Thursday, July 25, 2013

Working Despite the Sunshine; Reflections from a Grayer Time

Okay, so I don't know about you, but all this consistent sunshine in Seattle is making me a little grumpy. I mean, if I wanted to see the same blue sky and bright glare from streaming through my still-unwashed windows from 7am until 9pm, I would have lived in California, right?! 

And as an aspiring writer, I can tell you that these beautiful summer days do not provide the perfect conditions for the soul-searching and self-reflection necessary for insightful writing. Maybe that's why so many writers live in Seattle or the San Juans. Rain, fog and marine layers just go much better with strong coffee and brooding, don't you think?

Not to mention you just feel like you should be outside doing summery things everyday when the sun is out. Who wants to clean their bathrooms, clean out the kids' rooms, or even shop in the artificially bright heaven of Target when you've got the real stuff outside beckoning you to sit outside with friends dining al fresco and chatting and laughing, or jogging along the trail feeling healthy and happy about all the good things in your life, or marveling at the eclectic life that teems both in and out of the water at Madison Beach! It's no wonder that the warmest, most beautiful seaside countries are not exactly the most productive or highest GDP's; now I get it!

So I guess I'll have to just stare at my to-do list that grows increasingly long and overwhelming in hopes that we will soon get our Seattle gloom back and I can get some things done! In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that I have officially given up my Real Estate license and have gotten a job as the Elementary Assistant at my kids' school. Yes, I'll be wiping lunch tables, helping kids and their parents with their hurts and anxieties and coordinating schedules, mail, schedules. Not much different than home, but now I'll get paid for it! And I'll also continue to pursue the serious writer that my husband swears lingers just beneath my surface...

To that end, it was on one of those beautiful, gloomy days that I wrote the following story for a contest that I wanted to share with you. No, I didn't win, but I still like it. I'll warn you that it's dark. Think gray clouds, rain, Coldplay in the background and a phase of mid-life existential angst. I call it my "Everywoman" story, for all of us women who sometimes wonder who they have become...

Please let me know what you think, but please be kind. We aspiring writers have very fragile egos! 


Anne woke up on Monday and decided to take down all the mirrors in her house. Now 47, she had decided that her reflection no longer told her who she was, only who she wasn’t. And she could not bear to look at herself anymore without a growing sense of loneliness and despair, lacking the will or energy to pluck, cover or grieve over the signs of an extending life to which she no longer felt connected.

As she carefully laid each mirror in a stack, she remembered when her youthful beauty had helped define who she was. “You have such beautiful eyes,” strangers say as they look down at her young daughter, barely noticing Anne, her own eyes behind sunglasses she now wore each day to hide her exhausted and fading sense of herself. These same words were once uttered to me, she thinks sadly, perhaps in a boyfriend’s basement, softly lit in television darkness.

“Mom, where are all the mirrors?!” her daughter asks with a voice full of sleepy teenage attitude and curious fear as she walks out of the bathroom.
“I took them all down. I don’t want to look at myself anymore,” she answers. Her daughter stares at her for a moment, not quite understanding the depth behind her mother’s answer.

Who am I, Anne asks silently as she smiles softly back at her. Do you know? Are you, in your young, fearless, adolescent lust for the life you wake up to each day, who only knows disappointment as a friend’s unkind word or privilege lost, a perfect reflection of who I once was? Or a damaged extension of who I have tried to become?

“Don’t worry, you are beautiful,” Anne tells her quietly, eager for a moment of closeness to a bond that seems to have broken.
“Your mustache is growing in again, mom,” she answers angrily, hard footsteps storming past to the solace of her soft, pink room. Her door slams shut against Anne’s unwanted image.

She gazes through her transparent self in the window, watching her daughter walk away. The leaves were changing colors and the morning sky had taken on the milky tone of Autumn’s filtered sunlight as Summer slipped further away. Her role as wife and mother always wrapped up neatly each day by 9:00 a.m. when the kids left for school and her husband drove away in a car she feels he now loves more than her. The only definite plan I have today is to make my bed, she realizes once again.

