The Perfect Day

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I don’t like this time of year, what with its relentless focus on endings and beginnings, its ruthless celebration of children and families, and its vicious indulgence in nostalgia. Not to mention, you’re a loser if you don’t have a date.

It isn’t all bad. There is my friend who makes care packages for homeless people–600 this year! There is the holiday concert at my niece’s school, replete with happy kids so excited about their clarinets and alto solos. There is the t-shirt I got with my dog’s name on it, perhaps the greatest article of clothing ever gifted to me. There are the holiday lights that help to blot out the inky darkness, which seems to begin around lunchtime. There is a lot of candy.

No, it isn’t all bad. Just…most of it.

I haven’t always felt this way. Most years, I decorate the house inside and out. I practice Christmas carols at the piano. I send out a funny Christmas letter to connect with old friends. I volunteer. I try.

This year, I haven’t even switched out the fall wreath for the winter one. (Yes, I am That Lady, who has artificial wreaths for every season.)

Last year, in fact, I had a perfect day, just a few days before Christmas. I am starting to think it might have been the best day of my life, and as I ruminate on it, I wonder: Will I ever have a day like that again?

It was fall graduation, and a young woman whom I had mentored through personal, legal, and financial problems was finally graduating with her Bachelor’s degree after several years of struggle. Seeing her walk across the stage when her name was called–that was perhaps my finest achievement as a teacher. Later that same afternoon, I hooded my first two doctoral students, also an incredibly satisfying moment.

That day, I never looked better. My skin was clear. I was down almost ten pounds. I was wearing a fetching black dress and heels with fancy fishnet stockings–a rare sartorial success for me. Over that, I was sporting my brand-new academic regalia, purchased in collaboration with my parents (multiple years’ worth of Christmas presents) to celebrate finally achieving tenure. My hair looked great, all straight and shiny beneath my tam, which I perched at a cheeky angle. I was beaming as I walked across campus. I took a selfie, and I actually had someone to send it to.

On the drive home, J* suggested I come to his place, and he would make me dinner. That felt wonderful–a place to go, and a handsome man to greet me warmly when I got there. He told me my body looked great in that dress, and I gently laughed it off as though I heard compliments like that all the time. We snuggled into the couch to watch a documentary, basking in the twinkling white lights of the Christmas tree. Then he had to meet some people, and I went home to walk the dog and go to bed. Not a perfect ending to most people’s perfect day, but it was good enough for me.

Perfect, actually. I felt at home in my own skin, I felt successful professionally, and I felt loved. I even had the grace to realize, as it was unfolding, how special it was, and I was so grateful.

It all started to unravel about a week later, and the unravelling has accelerated with each passing month, until here we are in December 2015, and there is almost nothing left.

I’ve gained weight. My hormones are a mess, so I get to enjoy my first serious bout of acne in middle age. I cut my hair, and it looks terrible most days. I haven’t worn the dress or stockings since that day, and the shoes are going south due to neglect and misuse. (Speaking as a former shoe-care professional, suede is a bad investment.) I didn’t attend fall graduation this year, and I’m certain I wasn’t missed. J* is long gone, and there is no one new on the horizon. I won’t even get started on the mess that is my family. It was a mess last year, too, but I had people outside my family for whom I was a priority, so that made it seem not so bad.

This year, it’s just me. Me and the dog, and the fall wreath, and a long, long night.

Thanksgiving

To follow up on my last post and its little cliffhanger:

I made the call and left a voicemail. He called back. We talked. He was funny! We made a date. I went on the date.

I can’t tell you about it, though, because that’s a story for First-Date Fridays, and I have two dozen first dates–plus a few aborted attempts–stacked up in the queue ahead of this one.

Patience.

As I have said to a couple of broken-hearted friends lately, no one knows how their story will end. We don’t even know where we are in the story, or who will–and won’t–be on the next page. Including loved ones, including ourselves. We can look back on what’s already been written, and we can seek to understand it, but we can’t change what’s done and gone. We can also wonder about the blank pages to come. Where will I be? What will I be doing? Who will be with me? And, taking nothing for granted, how many more pages are there anyway?

Four days ago, I would have loved to learn that I was merely living in a short story, and it would all be over soon. I am feeling better today, so I’m thinking I might be able to tolerate a novella or even a full-length book. If I could fall in love, find happiness in my work, and (or?) have my loneliness assuaged, I might someday desire to live an anthology!

