light on, and walked straight in to free drinks and sincere hellos.

It’s Our Place.

I didn’t want to go.

I was exhausted from work and the week, and I felt anxious, edgy. I just wanted to exchange cards, little gifts, and be together — but we went, and we sat downstairs. It felt proper that way.

But we were all the way in the back, next to the wine cellar door, and near enough to the kitchen to hear every shout of “coming in!” and next to a trio of remarkably underdressed Asian kids who kept pulling out their iPhone 6+s to watch YouTube videos and take selfies. We might have been right under a speaker.

I started with a Midnight Manhattan — bourbon, lavender tea syrup, and orange zest — because it felt comforting, classy, a piece of a larger event, and we toasted to three years together, four months married. But as the courses arrived, and we began to talk about our weeks, our stories, the ambient noise became a cacophony and the talk became ridicule, and I couldn’t stand to be wearing a dress, or being tipsy, or wearing make-up and I had to get out of there.

I hated pleading with my husband through the beginnings of a panic attack. Please, I need to leave — he tried to calm me, to focus on my breathing, to meditate, but it was too much, and too loud, and I was about to fly out of my skin, so I left.

I went home and scrubbed off the make-up, but not the shame or the anger and I laid in bed, waiting for him (unaware that the waitress had been watching and offered him a shot for having to deal with that crazy girl — I could kill her), trying to breathe deeply instead of wading through the shallows that never give you enough oxygen, trying to quiet myself, and find solace in Spring Fashion magazines.

It wasn’t ten minutes before he was home, sitting beside my curled body on our bed, and I was so afraid he was angry with me. But, with my head in his lap, he told me he was only upset that I was going through this, and he held me until I could fall asleep on my own.

We didn’t exchange presents, or laugh as much as I would have liked, or even have the dessert-coffee-scotch combination I love so terribly. But we were close, and understanding, and so completely in love that, to me at least, it didn’t matter.

And that, to me, is a happy anniversary.

Galentines

My first kiss was at 15. He was my first boyfriend, but the relationship lasted a month. He “couldn’t do it anymore,” for reasons that are still unclear.

The first time I made out was at 17. I met him at a Zox concert and we kissed in the rain. I saw him once more before that relationship ended — I skipped work, my mother found out, and I was grounded “forever.” In reality, forever lasted a few weeks, but I broke it off anyway; he didn’t have a car, his boarding school was an hour away, and my pragmatic side didn’t see a happy future.

The first real relationship I had came after high school graduation, after we had both chosen where to go to college. We fell in love quickly, but he moved 300 miles away, and we saw each other roughly every three weeks for two and a half years. We were finally in the same city, but he took that for granted, and I broke both our hearts by leaving him.

The first boyfriend I saw regularly came into my life at 20, and we became official shortly after I turned 21. He was emotionally abusive, and I clung to him long after we were officially broken up, letting him use me for sex at his convenience, carrying on a secret half relationship for six months after I finally decided to leave.

Then I let my husband, and all of that came to an end.

—-

Today is “Galentine’s Day,” an unofficial yet-to-be-Hallmarked holiday meant to be spent with the women you love most in life. It also marks the third anniversary of beginning my relationship with my husband, so I won’t be drinking wine tonight with my friends at Solera, or pouring myself a glass at home and Skyping the “friend fam” from my breakfast bar. And, in a way, that’s sad.

I’ve spent most of my life either single or close enough to it, and the people who loved me, each and every day, were a ragtag crew of women, some now married, some dating, some engaged, and some single.

And I wish, especially for the single ones, that I could spend tomorrow with them.

—-

I was never good at being alone. I hated being around couples, save one. They never made me feel like a third wheel to their bicycle; instead, we all rode our own side by side.

Apart from them, though, relationships made me miserable. I so wanted to be loved by a guy that seeing it in front of me was deeply sad. But I always had My Girls.

The girls whose houses I would sleep over so often that their mothers would start to parent me as much as their own child. The girl who would hug me when I cried over these mini-relationship breakups, convinced I would never love again. The girls who would take my drunken phone calls and laugh at my slurring “I love you”s. The girls who would listen to me rattle off my host of bad decisions, and tell me that I was going to be fine. The girls who would split packs of cigarettes with me in high school because we were ‘so badass.’ The girls who planned out my weekends freshman year of college, because I was friendless, and miserable, and didn’t know what to do with my free time. The girls who would call me during American Idol to critique the performances. The girls who always encouraged me to keep writing, who always told me how talented I was, and to never give up. The girls who would pick me up when I fell — sometimes literally — and bring me down when I was off my rocker.

This is for all of those girls, who have been there long before any boy came along, and far before my husband. The ones who I called when I got engaged, who flew to Las Vegas on their last pennies for my wedding, who rapped at my reception (and then collapsed from dehydration — yes, this really happened). The ones who listened to me go through my lowest lows of mental illness, and always promised to be there for me.

And I knew they meant it, because they always have been.

This is for you, My Girls.

The Husband I Never Write About

I have a husband that I never write about.

I write about the ex-would-be-husbands, and the mental illness that I appear to be married to, and about the great love of my short life — writing, but I never write about my husband.