That afternoon, while she waits for her daughter in the school yard, Anne sees the other mothers huddle in their groups of twos and threes, chatting about teachers and setting up play dates, exclusive and long-standing friendships that appear closed off to anyone without a shared history of local sorority to offer.

Standing alone, she catches sight of a hollow version of her face looking back from the blackness of her phone before she turns it on, eager for its digital companionship, the perfect camouflage to hide her untethered self. Why doesn’t my phone ever ring with friendly invitations to coffee or the idle chit chat of motherly worries or wifely boredom, she wonders. I have no friend requests on Facebook, no emails to answer, no invitations to book club or dinner.

Here in the middle space of this life I have created, I feel that I no longer matter. My relationships have become like cameo appearances in the lives of others, always skimming the surface of my protective bubble made of judgmental solitude and protected hurts, afraid to show anyone that I am not all that I pretend to be and unwilling to open wounds from pain buried deep and unresolved, long ago.

“Mom, why are you here?” her daughter asks as she walks toward her. Anne looks into her unsmiling face, not knowing how to answer.
“I don’t know anymore, my love.” She quickly turns around and walks away to the circle of friends that wait for her. Her own history now being created, leaving Anne behind.

Home again, she admires the golden, liquid image of herself in her wine glass and remembers when her children were much younger. They could never seem to get enough of her, following her from room to room until she felt she would scream from suffocation. Who have I become, she silently pleads with them. No longer the mother of parks and picnics, stories and zoos, playmate and safe haven from all that could hurt you. Do you know that I now cry tears for the loss of your attention in the same bathroom I once used to escape your insatiable need for my love? Why have you left me behind?

That evening, she looks deeply into her husband’s eyes as he tells her the details of his day without her at work. I have waited for you all day, she thinks, and now you are here and I can not bear to listen to your voice anymore.

Who am I, she silently asks him as he continues on. Who do you see when you look at me? I gave you my life more than 20 years ago and then I gave you the lives from within me that became our children and now I have nothing left of me. Do you still find me attractive and interesting even though I am no longer measured by the beauty of my eyes or promotions in my discarded career, but now only by baskets of laundry, soccer goals scored by my daughter and pounds of unwanted flesh that linger from children who refuse to need me? Why have I not become what I once thought I would?

He absently asks about her day. “I made the bed and put a picture of it on Facebook.” She gets up to pour another glass of wine, in search of the domestic bliss promised at the end of the bottle. She feels him staring at her back, soft and impenetrable. “I’m going to bed,” she says without turning around. She climbs the stairs with her wine glass, heavy footsteps echoing her departure.

She calls her mother as she slides under the blanket. She recently read that hearing a mother’s voice, even on the phone, is just as good as being hugged. Yet when the cold voice of the machine picks up, the hope of spoken warmth is replaced by the sad memories of her unhappy life as a teenager. A time of dark and empty spaces that never seemed to get filled. She hangs up quickly and turns off her phone, sinking deeper into her blanket for comfort.

The next morning Anne wakes up from a dream where she has been swimming deep underwater, able to breathe, young, beautiful and connected to a life in which she is once again loved. “You have beautiful eyes,” the schools of angel fish chant as they swim by, voices singing in soft and perfect chorus.

The house is silent as Anne gets up to dress. Quietly, she opens the front door. The sky is wet and thick with the morning marine layer, any warmth or light the sun has to offer covered in gray. She slips into her husband’s car and drives away, certain that no one has awakened to her leaving.

She bends over the railing of the bridge and sees her shadowy reflection smiling up at herself. The water looks so deep from here, she thinks, her tears echoing soft splashes of her life’s emptiness to the anticipated warmth below.

“I know who I am,” she whispers softly to herself. “I am a fish out of water. And I must go home.” 

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