But that is mere anticipation. All I can live is the present page, in the little spaces between the letters and words that write my life. I am glad to be here. Four days ago, I was in a hole so deep I could barely see the sky. I am grateful for the sky. I am also grateful for the hole. But I am most grateful for the page on which it has all been written.

Later today, when we go around the table and account for that which we are thankful, I will adhere to the script and reply, “My family and friends,  my job, the dog.”

But I will be thinking: me.

What’s Good?

I have had been laid low recently, a combination of physical and emotional ills. If not for my little yellow dog, I would not have left the house, and we have spent most of the last four days nestled in bed together. I find myself disconnecting from the world–declining invitations, ignoring overtures, disappearing from social media. My mantra is “Reach out to people who reach back,” but just now I feel as if I can scarcely lift my arms, let alone reach for someone.

(If you’re one of those people who has reached out, I am so sorry for not responding. Please don’t give up on me.)

The flexibility of my work schedule–the non-financial compensation that academics so highly prize–is counterproductive for me when this happens. Because of the looming Thanksgiving holiday, I could stay in bed for a good two weeks before anyone would notice. But my relationship to my work–that is a story for another day.

Today, I am trying not to close doors as soon as they open, even though a future beyond this low horizon is impossible to imagine. I responded to a text from a new suitor I met online (not Tinder; a different site). He’s “old school,” so he called me and left a nice voicemail. I wasn’t expecting that. But just returning the call feels like an impossible task for which I need to: clean the house, or at least the bathroom, ok, maybe just the toilet; take a shower, but wait–I need to go to the gym first, but I’m too gross to go out in public, so I should take a shower, then go to the gym; then I’ll tidy the house and clean the toilet; discard the dead plants and throw out the rotting Halloween pumpkins; take the dog out; sweep the leaves off the front walk; maybe find a shred of self esteem under there? Shower again. Then call.

It’s just too much.

The woman who crafted the online profile, the woman this man wants to talk to, is a stranger to me. I look at her pictures, and I read her witty self-descriptions, without recognition. Just trying to be her, let alone a woman who can endure the endless disappointments of online dating, would be the performance of a lifetime. I imagine trying to talk to this man, and I can’t script a conversation that doesn’t end with me in tears. (This poor man. Little does he know, he has drifted into the eye of someone else’s midlife hurricane!)

In an effort to rally, and in homage to my friend who writes the most hopeful blog and Facebook posts, when I know for a fact she ain’t always feelin’ it, I am going to make a list of Martha Stewart-style Good Things to try to pierce the gloom and let some light filter in. Because it’s just a phone call, right?

Good Things (aka Fronting):

  • I am not a Syrian refugee.
  • I am not an ISIS bride.
  • I am not Bashar al-Assad’s food taster.
  • I am not Putin’s botox injector.
  • I do not have to wipe Kim Jong-un’s ass (because you just know someone does, amiright?).
  • God willing, I will never have to see Donald Trump or Ben Carson naked.
  • David Vitter LOST, and 250,000 Louisianians will have access to health care as a result.
  • My dog is super cute.
  • I live in a nice house that is mostly not falling down.
  • I drive a car that is less than five years old.
  • I have a car.
  • I have a steady income and health insurance.
  • I am not trapped in a hurtful marriage.
  • My parents are both still alive, and I get to spend time with them.
  • One of my best friends is in a happy, committed relationship for the first time since I’ve known her.
  • I just bought a pair of teal slacks.
  • None of my teeth are sore.
  • There are leaves in need of raking, which is an exercise in mindfulness if ever there was one.
  • I binge-watched all of that show “Ballers” on HBO yesterday and think the Rock could get an Oscar if he found the right role and director.
  • I have an HBO-Go password, which belongs to an ex-boyfriend’s roommate’s friend, who once got so drunk he peed the floor, which the roommate filmed and my ex-boyfriend shared with me.
  • I do not struggle with addiction.
  • When the guy I like, but who doesn’t really like me back, texted me the words “great tits” unbidden yesterday, I had the self-respect not to be I’m Cool With It Girl and didn’t text him back.
  • Sometimes making a list, giving a name to the Black Dog that haunts you, and telling other people about your struggles, can help.
  • I really do have great tits.