Everything Happened | vol. 171

welcome to me

I spent so much time in my head over the interminable holiday break that I doubted I would ever write a newsletter again. I was so sick of myself that the notion of doing this whole exercise of opening a Google doc and taking a thought and seeing where it goes, this ~practice~ of mine that I usually find soothing, seemed nauseating instead.

We took a multi-day car journey to my hometown in Ohio, then to Nick’s hometown in Ohio, with brief stops to rest in Columbus and West Virginia and DC. It was a dumb idea, probably, an exact repeat of my childhood pain patterns, where we had scarcely opened our haul from Santa and were loaded up in the minivan to drive to Arkansas, or Florida, or wherever my dad’s parents were living at the time, to spend big empty days dying for the next mealtime to arrive because at least that would be an activity.

I think now of those painful post-Christmas hours in my grandparents’ house, alone with my childhood brain, and then pre-adolescent brain, and then adolescent brain, deprived of the humane distraction of a cell phone. I’d finish any books I’d packed immediately. Sometimes my siblings and I would pull out a board game or convince adults to play cards with us. Now that I have no old people in my life, or I have one old person but his dementia is so advanced as to render me indistinguishable from the nurses and techs and other professionally nice women he interacts with during the day, I want to implore child-me to talk to my grandparents. To ask them anything that occurred to me about their lives, their experiences as young people, as parents. What it was like to grow old, how it felt. My grandmother could be open and receptive, but she also had her moods, and I was terrified of saying the wrong thing, being in the way. I was afraid of rejection and, ultimately, a child, incurious about the inner lives of the adults around me, no matter how desperate I was to please them.

That said, I don’t think we will do that again. The big Christmas-adjacent road trip. For all its obvious hassles, it was a way to fill up the two weeks without childcare. Nick and I managed to get three free “dates”, out of it. We saw a movie, a concert, and one night we just walked around his childhood neighborhood late at night talking about the people who used to live in the houses.

Like in this piece in the Cut by my friend Meaghan, I am already trying to figure out a plan for next year. What can we do with these days, these holiday-adjacent days, as parents of children unyoked from school and daycare? What if there was some type of getaway, but it didn’t involve a lot of driving, and it was also somehow not expensive, but it was fun for both adults and children. What is this thing that I’m trying to invent here? Did you already figure it out? Email me if you did. Is the answer My Year of Rest and Relaxation-ing yourself and your children? A sort of diet-Heaven’s-Gate situation where you don’t fully die, you get to come out of a long winter’s nap on January 8th or whatever godforsaken day the school gates finally reopen?

On Saturday night, our friends had us over for a post-holiday dinner thing. It was one of those events where I wasn’t clear if it was just our family invited or a lot of people. It was a lot of people, but it felt like everyone cool that we know here, and I got to feel tethered to something after weeks of being so plunged into the baptismal font of extended family expectations that I didn’t know where I stopped and the rest of the world began.

After the meal, and after a few glasses of wine, the host offered to haul out their old pack n play for Jane, and they put on a movie for the older kids in the basement. With Jane asleep, and Desi cuddling his friends under a blanket, I settled back into my seat around the big table and got very comfortable. It’s not often I get to have this kind of unspooling bohemian evening like the type we used to have all the time before we had kids. Even with my sober husband as built-in DD, it’s rare we get invited to a child-free house party or that we feel inclined to keep our kids up late. You pay for it the next day, and are stuck parenting an underslept maniac while potentially hungover. Furthermore, it just sucks to keep ME up late.

It was the relief of being with friends, with not having my kids on a clock, with being just a few doors down from home, that contributed to me drinking too much. Once we got home, I hit the traditional mile markers of creating a bunch of cold non-meals out of fridge dregs, making Nick do a crossword puzzle with me on my phone, initiating sex then being too tired, and finally being charged with such potent insomnia and anxiety that I wanted to delete myself from the mortal plane and Eternal Sunshine myself from the memories of everyone I loved.

My son started crying out around 3 a.m., tangled up in cold, wet sheets. We had just plopped him in his bed after the party without getting him into a pull-up. I put a pull-up on him and deposited him onto my warm spot in the bed next to Nick, stripped his sheets, started a load of laundry with everything that had touched urine. Now I was even more awake.

Desi was now horizontal across our marital bed, somehow taking up more room than I do, at more than twice his size, the way tiny dogs can push you off the edge of a king bed. I decided to leave them alone and sleep elsewhere.

In the kitchen I sat down on the linoleum, leaning against the bottom cabinets, and ate refrigerated grapes out of their netted plastic bag until they were gone. I thought I would be fine to never drink again, I would be happy to never drink again. Can you have a drinking problem if you only drink once a month but then when you do, you have to eat grapes on the floor and fantasize about not existing? Can you quit drinking but not have a drinking problem? Does anyone want to be friends with a couple where both adults don’t drink AND they’re vegetarian AND they have two young children?We could not be less fun! Is this ultimately about being palatable for other people, a winning package?

The shitty IKEA pullout still had sheets on it from a visitor a few weeks earlier. I shut the door and watched pimple popper videos on my phone and felt briefly soothed by other people’s lives, other people’s lipomas, but remained very much awake. Eventually, I did a careful multi-step skincare routine, and then took one half of a prescription benzo and one half of a sleeping pill. It was nearly five a.m.

I woke up at noon with dewy skin and a light cognitive fog but no headache. The kids were excited to see me. I felt bad that I had missed the morning with them, but not guilty, not like they had missed out by not having me around. I felt sad for myself that I had missed it, even though I had just dragged my flyblown corpse through two weeks without childcare, full of sixteen sweet sunlit mornings like the one I’d just slept through.

I think I might not be interested in losing half-days of my life to drinking anymore, I’d rather lose them to regular sleep, or reading, or TV, or writing, or making art, or any of my other vices that aren’t really vices, but are just part of being alive, but without so much me, without the shame.

yr mate,

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