Note: Wrote this 5 nights ago after we got word that school would not be starting back anytime soon, and I clicked the wrong tab and thought it was lost forever. Realized today that wp just sorts newest drafts to the bottom of the list (dumb). I revive and share not for its literary merit or the golden halo of maturity it affords my character, but because it is a prequel to a future post.
This is the worst year of my life.
Hindsight might have some net losers that were worse, but I really can’t think of what they were right now. None had the same grueling suspended-time quality that 2019-2020 is showcasing.
I thought time was supposed to speed up when you got older.
2006-07: The year I started having nonstop pain and got diagnosed with a chronic, incurable, degenerative neurological disease? There was novelty is seeing new doctors, failing new tests, starting new treatments, learning a new pain language and the limits thereof.
1989-90: The year my dad went into rehab and my mom moved us away for a few months, and I never could find my footing when we got back mid-schoolyear? At least he and I got to watch It’s a Wonderful Life together at xmas that year, and it was Very Meaningful, and eventually school did end and reset, and there was less fighting, for a while.
2011: The year I went effectively blind for 9ish months? Well, yeah, that sucked a lot and I had to quit my dream job and nobody could say if or when I’d ever recover. But also, my friends and family were amazing at stepping up to keep me supplied with good music and audiobooks and road trips and visits. And we had a photographer at our wedding, so I saw the pictures later.
But this? THIS?
There is nothing that can balance this lost year, and I have nothing to do but continue to watch it spool on and on, getting farther and farther behind.
I gave up every place I’ve known, all my friends, my closest family, my therapists and doctors, thrift stores, labels I could read, the ability to flirt with anybody anywhere, my cars to sing in, my trivia team, air conditioning, my own room, 90% of my books…
And for what? Fame, glory, influence, sex appeal, wads of cash?
Oh. Guess I’m not half the negotiator I thought I was.
So my kids could see more of their euro family? Yes — but we only got a few days at xmas in, and then canceled canceled canceled. We could have simply visited. So.
So my kids could get better at German? Yes — but they’re not doing that at home with me. So.
So I could meet new people, buy cool stuff, have new experiences, learn the language? Yes –but I’m sure not doing any of that at home with me, either. So.
I know life wouldn’t be fun or normal if I were back at home, either. I’m not stupid. Shit’s weird and hard and scary everywhere.
But I might be able to eat familiar food that I didn’t have to cook myself, food I could taste. I might be able to see those friends and family from time to time, quarantine be damned. To see people who can see me — imagine! I could go for a drive and sing my terrible songs terribly until I’m hoarse and healing, instead of whispering them in the kitchen and still getting interrupted constantly.
Would I give up being able to order whiskey on Amazon? Absofuckinglutely.
Would I give up great public transit? Begrudgingly, and then I’d fight like hell to make it happen at home.
Would I give up…well, see, that’s the problem. I already gave everything up. This cupboard’s bare. There’s just a bunch of moths where my heart used to be, and a cough I’ve had for two months. Anybody want that? I hear it’s all the rage.
I knew I would be giving some things up to make a big move away.
We sold the house and everything that was in it, but hell if that wasn’t a relief more than a shame, and always tempered with the spoken and un- “we’ll get new stuff, better stuff, just the right stuff.”
Better than a compromise: a fair deal. A blessing.
We sold the cars. “Where we’re going, we won’t even NEED a car!”
Trains are romantic. We could be in Paris by dinner. I’m sold.
And what’s more:
I wouldn’t have to give up my job to follow K’s, since I don’t have one. I wouldn’t have to give up quality medical care – it should end up being more affordable and accessible. I’d have the opportunity to learn a language in its native context. The kids could perfect theirs during these critical years.
Then we said goodbye to the people, my real home. And I knew right away that that was a Bad Deal. No substitutions, no exchanges, no facsimiles. There might be new friends, eventually, but there would be no better friends.
But it was too late.
We were leaving.
. . . . .
In the lead up to the flight over, all the clearing and cleaning and boxing and moving, I lost about 15 pounds and slept even less than usual. We had a series of hard deadlines to make, and with K working full-time and the boys in school, it meant I had a series of hard deadlines to make.
For the first time in my life, I often just forgot to eat. I was too busy.
After caring for an injured spouse on top of all the last-minute moving stuff (K fell and broke her elbow and sprained an ankle and sprained her other arm 2 days before closing on the house, 2 weeks before we had to fly), after caring for 2 small kids on fall break, after one more national holiday with my family, I was exhausted.
So naturally, one of the kids did not sleep for even one minute on the 8 hour overnight flight over. Which means I did not get to sleep any.
It was foreshadowing.
We landed on a Monday morning. K took those first 3 days off work, to help us get settled. Then she was in the office every day, and I had the boys, because there were no school spots for them. Advice from the school authorities: wait until mid-January, after the winter holidays. There will be spots then. (What, is Santa bringing them?)
Six weeks. 24/7/42. Plus the 9 days I’d just had them prior to leaving: 24/7/51.
There would be no rest.
