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?

Paving The Way

Once upon a time, my husband and I were lost.

He was on his back in our foyer with his feet flat to the floor, knees drawn up, and I was sitting on his stomach, using the knees as a seat-back. The carpet was filthy. I was lost, and concerned about him and the carpet. His eyes were empty.

I asked: “Where are you?”

He said: “I’m lost in the woods.”

I asked: “Where am I?”

He said: “I don’t know.”

He said: “Somewhere else.”

I asked: “What are you doing?”

He said: “Trying to make my way back to you.”

And I said: “And I am trying, too.”


I could picture us, as if from above in a slightly cartoonish forest. He was coming from the lower left diagonal, slashing his way through the bracken, and I was coming from a stone castle-tower in the upper right diagonal, pushing aside what I could. We would make our path to each other.


It is that way with everything.

When you are born, a very young baby, you push through the roughage by crying to be fed, changed, and put to bed. Eventually, you use more than your voice — you learn to speak, to say no, to push against the rules, take all the sprinkles out of the cabinet, and dump milk all over the dog.

You climb the tree you’ve been told you shouldn’t, fall out, and break your arm — or you stay in the crook of a branch all day, giggling to yourself because your parents think you’re somewhere else.

You wear the skirt your mother bought, but roll up the waistband when you get to school. You beg her for a double A instead of a training bra.

You meet boys, and sneak out of the house, call out of work, invent elaborate lies involving friends’ parents and phone calls to meet up with them and make out.

You go to college far away from home, and do drugs, and stay up all night, and lose your virginity, and skip class, and somehow eventually graduate, and you’ve been marking trail all along, but you haven’t known it until graduation day.

You’re aware of it every day afterward.


Instead of treading over grass that lies down gently for you, marking the places you have been, you pave a highway.

There is the smell of burning tar, and the skin burning on the back of your neck, while people peer over the orange plastic netting that is meant somehow to keep them out, and they ask about your job, and your girlfriend, and whether or not the bills have been paid, and as long as you keep answering them, the road does not get paved.

Listen to the jackhammers. They’re the noise of your work.

Feel the sweat drip over the reddened skin of your arms and chest and know that you’ve been moving forward. Progress has been made.

You aren’t there yet, but somehow down the straight line toward the horizon, something is making its way to you, to the middle of the road where you’ll meet, and the road will be paved, and the work will be done, and luckily there will be a bench alongside to sit and admire the things you have done.



These are our dreams, the dreams of my husband’s and mine, and everyone around us, as we sit, and we notice the dirt and stains on the carpet, just as bothered by the mess as by the not-knowing, unable to see that, at times, everyone’s eyes are filled with the emptiness of so much more to do.