I write a word, then a few more, the words become sentences, the sentences paragraphs. Then I stop. I wait for the other words to come. While I wait, I read what I just wrote. I hate it. It’s not what I mean to say. It doesn’t sound quite right. It isn’t elegant. So I position the cursor, I hit the backspace button, I delete. Then I try again. Sometimes one paragraph can take weeks to get perfect, or at least in my mind.
When I edit, I can take a painted canvas and erase from it. Or reposition something. Or change the color a little. Or draw the lines a little darker, a little more defined. Then I present what author and editor have made together.
But I can’t do that with life, with actions, with spoken word. That’s when the anxiety bottoms out in the pit of my stomach, or travels up my throat and lingers, or hangs around my heart and camps out.
Sometimes, you just have to get out of the house.
Suddenly—yes, I’ll use the adverb—I’m home. All day. Before this week, I got up at 6:30, showered, dress, ate, fed and dressed my toddler, then left the house. I drove him to the Montessori school in the little house where he spends his day. Then traveled ten minutes to my very important job, parked in my reserved third floor parking space, waited for the light, crossed the street, took the elevator to the top floor, and got ready to spend the rest of our time apart in my windowed office. And, just like that, all over. On Friday I resigned from the 8 to 5 so I can do what I love—freelance editing and writing—and be there for my son.
But, the quiet is stark. The solitude hard to ignore.
Today is day three. It starts off with a spat about sleep schedules and life maintenance and emotional hang-ups that don’t seem to go away no matter how much money I spend on therapy. Then we kiss and makeup and I get ready. To be positive! Yes, positive! Positive action thrown in all the right directions! I do some work, I get some things in order, I send my CV around. Then it’s time to get dressed. Because today I have plans! I am to meet my friend Shannon—who was once a high school friend, then a girlfriend, and now a mom friend. She has invited me to a mom group meet up where we will all watch the movie Mom’s Night Out. But I want to leave a little early because my mother made a Halloween costume for my boy, and it’s waiting at FedEx.
I walk down the path of stones to the driveway. Bleep! A Facebook message pops up. Mom tells me the costume is back on the truck. I respond that I’m on my way out. Bleep! Maybe you can leave a note? I grab the FedEx note from out of my car and sign it to have them leave it at the door. Now I’m too early for Shannon’s but too ready to go to go back inside. So I head out anyway, thinking I can stop for coffee or some quiet time with a book. Thankfully I’m always prepared with a book in my car.
I’m out of the neighborhood, on my second freeway of the trip, when Shannon calls. She’s congested. The baby’s congested. We discuss whether we should cancel or not, whether I should go alone, and after a lot of stops and starts, we decide to go anyway. The gathering is at a church, and the church can call Shannon if Allison seems too under the weather. Okay, now we have a plan. I stop by a café near Shannon’s house to wait for her to get the two of them ready, then we make our way to Second Baptist.
When we arrive, the room is darkening. The movie is funny and relevant and poignant. And stressful. A baby goes missing and something inside my stomach launches this way and that. The baby! Where is the baby?! Oh, there’s the baby, but when will the mother find him? Sometime halfway through, I check my phone. An error here, an error there. It won’t leave my mind, these mistakes, these imperfections. I’m on the edge of panic, my skin is crawling with everything I do wrong. Then my mind spins, trying to focus on the movie—on a main character who can’t stop feeling like a failure (sound familiar?)—but I can’t. I try to settle in to this part of my life, “mother,” or think about humanity and human connection or about doing the best I can, but none of that seems good enough. I remember back to forgetting my jacket at school, an 89 in the fifth grade, messing up a dance recital, popping a violin string, getting really sick, rejections from publication, interviews that didn’t result in getting the job, every person I’ve ever disappointed, every time I said the wrong thing. The spiral is pirouetting me around and around and I can’t find a place to land.
Shannon and I have lunch and we share are hits and misses in love and life and parenting, and the spinning slows a little. We visit at her house, and it slows a little more. Then I take my leave and head home, planning my attack for dealing with the mistakes of the morning. It slows to almost a complete stop. When I get home, I fix everything, I make things right, I keep on moving. That feeling is there, right under my chest, but it’ll go away. Not forever, maybe, but perhaps next time it won’t hang around so long.
“We’re all messes,” my friend Marsha once wrote. She’s also a brilliant writer and a mentor and an inspiration. I’m stealing the line and hoping it’ll guide me towards more love and less hate.