Having finished a large writing project, and having the intense desire to rewrite it and get it to a not-so-embarrassing level of completion, I boldly asked my family for some childcare over the weekend. I lined up a sleep over at my Mum’s and then another at my Dad’s and drove the kids and their mountain of luggage across town. As I pulled away, my glee turned shadowy and grey. “What exactly am I doing? Should I go home? Should I spend money on a meal out?” My husband was away so no one was waiting for me. I was experiencing a distinct, very unfamiliar feeling… freedom.
I had expected to feel relief, to be my old casual kick ass self. To take a day and shape it to suit me as I had when I was younger. “Wait, have I ever actually done that?” I couldn’t remember. And if I had, what had I done, specifically with my time. I felt honour bound to work, but surely I wouldn’t be expected to work for the whole two days… Would I?
I drove past a junk shop and stopped the car. “What are you doing?” I asked myself. “Shut up,” I answered. “I can do whatever I want!”
I waded through the teetering piles of crap and saw an older, but nice (by my standards) TV for sale. The skinny hippy guy said forty bucks and I took it. “We can have TV in the bedroom again! This is a great idea, isn’t it?” When I got home, I realised I was incapable of lifting the sucker out of the truck. I asked a neighbour and lucked out with a big strong guy who not only helped me lift it, but carried the old broken one downstairs and loaded it up for me.
Well now it would only be sensible to get rid of this piece of junk and I knew that the local Salvation Army would recycle it, so it was only logical that I should then proceed to ransack the closets for all the crap that I had been wanting to get rid of for the past three years. I dredged the ocean floor of my house, hauling boxes and bags of old toys, broken light fixtures, ugly clothes, kitchen crap, books I had no room for… Oh I tell you, I was on a goddam roll and there were no kids there to cry over Mr Potato Head biting the dust! I dumped it all off with a great deal of pride and then as I drove home, it started again…
“Should I go home? That’s what I should do… right? I should be working. Working. Right. But then the taxes really need to be done.” My husband was quite insistent that two years was in fact far too long and it was high time I get my act together. He said I should think of it as part of my work as a writer. I detoured to the liquor store, bought some coolers and rented a couple of chick flicks at the video store. As I pulled into the driveway, I was met by the bowing heads of my plants, wilting in the hot sun. “I’ll just water them before I go in,” I muttered. “Oh and those flower boxes, I’ll just finish those up. Look at those weeds! They’ve got to go. Slugs? How do slugs even exist in the heat?”
I left the soaker hoses running and opened the door on a sugar ant infestation in my entranceway. “I have to work!” I ran upstairs and stopped. I’d been stepping over them for days, but now they were swarming all over the floor and up the wall by the hundreds. “That can’t wait can it? That’s important.” I got some supplies and spent the next half hour trying to kill the hell out of them, and of course washing the filthy floor in the process. “God, how did this floor get so dirty?”
I went inside, hot, sweaty and what was that feeling? Ah yes! Lonely. It was strange to feel lonely while actually alone. Usually, I feel lonely while surrounded by other people. Hell, I usually go pee surrounded by other people. The house was quiet. Too quiet. I tried to turn on some music. “Where is all the music anyway?” I realised that our music collection (which had died a slow death about six years ago during my first pregnancy) was now scattered throughout the house. Piles of discs with no jackets scratched together in the grit of my dusty house. I piled them all up and even went out to the truck and rescued some.
Unfortunately, while I was out there digging in the glove box, I discovered those chocolates I had hoarded from the kids, you know those really good ones I didn’t want to share? So clever. I hid them in the car. In the heat. They had of course bonded nicely with the inside of all those little groves and slots. I swiped viciously at it with a dirty wet wipe from the over flowing car garbage bag before giving up and retreating inside with my stack of yet more mismatched discs.
I rummaged around and found some romantic songs I had been meaning to put together. Now this was fun, if rushed and guilty fun! I could make a little playlist for when my husband came home. “This is a good idea, isn’t it? Ok taxes. Taxes are very responsible.” I ate dinner, proudly cooking for one. I had spaghetti. My husband hates spaghetti. It was delicious.
