Last week, I won two symphony tickets by calling our public radio station and answering a trivia question. The question was: ”What song was inspired by the Battle of Fort McHenry?” Fortunately, I’m a fast Googler. I looked up the answer, called the station and timidly asked: “The Star Spangled Banner?” The tickets were mine. For a moment, I felt as though I’d won the lottery. Amadeus and I were going on a date, a bona-fide, honest-to-goodness date.
We always struggle financially. Amadeus carries the weight of the world on his roof rack as he drives to work each day. He’s been an angel, letting me stay at home and try to figure out how to contribute to our income in a gentle way, one that utilizes my writing skills and keeps fibromyalgia from pinning me to the ground. It’s been hit or miss at best. As I’ve mentioned, I’m disciplined when it comes to typing words onto a blank screen, but rather awful at the business end of things. My writing career is the longest work in progress since the building of the pyramids. I stay panicky and stressed. I want so badly to succeed, to help us stay afloat, because there are sharks beneath the water’s surface, and they’re all holding bills between their teeth.
We worry that we’re going to lose our little condo. Amadeus is retiring at the end of the year, and we fret about that too. We recently sold my car, because I seldom drove it, and the repairs were costing more than we could afford. Side question to the makers of the 2001 Kia Sportage: How much Super Glue did you use when you built that little cracker box from hell?
So nowadays, I stay at home. A lot. I write and do domestic things haphazardly, the way, say, Queen Victoria would do chores if she weren’t dead and hadn’t had 750 servants to do them for her. Though I’m not venturing out much, our house is often bursting at the bricks with friends and family, and our modus operandi is always to accommodate. We make coffee and feed people when we have trouble caffeinating and feeding ourselves. Spare beds and a sofa are offered to those who need them. Our ears are always available to listen and our shoulders are ready, should anyone need one to cry on. At the same time, we’re constantly worrying– about keeping the lights on, about buying groceries, about paying the mortgage. Magically, though, we always seem to have just enough. Magically, we always have something to offer. Our lights glow brightly. We stay quiet in our poverty, and as cornball as it sounds, love seems to carry us a long way. It’s quite a balancing act, but somehow we’re pulling it off.
But those tickets were a godsend. For a little while, I’d get out of the house. For a few hours, I’d be a middle-aged Cinderella, and Amadeus, my silver-haired prince. I dreamed of the two of us sitting in the comfort of our local arts center, escaping our reality, rubbing elbows with little old ladies who wore opera glasses and tiaras, like they do in Marx Brothers movies. The tickets could have been to a pudding wrestling competition, and I’d have been just as thrilled. I was also secretly considering it to be my birthday present, because this year, we’re just not going to be able to do much. So you see, I was pretty excited.
On the day of the concert, I took a long bubble bath, applied makeup, did what I could with my hair, and picked out a swell outfit. I even dragged some high heels out of the closet and dusted the cobwebs off of them. I put on jewelry as I imagined sitting next to my sweetie in the cheap seats. Once I was appropriately accessorized, I wobbled my way downstairs in those shiny shoes, and Amadeus went out to start the car.
Well, Amadeus went out to try to start the car. The car, however had other plans. The car laughed at us demonically and said, “You stupid fools! How dare you think I’m going to coöperate with you?” Chug, chug, chug. Wrr-rrr-rrrrrrrrr. The battery was deader than the above mentioned Queen Victoria. A Honda Fit, indeed. Fit for what?
I called my daughter’s boyfriend and he said he’d zip over to give us a jump. Amadeus, handsome in his symphony-going clothes, went to find the jumper cables. The clock was ticking, and at some point I realized that we’d never make it to the arts center before they dimmed the lights. I called a few friends to see if anyone wanted our tickets. I posted them on Facebook, hoping to give them away to someone, but there just wasn’t time.
My daughter, her boyfriend and the Grandpea all arrived. I sat on the step in front of our house and kicked off my stupid shoes. There was no point in risking a high-altitude nosebleed at that point. As we waited for the car to juice, we all sat around outside talking for a bit. The Grandpea put on my shoes. They matched her pink tutu and pet monkey perfectly. She shuffled around in an adorable manner. “I’m Mimi! I’m Mimi!” she shouted, though no one was fooled for a minute.
