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.

Lost

I used to be good at things, you know. I used to succeed without involving much effort and have time leftover to write and I was always reading and socializing and I worked hard and made money. I used to be able to do this, and now I’m afraid that I’m not doing any of it right. Maybe I just need to admit to myself that I’m afraid. I’m scared. I’m worried. I’m afraid.

I’m not giving enough time to my writing, when that’s really the most important thing. It’s always been the most important thing, ever since I was in second grade and I wrote my first poem, and was praised — it all fell upon me like glittering snow: you’re gifted you have a talent that’s amazing I don’t know how you do it and on and on until I was something of a star to some people, but now — I’m unfulfilled potential. I’m sitting on this novel inside of me, and instead of letting it out, word by word, until it’s finished, I’m smothering it. My enthusiasm, my excitement of the idea of it is smothering, too, and maybe I’m not ever meant to write a novel. Maybe I don’t have the thing that keeps you writing, the grit, the goddamned grit that makes you succeed in your ventures when it’s just you and a computer. What don’t you do then? What’s keeping you?

And I have pieces to write, pieces I believe in that I pitched to places that matter, place where I will be read all in the hope of becoming something. A literary agent from a high profile company contacted me based on one of those pieces, and now? I’m just someone else with a WordPress account and some deadlines to meet. The website that published the article that got the agent’s attention won’t take any more of my ideas. They won’t even answer my emails. That’s also the only piece I’ve ever been paid for — digressions. I have more work to be done, more words to write, things to say that could be good — no, enough of being modest, they could be fantastic — if I only set aside the time. I only seem to get work done on the second floor of a coffee shop and then I can write for about five hours, but it’s a cold walk, so cold that I sit at home and wait on the ideas and turn in pieces that could have been brilliant. What good is publication if your work is mediocre? Or even if it’s merely good? There are so many people who are good, and to succeed you have to be amazing — you have to be shining above your peers so that your light drowns everyone else out.

And I could. I believe I could, without vanity, without any inflation of my ego, but there are other things, other preoccupations and projects — there is my darling magazine that brings hope to so many writers like me. It gives them a place to write the prose that isn’t candy but warm, hearty bread that nourishes people, that feeds those that make it and those that eat it, but my bakery is getting busier all the time. My inbox is never empty and the drafts keep pouring in and I love it — I asked for it and hoped for it — but I’m getting to the point where I’ll soon need help. And no one will love it like I do, no one can look at a piece of writing and see what it needs like I can, or pick out a talented writer from one piece in a veritable sea of pieces, and know that they fit here, on the island of misfit talent. Where do I get the time?

And what if, what if I’m not cut out for podcasting? I’ve grown a little recording of two girls talking into being plucked from the ether by one of the largest networks in the country, and I listen to the other shows — my peers, comrades in arms — and I don’t know what I’m doing there. I can’t speak intelligently or humorously at length, and I come to recordings too prepared, with quotes from newspapers that I read verbatim and, though I’ve quit stuttering, I now pause when I lose my place in a sentence, building suspense out of which is meant to come insight, but instead, I simply finish a normal thought, and I wonder why anyone is listening. I wish there were feedback coming in, but instead it’s silence and I don’t know where to go from here.

I’m lost, and some of it is my brain chemistry convincing me of certain failure when really things are progressing normally, and some of it is being 26 and wanting to achieve something amidst my quarter-life-crisis, and some of it is jealousy — absolute jealousy of those who are more successful, more talented, more glorified, just more than me

— and I’m failing my husband who has held me up all this time. He needs a partner and I’m so trapped in my head by disease and self-interested delusion that I forget to look through the bars and see. This is not a one-woman-show. He is not something I climb on top of to stay afloat. He is my sanity, and sometimes he is the one to take away the knives, and to hold me through the tears, and provide the support I want and criticisms I need, but he is my husband, and I am afraid that I am doing a very poor job of being his wife.

I am lost, and I’m tired of looking for the way. Would I even know if I found it? For now I will sit where I am and wait for something to come, whether it be a deus ex machina or simply a coherent thought, but if you need me, I will be here. Sitting — waiting for something to come.

My Business

I don’t particularly like the gaggle of chatty, gossipy women who are my office-mates. I like them even less when I wake up too late to have coffee before leaving the house. But I don’t show it openly, don’t flaunt my irritation — instead, I wall myself up in my cubicle, put on conspicuous headphones, and there I mostly remain, devouring podcasts.

This morning, I was carefully walking heel-to-toe with a brimming cup of coffee — my first of the day — when one of said coworkers asked, “So when are you going to have a baby?”


My uterus is far from empty. Inside, there is a lifeless object, detectable via ultrasound or MRI — an IUD, my second to be specific, and far from my last, to be even more so. My husband and I do not use condoms  — at this point, what would it matter? — but the hormones secreted by the T-shaped piece of plastic are ten times more effective than the Pill. One in one thousand women using it get pregnant annually, and each one lasts five years. I like those odds. And I don’t plan on removing this on until it expires — in 2019.


I am 26 and barely on my feet financially — there are student loans with five figures, car loans, credit card debt, and on-going psychiatric expenses, including three different medications. He is 37, and has just paid off his student loans, though he has others, of course: a car, a geo-thermal unit — we all have our debts. As it stands, he works for a university where annual raises do not keep pace with the cost of living. We downsized from a four bedroom house to a one-bedroom loft. Buying things involves constantly juggling plastic cards, his and mine, and keeping a steady eye on which ones are maxed.


I would like to be told when my sex life became a break-room-worthy topic of discussion. Of course, no one views it that way — the sex you have for fun is taboo, but baby-making sex is a public affair. If I were to tell this coworker that we’re thinking of attempting pregnancy soon, what would be the follow-up? Oh, that’s so exciting!? And what if I were to say we were already ‘trying,’ which is code for “having a lot of sex at the proper time in the hope that I’ll be impregnated,” what then? How long? would certainly be the next question — meaning, how long have you and your husband been fucking bareback? Even if that image never entered this ridiculous woman’s ridiculous mind, it certainly surfaced in me: a tacky neon faux-pas.


My husband and I have been together for about three years, and have been married for three months and a day. Clearly we must be dissatisfied, and eager to get to the next stage of things. After all, I am 26, and not getting any younger.

Neither, however, is the monster living in my brain. It grows daily, in new and surprising ways. I cannot stand loud noises, particularly if they’re drawn out and high-pitched. I sleep early in the evening, and nap on the weekends, exhausted from relaxation. I cry, and shake, and need my husband’s arms around me to make it stop.

But yes — I’m ready to toss all my sanity-pills in the trash for a child. Thank you for asking.


I had no idea until today that such a question could feel so violating, that saying something along the lines of oh god, no — never would have to be spoken to a stranger whose face I know but whose name I haven’t ever bothered to remember. I couldn’t even look her in the eye — it had to be said, to shut down the conversation for good (I’m certain there was much tittering about the newlywed who didn’t dream of a quiver-full), but being thought of as not a baby person carries a certain stigma.

It’s different once it’s your own.

It’s difficult, but motherhood is a woman’s greatest reward.

Every child is a precious gift.

All of that equates to you are a woman who doesn’t want a child — what’s wrong with you?

Since I put it so bluntly earlier, I’ll repeat the tone now, and say:

I may not want a child, but at least I have the manners not to pry into someone else’s marriage bed to satisfy my curiosity.


That being said, I will babysit for any and every parent I know. Believe me, I do not envy your position so I will set you free, out into the world where you can be human adults once more. Your children will be fed nothing but ice cream until they expend all of their energy being insane and crash hard. If they get a cavity, send me the bill.

You’ve paid enough.