There was navigating foreign currency and supermarkets and transit and language, endless couple’s administravia as we looked for our own apartment and finalized insurance and kept looking for school spots just in case, and trying to keep the monkeys from destroying our temporary apartment furnished with other peoples’ handmade treasures and glass-front closets.
Eventually, mid-January did come around, and we rushed to move into our own place the weekend before school started, since it had a more favorable commute.
The first week they were in school, I speed-shopped every day before picking them up, desperately trying to locate the basic necessities we needed to live independently in a naked space. Towels. Mugs. Extension cords.
The second and third weeks they were in school, I woke up and got them fed and dressed and saw them off, then went back to sleep until 10, 11, even 1pm. Hours I had not kept since college. I almost felt bad about it, but then I would think about the last 3-4 months of ass-busting and roll over and snuggle up and set an alarm so I’d be there for afternoon pickup.
And eventually, after a couple weeks, I just quit needing to go back to sleep. I could go out and see more of the city, source more things for the house, or even start to shop for new clothes, since I’d shrunk out of everything I’d brought. All the stores here are closed on Sundays, so all shopping has to happen Monday – Saturday or online.
I was starting to get the hang of it.
All told, I had six good, usable weeks. I visited one of the 60+ museums in the city. We got a cool bike to make the school commute faster and more fun, and the groceries easier, kind of. I was even starting to make a few friends, thanks to Saturday nights at a pub.
Until they canceled school, the evening of 13 March.
The beginning of the end. The other restrictions that they’ve added periodically since suck, too, but no-school is the ultimate hobble.
I’ll be drowned in children for six weeks, according to the initial closure period running to 20 April 2020. (Those jokers.) They won’t announce until after Easter if, or when, schools will reopen. I’m not stupid, though. Given the current rate of things, they can’t reopen the schools anytime soon.
However, our school year here is supposed to run until 3 July — longer than much of the US — before a six-week-long summer break. Is there still a chance they could go to SOME amount of school before being out for the summer break?
Because the thing is, that first “world’s longest fall break” almost killed me. It definitely left marks. I am not handling this March-April period with any degree of grace or poise. I am beaten down and surly.
Because here’s the reality right now:
I gave up all my things, then didn’t have time to replace 98% of them before all the stores closed. We don’t have enough mugs, and one of my little assholes drop-kicked a toy and knocked one of the six off the table and broke it a few days ago, RIGHT after I told him not to kick toys in the house. We don’t have enough forks. I really need new underwear. I only have one pair of sweatpants. I knew things would be different, but I didn’t think my life would be materially worse here. And so far, it is.
I don’t have my own bed. I sleep on a folding couch in the living room. I don’t have my own room, because “my room” is also everybody’s living and dining room — and now school room. At least back home, I had my own room, my own little bed.
While I am the full-time childcarer, my life is on hold. I cannot do anything else. This is partly my fault: I cannot multitask in the face of their constant interruptions. I can’t read, I can’t converse, I can’t plan, I can’t cook, I basically fail to function. We’re in a full reversion to the newborn period, living in 15-minute increments, but with much more backtalk. Everyday I am less of a person and more a slave to the role that the government and our domestic economy has decided for me. It is untenable.
Gluten-free stuff is a lot harder to find here. Labels are harder to read, and not just because they’re in a different language(s). Eating out is more trouble than it’s worth, except that I need the break from cooking once in a while.
The stress is driving my MS symptoms crazy. My back hurts again, something that had really mostly faded away (no: something I had driven away through a concentrated, sustained effort of lifestyle adjustments, diet, stress management, and occasional herbal medicines which I still have not been able to source here). My legs are stiff and twitchy; even my bladder’s playing at being more withholding than usual. The neurologist I finally got in to see last month had never heard of rituximab as an MS treatment.The university clinic that might actually be able to administer it (I’m due next month) hasn’t decided where to see me, since the regular hospital is being turned into a COVID ward. Hoping they call back before I vegetate.
I had signed up to start my first german course in early May (to run through October, with summer break off). No word from the provider on that yet, but I don’t see how it could possibly start before fall, since they’ll need to let the people finish from this spring first, etc. So that’s at least a few more miserable months of not knowing what the fuck is going on, or how to ask for what I need. And when you’re a person accustomed to knowing wtf is going on and how to ask for things, a few months feels like a really long time. All of this feels like a really long time.
Needless to say, we have not been to Paris by dinner. I was supposed to get a day and a night to myself last week in another city to see a show I could never see in the US (and buy the underwear I need at a 4-story Uniqlo there — equally exciting). K was supposed to take the boys for a few days next week to her sister’s in England so I could have a little staycation. Neither of those will happen.
And even if they do get rescheduled, one day, they will not be enough to make up for what’s conspired since. It’s not about keeping score but trying to find a balance, a rest point.
And things are so far out of balance. I’m turning 40 in just over a month, barely a year out from some of the worst months of my adult life, and damned if fortune didn’t say “hold my beer” and go big.
Trashed my playlists when we moved. They were years outdated, stale, deadwood.
