Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?
Here’s what she said to me…
I had a friend, a slightly older chap, who had a young daughter – and would complain incessantly about how much OLDER he felt now that she was born. Besides the sheer weight of responsibility – very small children are so frighteningly and touchingly helpless, after all – there was also the fact that he just felt “done.” He was finished with life’s most exciting events, he said: falling in love, getting married, having a baby. To make things even worse, he had money and professional success. There was not a whole lot left to strive for, unless he started a secret affair with some appropriately conniving vixen, and he had the misfortune of being devoted to his lovely wife. It was like living in a country where history was over.
I feel much younger now that I’ve had Lev. History is not over – historic events fly past like bullets, which you have to dodge. You never know which one might undo you or someone you love. I don’t know where I find the strength for anything – or how on earth we have managed to survive so far. I’m contemplating ruinage of my credit history. Debts don’t get smaller, they get bigger. Teeth crumble inside my head. Gossip hisses like static around my husband and I. I feel myself folding and collapsing under the weight of Every Little Thing Gone Wrong – and then, when I’m down there, beneath the pile, I begin to feel as if I am five years old again, and hiding under coats and jackets piled up in an apartment during a party in winter. The coats and jackets retain the scent of snow. It’s dark outside – it’s always dark during the days of my second childhood.
We are not “the deserving poor.” We are survivalists. I used to think that I would just give away my money – give and give it away, not making a dent in my student debt for years and pretending as though that’s the way things are supposed to be, because zero customer protection translates into life ruinage for thousands of people like me – but then my body started falling apart, and I realized that my priorities would have to change. I’ve skimmed on healthcare for years in order to appease the vengeful Sallie Mae god. But I can’t afford to crap out early – because, you know, Lyovka. So when we can afford to go to the sea, for example – we go to the sea, and park our asses in front of it, and stare. We buy good red wine and drink it from mugs and listen to Noize MC.
“Mommy is not going to be a slave to the system,” I murmur to my son as I bathe him. “She’s going to occupy student debt.” “Hawww,” He replies sagely. His eyes are swamp-coloured, like his father’s.
“You didn’t make mommy boring – mommy’s life is at its most exciting yet!” I tell him. It seems hilarious to contemplate my friends – their newfound, self-proclaimed “boringness” like a forcefield around them. In order to be nice and boring, you have to be able to afford it first.
This past winter, when Mikhail Ugarov invited a bunch of playwrights to write on the subject of repressions, I wrote about fear – fearing for myself, my child (I was pregnant at the time), other people whom I love. Slava Durnenkov, meanwhile, had this to say:
“I feel as though I can work. Living isn’t possible – working is.”
And that’s what we do, I guess: we work. We work and see each other through the haze of the tasks in front of us, whether on Facebook or in real life. We pass through each other’s kitchens. We exchange witticisms. There is a memory I have of the Garden Ring: my husband and I walking alongside Slava in the dark (remember – it’s always dark). The pavement is wet. I like Slava. He radiates approval. I am the perfect wife for my husband. “May you live,” he says, clasping our hands, joining us, like a priest. “May you live.”
When I ask my husband if he wants his freedom, he says he doesn’t. “But you and I could have torn up the town for a little longer,” he smiles. “But what about…” I mention the ways in which we still do.
He laughs. His definition of “tearing up the town” is radically different from mine.
3 thoughts on “‘Till the fat lady sings”
This is my favorite post, so far.
One big thing that’s changed for me since my son was born–no more looking back with “what ifs.” If I went back and changed anything, anything at all, my son might not exist. Now all my “what ifs” look to the future.
“I used to think that I would just give away my money….”
When my husband was a precocious little boy, the teacher asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He answered, “a philanthropist.”
Giving it away to good people would be great. Giving it to the evil bastards, on the other hand…
Oh, don’t get me started on those evil swindling bastards… I know exactly what you mean.
When I first read about your “boring” friend, I had to grit my teeth a little to keep the vinegar out of my comments. I’m sure he’s a nice enough person. People who describe themselves as boring usually are nice, bland, mashed potatoes and cozy sleepwear…and all the frikkin things I’m thinking about resorting to armed robbery to acquire! No offense. I’m just seething with envy.
Tell him that if he’s that bored, and that overstuffed with his long list of accomplishments, and that if I survive this winter, he and his family are more than welcome to come to Toronto and make a Realitytv show with me. A Year in the Life of an Overeducated Homeless Woman. I figured I could open each episode with a quote from a great social scientist or political philosopher–Mill one week, Zimbardo the next, then John B. Calhoun, etc. We could ditch the Incubus Hunting social workers’ outdated addictions rhetoric, and focus on some actual systemic issues that perpetuate the injustices that keep people down. Whatever happened to the Human Potential Movement anyway?
And I’m going to stop myself before this turns into a threadjack.
There’s always more for any one of us to accomplish. If we feel like we’re finished, bored with being too satisfied, it’s usually because we’ve only been working to aggrandize ourselves, keep up with the Joneses, stuff some metaphorical orifice full of commodity fettish objects, or fulfill another person’s list of “oughts”. I’m guessing your friend is Gen Y, not Gen X, right? An affair would be the worst thing your friend could waste his family’s resources on right now. With or without me and my Reality show, your friend would do well to read or re-read some Abraham Maslow.
Have fun with your imperfections and un-boringness, Nat. During the first 5 years of a healthy child’s life, as long as he’s born to healthy parents who can provide for his basic needs, the joy will usually outweigh the grief. That time in my daughter’s life was joyful about 10x more often than it was sorrowful. At least that’s how I remember it 15 years later. And when it was sorrowful or angry, it was with all the power and passion of Dylan Thomas and Kurt Cobain, without actually having to resort to substance abuse. Wanna be awake, paranoid, impotent, sleep deprived, smell bad? You don’t need drugs. Just have a baby 😉
“Better the life of Socrates than the life of a pig.” After a few decades, the light and the beauty and the love is all we remember of our messy, chaotic, downtrodden, angsty, amazing lives.