You know, I’m pretty stoic. In fact, I’m often so happy that I wonder what’s wrong with me. The world is falling down around us, and still, there’s always a part of me that feels thankful and chock-full-o-joy. But yesterday, I have to admit that my emotional climate was less than balmy. I was disappointed, and a deep, low-level depression was creeping in and making my body ache. I had my game face on, but the mouth part of the face was turned down a little at the corners.
After about an hour, my daughter and her entourage left. Amadeus took our remaining money for the month and went to buy a new battery for the car. He drives over sixty miles to and from work each day, with many stops in-between. Jump-starting his battery throughout the day just wouldn’t do.
While he was out making the purchase, I tried to shake off the sadness. Mind you, this wasn’t just about our plans being canceled. I’m a big girl, and I can handle those kinds of curve balls. This was just cumulative exhaustion, another letdown in a series of setbacks. Every day, we put on our combat gear and work our way through our situation. We keep our sleeves rolled up and we plug away. But yesterday, I decided to let myself feel sad. I knew that if I just went upstairs and snuggled beneath a quilt for a little while, I’d be okay.
The house was quiet. I lay there like a slab of sad, little boohoos hopping up and down in my chest. At the same time, I was ashamed of my melancholia. How can I ever complain? I’ve got a loving family, great kids, a fantastic husband. Our house is filled with music, writing, art and happy, shimmering, low-level chaos. We have clothes on our bodies and shingles over our heads (for now). Even if we’re eating PB and J, I’m always aware of how friggin’ lucky I am. So we didn’t get to go out. Big deal. Boo hoo. Wah wah. Thank goodness we found out about Amadeus’ car when we did, instead of at 7:00 a.m. this morning, when he was about to take off for work.
Downstairs, I heard my son and his new girlfriend walk into the house, chittering non-stop happy talk, the way those who have just discovered each other tend to do. I tried to ignore them. Damned happy people.
Four minutes later, my cell phone rang. “Where are you?” my daughter asked.
“Oh, I’m just lying down for a minute,” I told her in a zombie-like voice.
“Well, I’m downstairs,” she said. That sweetheart. She’d come back, just to cheer me up. She reads me like a book, that one.
As I arose from my tomb of gloom, Amadeus came home and went upstairs to find me. He opened one bedroom door as I was making my way out of another. We met in the hallway and smiled. As we headed downstairs, the Grandpea saw us and she smiled too. She put her soft little arms around my neck, which reminded me that I was still on her top-ten list of favorite people in the world. Soon the house was buzzing again, filled with laughter and craziness and joy.
Later, Amadeus said, “I’m sorry about the symphony.” Instead of blowing it off as I’d normally do, I put my head on his shoulder and told him about my disappointment. Being a guy and all, he didn’t quite get it. “You should have found someone to go with,” he said.
“It wasn’t about the symphony,” I explained. “It was about the company. It was about getting to go out with you. I’d imagined sitting next to you in the theater, listening to the music. I even imagined walking around with you during intermission. It was just an opportunity to go do something with you at a time when we aren’t able to do much of anything. Plus, it was my birthday present to myself.”
Once I voiced it– once I gave myself permission to feel gloomy and bratty, the cloud began to lift. I always, always say, “It’s okay,” about life’s little downturns, and I always mean it. But this time, for just a little while, it just wasn’t okay. And once I acknowledged it, once I cried and pouted privately for a few minutes, everything was okay. There was a baby in a bright pink tutu rolling around on our floor with her mama. There was my son and his girlfriend sitting upstairs, doing God-knows-what. There was the guy I love, sitting in the living room as sweet and solid as a candy-coated cinder block, watching football and winning pretend millions at an on-line casino. My daughter’s boyfriend, who’s been around for about seven years now, came back over to our house and quietly took a place on the sofa, smiling at the goofiness of it all. I smiled too.