I didn’t write my wedding vows. I had always assumed I would, but instead went with the ages-old words that thousands and millions and perhaps even billions of people have said before me to bind us in matrimony because I don’t write about my husband, or our love, or our life together.

We’re not too precious to discuss in words, too close to my heart to share. Our love story is unique, and impossible, and against all the odds that we placed on ourselves and each other — such is the way when you begin as your husband’s decade-younger intern-turned-mistress. And I have told that story through my eyes, have sold that story for internet eyes. But I don’t write about my husband.

I don’t write about the way he sleeps through the first two hours or more of my days, and when I shuffle into the bedroom in his slippers looking for his oversized-on-me grey sweatshirt because mornings are cold in the apartment, and I need the pockets for my Blistex and e-cig, and he’s laying on his back, sometimes snoring, most times in yesterday’s clothes and his knees drawn up and I smile at him, knowing that flailed somewhere, his left hand has the ring on it that we picked out together, and that, on our wedding day, wouldn’t slide on smoothly; everyone laughed as I shoved it on determinedly, the back-track to part of our wedding video.

And I don’t write about the streaks of grey in his hair that I love, that he loves, that make him sexy and sometimes scare me because one day he’ll still be ten years older, but that will mean so much more — who knows how he’ll deteriorate, my tall, strong man? Who can say if he’ll inherit his mother’s propensity for mini-strokes, or, god forbid, a massive one because I read One Hundred Names For Love and I know how he’d hate to be treated like a child by hospital workers and would become angry about being unable to speak and would probably cry and look at me with eyes that begged me to smother him — he’s told me this before: if it gets that bad, just put a pillow over my face. No! Well, then give me the means to do it myself — and I wouldn’t be able to do it, and not killing my husband would make me hate myself.

I don’t write about what he calls me — my baby — or the cats — BuddyGoodBoy and AwLittleBeebs. I don’t write that he thinks soup isn’t food, or that he designs all of my cards himself, or that he can sing like Tom Waits, fingerpick like Nick Drake, and needs to pick up his guitar again because he keeps his right-hand fingernails long just to play, and he doesn’t do it much, but was made to.

I don’t write about his obsession with what his hair is doing, or his love for well fitted clothing, or how when he smokes a cigarette, it’s the most beautiful thing you could ever see, but I worry about his lungs, especially when mixed with the grey hair.

I don’t write about all the little worries and how they all add up to the most wonderful love anyone could possibly experience, and that counts your love because it couldn’t possibly touch mine — you don’t have him, the husband I never write about.

The Right To A Voice

The other day, a piece of mine was taken from my Facebook and messaged to someone I have no contact with because of their simpleminded meanness toward me. This person referred to me as “young dumb pussy” to my husband when we were dating. This person used to like to get drunk and spam my Twitter feed with malice. This person has actual mental health issues (most likely bipolar 1, but I’m guessing) and a long history of unbalanced behavior, but still — there’s no reason for us to speak.

The person who sent him my blog post was a woman who once referred to me as her adopted daughter. That was long ago, and we’re not that close anymore — in fact, we never met. But we had a constant Facebook relationship for a while, that simmered down into amiable acquaintanceship.

So I thought until I read the message she had mistakenly copied me in on:

“I thought of you guys when I saw the title and read the first lines–dear god. . .in case you can’t see her link, here’s the url.”

This was immediately followed by a yellow-bellied apology so transparent it could have been window glass:

“I owe you an apology. I just realized that I included you on a message I sent to —-*. A message in which my near-50 year-old self was being embarrassingly catty about your pre-30 ramblings. My face is flushed and I feel queasy from the near instantaneous karmic-bitch slap…. I am sincerely sorry.”

*Name blocked to protect the low-minded.

This kerfuffle of sorts is why I haven’t posted anything new in days — but let’s be clear. It’s not because I’m upset. I don’t do “upset” over grown adults acting like teenagers passing notes. It’s not because I’m hurt, because that would require any sort of genuine feeling attached to these people, and I’ve come up short. It’s certainly not because I’m afraid that they’ll be reading this. If they are: hello! Get a hobby!

It’s because I wanted to write about exactly this, and didn’t know what to say.

What do you say about people who search you out just to be mean-spirited? About people who, when apologizing, do so while calling your writing “pre-30 ramblings”?

Speaking of which, what does that mean? Of course the ‘ramblings’ bit is derisive, but am I to believe that once you hit 30, you cease to ramble and your writing is then validated? That in three-ish years I can be a writer with a capital W and all?

You can’t see me, but I’m rolling my eyes.

In the wake of things like Gamergate, which I do not follow or participate in, but am nevertheless aware of, there has been much talk of the right to be heard, the right to a voice. I’ve never had that right questioned until now, but it’s not irksome, or saddening, or any such thing. I simply do not give a fuck.

A trio of maladjusted idiots can’t do anything to my voice. They can pass it around and laugh at it amongst themselves, if they wish. I would choose something more constructive and age-appropriate, but to each their own. They can’t silence me, edit me, or even mean more to me than blog fodder.

As writers, as women, as people — we all suffer criticism. But words, pretty or ugly, only penetrate as far as we allow, and I simply won’t allow it. Even Ariel gave up her voice willingly, and I’m not that kind of mermaid.

I won’t ever give my voice away.