It was your typical brisk, beautiful autumn morning in our little country house (cue Hallmark Channel music).
The kids were happily giggling away at their virtual class meetings. The dog was snoring soundly as she basked in the warm sun that streamed through the dining room window. The dishwasher was rhythmically whirring away; the laundry was sitting neatly in a basket on the couch. Two chipmunks and a squirrel were gleefully devouring the pumpkin patch I’d spent two hours setting up in the backyard.
A steaming cup of fresh coffee sat in my spider web mug, waiting to be swirled with a hint of oatmeal cookie-flavored creamer.
I was standing in the kitchen, in the dark, gripping the edge of the counter and fighting to breathe.
Lately, most days have had some semblance of this (hi, 2020), but I can usually shake it off and force myself back into the present relatively quickly (….ish….). That morning, though, my ears were closed to the laughter; my eyes blurred out the sunshine; the whirring of the wash and the scent of lavender bath towels weren’t strong enough to give me any grounding.
All that existed was the edge of that counter around my white-knuckled fingers, and a set of lungs that refused to take in any air.
This year has taken down the most strong-willed, even-keeled of us, so I had no illusions of a train wreck like myself faring too well. Let’s be honest, I can’t even see a Facebook post from an animal rescue group without tearing up. My son regularly glances at me during children’s movies and asks, “Ya crying yet?” I woke up in a cold sweat at 2am last week and spent an hour worrying about college tuition for my kids…who are 5 and 8.
Now add a world outside that is quite LITERALLY ablaze, and, well…there I was, hanging onto that ugly “slightly-overripe-banana” colored countertop and willing my stuck-shut lungs to inflate.
They all tell you to focus on the “here and now”- yoga instructors, mindfulness coaches, therapists- and they’re not wrong. I should’ve been inhaling the scent of those bath towels and focusing on the sound of my children’s laughter while I sipped my oatmeal cookie coffee out of my cheeky little spider web mug.
But come on.
It’s hard not to let it all consume you. The death tolls. The statistics. The phrases like “social distancing” and “new normal” (I really hate that one). The vitriol being spewed by both parties. The riots. The protests. The social media debates-turned-shit shows. The unrest. The what-ifs. The fear.
That’s really what grips us- the fear of the “what if.”
What if it never gets better? What if this is it? What if we lose our jobs? What if we run out of food? What if one of us dies? What if both of us die? What if the entire country burns to the ground because we can’t put out the fire?
I jumped a little bit and stared at my phone. It was glowing in the dark, shaking me back into focus.
Reluctantly, I released the counter and picked it up. It could be my job. It could be that place we went to a few weeks ago that asked for our number for contact tracing. It was them, I had to quarantine AGAIN. I knew it.
“Hey, how long are you in Seaside?”
It was- none of those things. It was my cousin, Charlie.
“I’m not- I was just dropping my parents off yesterday, settling them in.”
“You’re such a good daughter!”
“I’m a very tired daughter.”
I was. I am. I am so very, very tired. Tired of trying to make sure that everyone is settled, in all things, at all times, when I can’t even catch my own breath. Tired of reading the news because I don’t want to be uninformed, and still feeling like reading it makes me ill-informed. Tired of serving up ghost-themed baked goods and a smile for family movie nights, then quietly scanning the shelves of my pantry, mentally calculating whether I have enough food to feed us for 2, 3, maybe 4 weeks if they shut us down again and people go crazy hoarding everything from tissues to taco shells.
I’m fucking TIRED, and in my worst moments, I honestly don’t know how much more I have left in me.
And I let myself blurt it out to him.
“I can’t take anymore. Between you and me, some days I worry that the depression is going to win out in the end.”
I bit my lip nervously and grabbed the coffee to get the taste of blood off my tongue. Charlie is basically my little brother. We grew up together. We’ve talked about everything (even details, during his college years, that I’m not sure I wanted to know). He “gets” me. But I worried that I’d said too much. People tend to get spooked when you’re honest about things like mental health….or mental illness…or, you know- mental collapse.
“One day will be concert season again.”
I read it once, twice. I picked up the phone to see it again. And I felt my flattened lungs beginning to fill with air.
I smiled, and for the first time in a while, I had something other than dread and panic wash over me.
I had hope.
I remembered us, soaked from walking through the pouring rain, clinking our beer glasses and singing along at that local venue a few years ago. I remembered setting up a blanket on the lawn for my son’s first concert later that summer. I remembered bouncing up and down like a 5 year-old, belly full of milkshake and cheese fries, and smacking Charlie’s and my husband’s arms as one of my bucket list bands strolled onto the stage when they took me out for my birthday last June.
Concerts were our “thing.” And they would happen again. But not unless I got through this.
I put down the coffee, stopped gnawing on my lip, and looked up.
And, would you look at that- the sun was shining.
The moral of the story is- my cousin and I really like Coheed and Cambria and beer- wait, no. That’s not it. (It’s true, though)
The moral of the story is- it’s hard not to let it all consume you- the fear, the possibilities- all of it. But having something, something really simple, to hold onto, is important.
Having people to keep you in the “here and now” is a blessing beyond measure.
So if you have the chance, be that person. Reach out. Send the “checking in” text, because you have no idea how much you might be saving the day (and the sanity) of the person on the other end of the phone.
And if you’re the person in the dark kitchen, gasping for breath- drop your shoulders and un-clench the counter (and probably your jaw. Dental work is expensive). Stir your coffee. Smell that nice, clean laundry. Cuddle the dog. Look outside- find whatever beauty is right in front of you (there’s a lot of it, I promise).
One day will be concert season again.