Running late again. I had requested the 2nd half of the day off to take Terra shopping, just to get her out of the house, and I really, REALLY needed to get to work on time today. Terra handed Mason some clothes, and said “can you change into these please?” I was running and fumbling from room to room. Where were the keys? Where were my sunglasses? What time was it?!!! Mason sat his playroom floor, playing a video game.
“Mason,” I said, “you need to get ready right now. We need to leave very, very soon.” He couldn't hear me. I walked into the playroom and stood over him. He looked at me, tiredly.
“You need to get ready right now,” I repeated, fuse lit.
“But mom said I could get ready while I played my game.”
“You’re NOT getting ready! We don’t have time for the game this morning!”
“Well, I’m going to tell Mom!”
The fuse was burning fast now. “YOU are going to put on your clothes so that I can take you to Mimi’s house and you are going to do it right now!” I turned off his game.
He silently changed his clothes while I silently marveled at what a shit I had become.
Even still, once we had managed our way out the door and over to my mother's house (she babysits on Fridays), Mason ran to jump into my arms and he hugged me goodbye. Maybe he understood. Maybe his 4-year-old mind understood better than most. My friend CK used to say "you've probably still got money in his bank." I hoped so.
Work hours came and went like a commercial and I left to pick up Terra. The drive was long and winding. A two-lane highway for most of the 2.5 hours, we spent much of it surfing the radio waves for something, anything to keep from having to talk. We heard preachers and country singers, the odd car commercial (“WE REALLY NEED TO GIT RID OF SOME OF THIS STUFF!”) to dead air, until, finally… “SWAP SHOP!”
Swap Shop is a phenomenon you can find on some small Indiana radio stations (or so I am told). People called in and listed the things they were selling. From what I could tell, it is mostly older folks calling in:
“This is Edna Sasser, and I’ve got a swimming pool for sale. We don’t feel like blowing it up this year. Somebody come and get this thing. Get it out of here. 50 bucks. Get it out of here.”
“This is Harriet Fulford,” another woman said, speaking slowly for anyone writing it down. “I live at 42, I mean 4325 Livingston Court and we are having a big, I mean BIG 6 family yard sale. I’ve got a cabbage patch doll from 1985, still in the box. Not even opened, I mean it’s an original. One of the first ever made, so come on down and see us, Honey.”
The deejay often struggled with his composure, and attempted to succinctly summarize each caller’s products: “that’s right, Harriet Fulford, go out and get you a cabbage doll…” or “yes, Edna Sasser, she’s got a swimming pool just like new, so give her a call." The “caller” had often vacated the line when the deejay connected their call, which left 20 seconds of silence over the airwaves before the deejay finally says “welp, folks I think we lost ‘em there.”
Swap Shop, Swap Shop, Swap Shop!!
Unfortunately, we lost the station around New Albany.
In silence, we continued. We fidgeted and rocked. We stared out of our windows. At all costs, we avoided eye contact and we took turns watching the clock.
Finally! Shoe stores! Massive, massive shoe stores!! The Gap!! Old Navy!! Toys R Us!! (I DESPISE shopping by the way. I don't even like buying gas). Terra spent the day walking up and down isles, picking things up and putting things down. I spent the day trying desperately not to ruin it for her with my bitter and severe countenance. I smoked outside of the stores and grumbled at the backs of strangers in their crisp blue jeans. This antiseptic outlet malls in the wake of my daughter's death, I imagined, was worse than any Hell I'd ever heard about. (Burn me, cast me into the eternal darkness, whatever, but DO NOT send me to one of those Tangier Outlets.) If there was a God, and he was truly omnipotent, then he must also be selfish and cruel.
I found a bench outside of the Baby Gap, and sat on it. Finally. Shade. Quiet. The wind was blowing and the air was cool. It felt good. I watched sparrows in the parking lot fight over a french fry. I watched them as they sat on the skinny blades of the elephant grass, swaying up, down, side to side.
A couple walked out with a newborn baby. The woman pushed a stroller ahead, and the very young father held the baby’s face to his own. The baby had thick, black hair. Thick, black hair. Thick. Black. Hair.
It’s Xanax time.
Earlier in the day, Terra had hinted that there may be a sexy reward along the highway if it was dark enough driving home. Romance, sex, none of that had come up in that last month, so it seemed monumental and exciting in light of our new selves.
By the time we she found me outside on that bench, though, that is all gone.
“Do you need me to drive?” Terra asked.
“No, I can handle it.”
We drove directly into the sunset. Its beauty was distracting, and its brightness a hazard. Our car was, again, quiet. All of the promise of the day was gone. Back to surviving it. We again searched the airwaves. We finally found Gene Simmons on NPR being interviewed by Terri Gross. It was a replay, but a good one with plenty of awkward moments. Eventually, as with Swap Shop, we lost reception.
We started passing the cell phone back and forth, making phone calls. We need someone else. Someone outside of this bubble of misery that we lived in.
We would meet Jo!! (Jo never once failed to drop any and all plans he had at the spur of the moment for me during this time... I never even had to mention how desperate I was... He would agree to anything before I even finished my sentence, and he saved me more than once.)
We would go to a movie!! Just like regular people!! It seemed so foolproof... so perfect. Escape.
We decided to see the ‘Halloween’ remake (an excellent choice for anyone dealing with severe anxiety issues!)
The parking lot of the movie theatre was riddled with teenagers. I had always despised large crowds anyway, but lately they were unbearable. Yet another element I had not considered. “Wow, look at them all. This is terrifying.”
“Oh my god,” Jo affirmed without missing a beat (my closest compadre, he would never leave me hanging.)
We stood in the ticket line and giggled nervously. "Uh oh..." and it occurred to me that I could run into people we knew. The thought was horrifying. Why hadn't we just gone home?!! Thank Shiva for Jo, who whispered "I'm scared too," and giggled again. "Oh fuck this", I thought. I was weary of trying to talk myself down. I decided that I would just let it kill me.
I opened myself up, completely, to the waiting anxiety standing right there in that line. I allowed it to cover my skin and pulse through my veins. I INVITED it to attack, attack, attack my cerebellum. How funny that “two tickets to the 9:40 showing of Halloween” would be my last words. I followed Jo and Terra to the snack and popcorn stand, and with each step I felt my body surging with the waves of panic, only, I wasn't under them. I was on top. I could almost enjoy it. As if I were falling, I gave myself permission to feel the pleasure and speed of falling without worrying about the impact.
The rest of the night, Jo and Terra and I laughed and laughed. The movie was predictably terrible. We were the oldest people in the theatre. This was the night that I realized I had to leave my pre-Roxy self behind. I had to learn a new way.