7:10 a.m. The alarm goes off and I stumble around in search of the phone ringing. And then a door slams and the children’s toilet makes its howling jet engine sound and I glance at the alarm clock and hit the snooze button but turn on static instead. I am not thriving just surviving on five hours of sleep. Jet planes flying overhead and a nagging concern over a public fight with a friend kept me awake until 2 a.m.
7:15 a.m. I do not hear any bickering or arguing children and the howling toilet has quieted down so I sit in front of my iMac and scan the 50 messages in my in-box and right away I find the problem child e-mail. It’s from a woman I barely know and she very politely tells me that I forgot to link to her blog on a project we collaborated on yesterday. My heart sinks. I spent over an hour assembling links but I must have missed her website . . . I write her back and apologize and promise to fix it and I do. A voice, an old voice, starts to whisper of failure and I frown and answer with a silent reproach.
7:20 a.m. I can still taste the Colgate on my teeth and then my daughter runs into my bedroom screaming, “Mom, our toothpaste is broken,” so I give her mine. “Wake up, Ben,” I murmur and hug Jim, who is still wearing pajamas. “Come on, Jim, put that away,” I order, and nod at his maroon Nintendo DS. He smiles, chubby cheeks still rounded like they were when he was a Baby Jim, and I grab the rank smelling overnights from the children’s blue and yellow bathroom and ignore the trail of blue toothpaste spread like Hansel and Gretel crumbs along the tile floor. Ben swallows his medicine and gives me a high-five when he keeps it down. This is Ritalin Day 6.
8:15 a.m. I check my Facebook Page and share the blog of the woman whose link I had forgotten, and this makes it easier for me to breathe. As I sip my coffee, I find a post that takes me to task for something that I said yesterday. Basically, I issued a crappy apology when I was still angry. This anonymous person said, “This particular post, with the caps and emphasis makes it seem like a totally sarcastic/ NON apology.” Tears rise to my eyes. Guilt laced with anger and confusion floods me. She or he was right, but I had already owned it. I issued a real apology and spoke to the friend and we hugged it out.
And now what can I do, aside from agree that, “yes, my first apology sucked, but I made up for it?” I consider shutting my page down. My public persona is killing me and I want to hide. Little El starts to howl as loud as the children’s broken toilet and I try not to listen because she is screaming, “I am a failure.” To that I answer, “No, no I am not.”
10:30 a.m. I look up directions to my new therapist’s office and enter into a full-on neurotic pout. I don’t want to go. She sounded dead on the phone when I talked to her: lifeless, with no inflection in her voice and not even a hint of a smile. And their disclaimer is all lawyerly and cold and it warns that they “They are not a crisis center” and that clients should “not call during non-business hours.” And to top it all off, we must provide our credit card information on the intake forms. If we don’t pay our bills in a timely fashion, they will charge the full amount and the whole thing makes me feel like the plastic digits on my Visa card. Hard. Unfeeling. As if I do not matter.
10:55 a.m. I call a friend and leave a neurotic message whining about my new therapist’s disclaimer. As I am hanging up, the land line rings. It is a phone number I memorized long ago: 703 … This is the phone number to my children’s elementary school. “Mrs. Farris? I have Ben sitting next to me. He chewed on a bead and got it stuck in his tooth.”
“A what? A bead?” I splutter.
“ You must come pick him up and take him to the dentist.” I groan. My new, no-good therapist works in Vienna, a solid 25-minute drive from Burke. My husband almost shouts when I call him: “They need to take care of this crap and stop calling us!” And I roll my eyes, grab the forceps and run up to school to remove the damn bead myself. I f you want to know why we own forceps, really want to know, ask me about Jim and the time he ate the pine needles off the damn Christmas tree.
12:05 p.m. I drive up to a residential house and I realize I cut and pasted the wrong address into Google Maps, but when I call the new, no-good therapist to ask for better directions, she does not answer. Over and over again, I rehearse saying, “I am never late! I am so sorry,” but it sounds lame and even though I navigate to her office via Interstate 66 and Nutley Road, I know deep in my soul that the universe has conspired to keep me from seeing the new therapist. Trust your gut, El, I keep thinking; instead, I pull up in front of her office 15 minutes late.
12:15 p.m. I grab the aluminum handle and twist it until the door to Suite 4 in a tiny brown office building creaks and opens. I enter a narrow, dark, dim-lit vestibule and look for direction. There is a door in front of me and a door to my left. In front of me is a sign: “please flick the switch until the light comes on for the person you are visiting.” I lean over and try not to touch the light switch too close because everything in the office feels dirty and tainted. I wait, and try to take a breath but I don’t want to breathe in any of the air in the office.
I try to tell myself something funny and to look cocky and brilliant and sure of myself but my hand, the one holding the disclaimer, is shaking and the papers make this rustling sound like a breeze tapping against dry maple leaves and I cannot imagine where the hell the therapist is because she does not enter the narrow, dark, dim-lit vestibule. She must not want to be there either, so I nudge toward the door. As long as no one spots me before I turn the handle, then I will make it. I will be safe, and free, and tucked into the black leather seats of my Mazda CX-9 with the seat heaters running on full blast.
A minute later, I pull out of the parking lot and laugh. My day can only get better, and if it doesn’t, I’m okay with that too. After all, as my friend said last night, “superheroing is sweaty business,” and so is living like a character from an Anne Tyler novel.