Friday, July 13, 2012


I turned forty-two on Monday.

To celebrate, I served up a plate of homemade mint chip ice cream for myself for dinner. I’d thrown a big party over the weekend, with Big Guy, The Engineer, Doc, Peter, my beloved Hardt and his boy Gothic, and many friends and neighbors filling my garage-turned-alehouse with laughter and energy, but now the party was over, and it was quiet. As I stood at my kitchen counter and ate that artistically arranged dessert, it occurred to me that this would be the first birthday in my life where I’d climb into a bed in an otherwise empty house, where I’d fall asleep alone.

I slid the Fostoria plate gently into the sink, then shuffled over to the sofa for what I hoped would be a mind-numbing night of television. It was too early to sleep, but I was done with anything more than that. It was warm, even at dusk, so I wasn’t able to convince Winston to climb onto the cushion next to me. There wasn’t so much as a second-rate Law and Order marathon to be found. I stared at the DVR recordings list until the cable box screensaver came on.

Hardt had called earlier, just before heading out to buy groceries for the perpetually hungry Gothic. I chatted with him for a few minutes, doing what a lifetime of experience and habit had trained me to do. I listened and laughed as he told me about his hectic day. I love his stories, love listening to his voice. It wasn't hard to pretend to be happy, because I was only halfway pretending.

At the same time, I had a conversation with him entirely in my own head, where we decided that he was busy that night and shouldn’t have to worry about me. “You have to get back from the store and cook dinner, then get Gothic ready for work in the morning, and get to sleep yourself, because you must be exhausted from having to manage all of that. You sound tired. I’m having a rough time, but it’s just a day. I’m strong enough to take care of myself. It’s just a day.” He heard none of this second conversation, because, like I said, a lifetime of experience and habit has made me very, very skilled at keeping the parallel thread to myself.

When he called back a few hours later, I willed myself to unfix my gaze from the AT&T logo burning its way through my television screen. I put a smile on my face and some false brightness in my voice. "How was the store? What did you have for dinner? Oh, my day? You know, the usual. Not much going on. No, no cake. It's O.K. Nobody's in the office this week."

The veneer held up for a few minutes, until he asked how it felt to be forty-two. I pulled my phone away from my face, clapped my free hand against my mouth, and started crying.


It’s almost 10:00. He has to get up so early tomorrow.


And I’m being an asshole, because I had a great weekend, and all I am is let down because it’s over. It’s a normal feeling. I should suck it up. It’s what I do, after all, and I’m better at it than anyone I know.


And this is a totally temporary thing, just until we can figure out how to get Winston and Gothic’s cats together so that we can all be in the same house, so next year won’t be like today, and birthdays are arbitrary anyway, because I should have been born two and a half months later than I was, so today doesn’t mean much, if I think about it. It’s just a day. It’s just a day.

“Suzanne? Are you O.K.?”

I’m proud of what I did next, because it’s something fairly new for me. I was open, unguarded. “’m alone, and I don't know why it's getting to me, but it is, and I feel stupid for it, but...”

The response wasn’t what the lifetime of experience and habit had trained me to expect. Hardt didn’t try to convince me that I shouldn’t feel down, or tell me how tired he was but that he’d try to see me the next day. He didn't remind me that I’d just hosted a big party two days earlier, or suggest that I go next door and see what Lazzie was doing. None of that happened.

“Come over,” he interjected.

“But I have this stuff I told them I'd do for work...”

“Do that, then come over.”

“...and you have to make lunches for tomorrow, and...don't you need to sleep?!”

“I can do that with you here, you know. Please finish your work, put on your driving glasses, and get in your car. You don't have to be alone. You don't ever have to be alone.”

My instinct was to tell him that just the offer had made me feel better, so I didn't need to put him out by going to his place. I would then hang up and cry myself to sleep, thus saving him from being burdened with me. It has never served me well, that self-sacrificing instinct, but it comes so easily.

I took a deep breath and said, "O.K., I'll just do this one thing and then I'll head your way. You're sure you'll be awake when I get there?" Giving him every possible out.

"I'll be up, baby. Drive safe."

When I got to the intersection near his house, it looked as though all of the lights were off. I almost turned back for home, six miles away, because I still thought I might be imposing. I inched forward a few feet, and the porch light, previously obstructed by a tree, shone into view. I started crying again, just a little bit.

1 comment:

Jo said...

((hugs)) I'm sorry I saw this so late. I hope you are feeling better now.