I put on music. I could do that now; I could even import songs into my iTunes. That’s how cool I was. Wow. (I recently forced myself to learn how to work iTunes so this was a very big deal.) I set up the new TV and then felt too guilty to watch the movies I had rented. I cracked a cooler and was soon drunk and sobbing over an email to my husband telling him how much I loved him and missed him.
I climbed into bed with feet still brown from the garden and eyes burning from all those tears. “Have I drunk any water today? Tomorrow, I will work. I will drink water and just finish up a few…” then I was asleep. I woke at 8:17am (a wonderful sleep-in compared to the standard 6:30am) from a disturbing dream and dragged my groggy self out of bed. “God I really need to talk to someone. Anyone.” I called a few people. The fellow moms answered but had no advice (thank you very much) on what to do with too much time on your hands, and the single friends were undoubtedly still asleep and not answering. I could call my mom, but what would I say? I haven’t gotten any work done, and I feel a little insane?
I ran from room to room moving stuff around for several hours. I reorganised my closet in the bedroom, making a spot for the books I had piled around the house and shelved a bunch in my real book case. I finally sorted the scrapbook boxes that have been sitting beside the bed and packaged them up and slid them under the bed. (I don’t scrapbook, I scrapbox). I gathered computer discs from around the house and put them near the computer. I put dead batteries in a bag. I threw out old toothbrushes. I put bits of art and paper in a giant Ziploc labeled Scrapbook. I put things in containers and put the containers in drawers. It was fabulous.
But wait, had I really accomplished anything? Before I knew it, lunch was over and it was almost time for dinner. I hadn’t stopped moving and yet I hadn’t actually cleaned anything. I’d worked hard the whole time and yet, the house was still dusty and dirty, the taxes weren’t done, and more shamefully, I hadn’t touched the work I was supposedly dying to get to. My heart started racing and I wandered around the house frantically dialling the phone. When I couldn’t think of anyone else to call, I started wondering, “Do I really have any friends at all? When was the last time I met up with a friend without the kids?” I had no idea. I checked my email again. Thirty spam messages and not one friend in sight. I checked facebook. No luck even though it had been over a month since I’d last checked it. I sat down at the table almost shaking with a desperate desire to talk to someone.
I remembered what I had heard, that a community is like a plant, each phase of your life grows a new branch of people. I grabbed a piece of paper and drew a picture of a tree with the names of my family as the roots and the spreading branches of the tree as my various groups of friends. There were my childhood friends many of whom have moved away. There were my work friends who I’ve completely lost touch with now that I don’t “work”. There were my school friends who were scattered around but not close, and my oldest bestest friends who were all in various states of unreachable-ness, tangled in their own dramas and relationships. I called a few of my mom friends and managed to get a few conversations in while I was unloading the dishwasher and shoving all of our throw rugs into the washing machine. Renee said, “Do something that you really enjoy. That will ground you.”
I planted one of the dying plants in the garden and then sprinted up the stairs like an athlete when the phone rang. Thank the gods my sister was back from camping! She is still breast feeding and so time alone is a foggy impossible dream for her, but she has the extraordinary talent of having no agenda for me or my time aside from me doing whatever I want. The problem was that I had no idea what I wanted to do.
My aunt called and told me to do a little of everything, “a balance” she said. I drew a picture of a well with the words ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ in it and then buckets all around it labelled: friends, music, marriage, sex, movies, home, garden, writing, reading, finance, body, good food, memories, security. These were the things that nourished me and could fill up my inner well of self-ness. I made a list of what each area of my life needed. My financial health did need my taxes to get done. My memories did need scrap-booking. My home did need some ants to die. Who knows, maybe my husband was actually in need of a gushy email telling him how much I love him.
I sat down at the computer and typed it all out, the frenzy of being alone with this stranger called me. I might not be able to communicate well with my friends, but I could at least talk to myself and document the honest chaos of my experience. I heaved a great sigh and looked back over the weekend.
My time might almost be up, but I hadn’t done too badly, had I? Ok, so I didn’t work on my big writing project, but I did do some personal writing. Maybe this is the destination, this running and racing, this panicky feeling, and with it the frightening realisation that all my buckets are low. It could be that unearthing them and filling them up again is my pleasure, my luxurious choice, and not just another daunting duty on my endless guilt ridden list. Finding myself again might start out as scattered scary work, but remembering who I am and what’s important to me might turn out to be a lovely inspiring self indulgence.