It’s usually around 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon when it starts. It’s worse in the winter when days are short. Dark, slippery, and foreboding it’s difficult to explain exactly what this feeling is about without sounding slightly ridiculous.
Given that it happens so often, I should be less vulnerable but getting sucked in is part of the problem. It’s a little bit “first day of school” tremors, a little bit “I’ve-just-been-lucky-so-far-that-no-one-has-noticed-that-I-resemble-a-Komodo-dragon” and an unwavering conviction that I cannot face my job in the morning.
Much has been made of Monday morning blahs, but I venture to suggest that I am not alone in my experience of the more menacing hours that occur before Monday ever gets started.
I first noticed this pattern after reading an article about anxiety – although this is more rumination than specific worrying – but anyway, the author suggested that close observation of one’s thoughts would reveal that most of our concerns are the same movie we watch repeatedly. It’s exactly the same set of random thoughts. I need to hit the gym more; this week I really will eat better; I should look into that dance class I’ve been meaning to find out about and actually, why, unlike other people, do I never have all of the ingredients for a kale smoothie? (Including kale, which seems especially important). I find this fascinating; and all the more so since, as a self-help devotee, I should be striving to eliminate such destructive thoughts patterns. Instead, I not only allot them top billing in my mind, but throw in a dressing room and some complimentary kindling as well.
Personally, I believe that the Internet has a lot to answer for. What better way to nobly distract yourself from Sunday Night Fever than by spending hours reading about how to make your own soap or – less nobly – looking at Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy photos? Suddenly, the light is failing and once more you haven’t been to the store to buy steel cut oats and blueberries.
Interestingly too – and I mention this here as evidence that the problem is universal – Buddhist literature calls this phenomenon the “monkey mind.” Thoughts fly from one branch to the next (I like to imagine a penetrating chimpanzee shriek here) and the meditator is supposed to wait until they subside. The only flaw here is that by that time, it could be Sunday night again …
I’m waiting for the light to change. The man standing next to me – a David Beckham type, handsome with carefully contrived stubble – is close enough that the faint lemon tang of his aftershave reaches me through the warmth of the day. My stomach twists at the unexpected recognition. A small boy of about one year has his peachy head nestled in his father’s neck and his bottom is being supported in the hammock of an impressive bicep. Beside him, pushing the now vacant stroller, is a young woman with square, candy-apple red nails and generous blonde streaks in her hair. He leans into her and she responds to whatever he has said with a tinkle of laughter.
Do you recognize these People-With-The-Perfect-Life?
Or, so I imagine.
Until my husband left us – quickly, cruelly, and without a satisfying explanation – I didn’t truly understand the phrase ‘come undone.’ Hours melted into months of stunned disbelief as I examined the past, scene by scene with the eye of a critical jeweller. Many, many weeks I cannot recall anything beyond staring into space, conscious only of the thud of my heart and an ever-present skittering of panic in my chest. Sleep was elusive. I once got up at 3:15 a.m. and stood looking at the little red fish in his bowl as he circled, pursing his lips. When I finally decided to make tea, I realized that I had been standing there for a full ninety minutes.
Some time has passed now, but I remain fascinated by how close to the surface the pain still bubbles. This perfect couple, for example. I had that life. I had romantic, daily proclamations of love and cozy goals about house renovations, travel, and of course, our children. I miss that life. I mourn that innocence.
When I return to the pain, as I do this day, I am no longer surprised or alarmed; indeed, it’s much easier for me to accept that I will – I must – return to this place over and over. But in between I am mostly okay now. Small things help enormously: the girl at the market who compliments me on my earrings; the pale blue concern in my best friend’s eyes; a lovely man who fixes my lawn mower for free; fat, purple hyacinths swollen with their heady scent. These are the footholds that beckon me on and make me climb.
I am not able to provide a specific date, but there was a time when the guy in the car next to me at the red light was actually looking my way and hey, I was looking back. Not an openly encouraging come hither glance but more a sardonic, lips slightly parted smile, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. After all, I could have been looking beyond him or directly at him. Similar things happened at the grocery store. Lingering eye contact over the deli counter, a feigned interest in the Havarti slices. Now it’s all about shaved or sliced smoked chicken – and really, that’s what it’s all about.
When I pass a group of teenage girls now, I’m self-conscious. I feel the heaviness of their glare expertly delivered from beneath sooty eye lashes and iridescent lids – they despise me. I am older, and not just older than them. Old-er. It’s perceived to be a weakness. There’s something horribly primal about it, as though hyenas are driving a member from the pack when they are no longer vital. Perhaps I should feel smug, armed with the knowledge that one day their bejeweled navels will in fact be frowning or possibly hidden altogether but this kind of speculation holds no appeal for me. Instead I focus on my own decline, wondering what is on the back of my leg in the shower (it’s my bum, people!). Hating myself for it all the while, I also click on “Celebrity Secrets” online just in case. Disappointingly, the “secret” is lots of water and a personal chef — well, that and $35,000 worth of cosmetic surgery.
I’m not sure why I even cite these strange examples here, but they provide subtle markers that I am changing and even more weirdly, that how society perceives me is changing. Someone in line asked me if I was shopping for my grandchildren and I literally could have dropped to my knees with the sting from that innocent remark. But it’s technically possible, I guess. A few years back – perhaps the same time as the deli-staff lost interest, who charts these things? — people also stopped being older than me. Very inconsiderate, but I’m getting over it.
The bottom line is that I am trying hard to accept all of these challenges with grace – and gratitude — for the life that I have. Youth may be wasted on the young, but I want to be sure not to waste anything.