I march up the hill from the post office, where I have just waited 67 minutes for a stamp to put on an envelope addressed to the IRS. Smoke is wisping from my ears. My sandals would bore all the way through the pavement if they could.
Right now more than ever, it feels like the whole world is calling dibs on our money and time, and I just want to snatch our life back from the Powers That Be, fold it tightly into a suitcase, and run somewhere without cell phone service. But responsibilities are waiting at home—individual meal components roosting in the fridge, drain cleaner standing like an impatient tour guide on a bathroom counter painted in toothpaste, business trip preparation lists lying expectantly where they were written. I don’t know where to start, and as I trudge up the last hundred meters to our stairwell, defeat slinks quietly between my ankles.
Part of this is my own fault for leaving without breakfast this morning. Somewhere in the early bustle of sunscreening little limbs and locating the car keys, my iced coffee went back in the fridge untouched, and my mood is now firing snappy remonstrations on behalf of my stomach. Though I know this can be remedied within thirty seconds of entering the front door, I’m still disillusioned by the trajectory of sunbeams across the hall. More than half the morning is already gone.
The thought comes unbidden to me as it has so many days this month—Whose life is this anyway? I breathe in the slanted air, feel the slick of granite underfoot, and wonder if the Me of ten years ago would be able to pick out the Me of today in a lineup. The minutiae awaiting me inside—recipe cards and utility bills and a thousand small testaments to adulthood—feel like exhibits in a World War II museum, fascinating and wholly foreign. That they’re a part of my storyline at all, much less a defining part, halts my heartbeat in its tracks.
This isn’t me… is it? This girl in a cocoa-dredged apron flitting from stove to broom to ironing board and back again? Only I’m not a girl anymore, and it is me, and fighting against the planetary draw of hearth and home never immunized me to its orbit. I’m here now. Mom. Housekeeper. Errand-runner. Responsible adult.
Maybe this is why I’m so cavalier toward my evenings, choosing to stay up even as my window for rest shrinks to the size of a cat door. That element of choice often feels absent from the daylight hours when calendars converge and phones ring and children’s needs ebb and flow along my shorelines, but nighttime is for sneaking out the back door, for the teenage rebellion I never had. It’s when I feel most able to choose who I am.
Unfortunately, it’s also when my creative center closes up shop, so I’m left to prowl my own living room rug in a cross-eyed fog, stepping on construction paper confetti and the occasional Lego and really only succeeding in sabotaging the next day’s energy. I may be sticking it to the man (the mom?), but I’m not making any progress in reconciling my inner life with my outer one.
This sense of mistaken identity falls heavily on my neck now as I unlock the door and let the wind slam it behind me. If I had a soundtrack, this is when the Talking Heads would queue up… This is not my beautiful house! The fascinating, foreign domestic orbit is reeling me in, but I’m just a delayed teenage rebel, and I don’t know how the care and keeping of a family became my area of expertise or how more than half a morning has slipped through my fingers already or how to start reclaiming it, any of it.
I hesitate for a few staccato heartbeats, letting a last tendril of smoke unfurl from my eardrum, and then I make a choice. It’s all I know to do in the moment, so I choose well: two eggs sizzled tender-crisp in butter, toast dolloped with blueberry jam, yogurt eaten off a tiny spoon, two iced coffees in a row. Lunch is only an hour and a half away, but I don’t care. In fact, I’m glad to be doing something that makes no practical sense whatsoever; this is, after all, about choice.
I push all domestic concerns from my mind and ask myself, the real enduring self who I so often confine to overtired nights, what she would choose to do next if given the power to decide. She answers that she would turn on her computer and open a blank document.
So I do.