I’d started building a new one and rather enjoying the process. Riding trams and trains by myself on the weekends and any-days once the boys were in school (oh, how the boys used to be in school) gave me ample time to audition new music, see what old stuff still fit.
Over here, phone calls are expensive but data is cheap, and streaming music on my phone is “free,” and I took full advantage of the opportunity. [“Free” because I’m sure they’re selling my information to whatever companies want to use it for whatever nefarious commercial purposes. Good luck with that. My shotgun taste is as good at confusing algorithms as it is genders.]
And then the world ended. The restrictions started. The noose tightened. The walls closed in.
And I was drawn quickly back to some of the same stuff I listened to in high school. With the added benefit of having the internet around this time, and using it to springboard to other stuff I missed the first time around, as easily as “OK Google, play a Counting Crows station.”
It took me another week to figure out why. I’m not nostalgic. Those were not good old days. The music wasn’t awesome, but they wrote about being sad a lot, which I needed then. And now.
This quarantine has me living triggered 24/7.
When I was a kid, my parents’ demons ruled all our lives. Wrapped in their own dysfunctional blood feud, substance abuse, mood disorders, etc, they vacillated between ignoring me (mostly Dad) or screaming firehoses of criticism and threats (mostly Mom, or between Dad and Mom). I could do no right, but not for lack of trying.
If you’re familiar with the archetypes: I was the classic firstborn parentified perfect kid. Teachers adored me. My friend’s parents begged to have me over to play, to stretch one sleepover night to two or three, I was such a good influence! So mature, so polite, so helpful, so pleasant, so kind. Straight-As, 99% percentile, shirt-always-tucked-in, raises her hand, never interrupts, never breaks the rules, never tattles on others, always knows the right answers but gives others a chance to go first. Such a joy.
And: I had my first panic attacks in first grade, afraid my dad would come back to the house and kill my mom and baby sister during the day while I was away at school, since he hadn’t been able to finish the job the night before when he’d come home raging after last call.
Because obviously, if I were at home, I’d magically be able to prevent manslaughter.
Six-year-old logic. I already knew they wouldn’t change, but I still thought I should help.
That year was also the first time my mom said, on the ride to school one morning, “I want you to know I’ve been talking to a lawyer about divorcing your daddy.”
And I said, “Good.”
And she was horrified! “Why would you say that?!”
And I thought, haven’t you been here, too, all these days and nights? When he’s punched holes in the walls of our rented houses? When he’s ripped the phone out of the wall so we couldn’t call for help? When you bundled us into the car in the middle of the night to try to drive to a friend’s house, and he ran out and ripped some handful of wiring from under the hood so we couldn’t? So we had to walk to the neighbor’s house and ask to use their phone? All those times we woke up in somebody else’s house in the morning and ate their breakfast cereal and watched their cartoons? And the horrible stories you’ve told me (that you should never have told me) of before I was born, of when he actually hit you, he a foot taller, you the size of a 10-year-kid, of when you should have already left? What thinking person wouldn’t say ‘good’?
So I just shrugged. Knowing the right answers doesn’t mean shit when you don’t have the power to put them to work. And I knew I had no power outside of school, so I carried my permanent stomachache to class and cried silently when all I could think about was broken hinges and bloody sheets and broken necks.
So polite, never interrupts, a joy forever.
In case you were wondering how that turned out, the parents “celebrated” their 46th anniversary last week. And I still don’t make noise when I cry.
To the outside observer, this quarantine situation doesn’t have anything in common with back then. Neither of my 6-year-olds has a cocaine habit or a drinking problem. I’m 30-plus years older with average adult levels of autonomy.
But in the same way a certain scent can evoke a memory, my brain can read the dynamics of a situation and instantly find its match in the archives.
And that’s what’s happening here.
I am trapped in an unhappy home led by two strong and volatile personalities, frequently warring, even more frequently screaming, never satisfied. I am somehow responsible for their happiness and yet completely incapable of making it happen, despite trying so hard my eyes want to bleed. I am cut off from resources that might help support me, if any such even existed in the first place. My needs and desires must be subjugated to the functioning of the household and the needs and desires of the Big 2. Every day is a repeat of the days before and a preview of the days to come. The is no defined endpoint, no way to measure success, so no way to succeed. There will be no real freedom until somebody turns 18, or somebody dies.
In a lot of ways, school is still my safe space — even now, when I’m not the one attending. My 2019 ended and 2020 began with a 7-week school “vacation” while we waited for school spots for the boys to open up, and it was HARD. Getting dunked into the shit again after barely 2 months in has been brutal.
We’ll find out sometime next week what the next steps of the school closure will look like. Ours is originally scheduled to run through 4/20 lolsob but I don’t see any way they could lift it yet, so I fully expect it to be extended. Our school year runs through 7/3, so my hope is that they could go back for some amount of in-class time before getting out for 6 weeks of summer vacation. “Vacation.”
In the meantime, I wait, for authorities with more power than I to decide the direction of my life. I try not to suffocate. I wear headphones a LOT, with their musical heartbeat, where changing tracks can substitute for making progress in a life stalled and sinking.