Sometimes I get so full of self-pity I think maybe I could cut it with a knife, were it to materialize outside my body. Like a giant gray mass with indiscernible edges, and me, sitting in the center, looking at Instagram feeds of expat women living in foreign countries, or in big Craftsman homes with plants on the porch that aren’t dead and grass and bricks and stuff, or on farms in Vermont, or really, anybody doing cooler shit than I am.
Why the self-pity?
I don’t know why.
Because I’m a self-centered immature sot.
Because I’m an ungrateful wretch.
Because because because.
Because I’m a bad human being and you’re a better one.
Yes. Let’s get that out of the way. Cool.
Usually there’s some catalyst to my sadness, slight depression, profound sense of WHEN AM I GONNA GET SOME OF THAT GOOD SHIT?
This time it was losing my last source of income: the column I wrote over at allparenting. Ah, financial insecurity, old friend. Fear, my old buddy.
It just felt like too much. Suddenly I looked at my little baby and 3 other kids and thought “UH OH.”
But I can’t complain because I was the adult who decided to have a 4th child. I can’t complain because my choices got me here.
You can’t complain either. None of us can complain.
There’s always somebody worse.
That doesn’t help.
(Can you follow the voices in my head? Yeah, neither can I.)
I hear you, Complainer-for-No-Reason.
Do you hate yourself for it, a little?
I know better.
I want to be better. But I’m not. So let’s just sit with that. Shall we?
My husband’s been working seven days a week. And I’m here, with the four kids, that I can’t complain about. Because I had them. And I love them. And they’re gorgeous and healthy and we have a great house with wood floors and a red door in California, in the United freaking States of America. And we own it. I mean, sort of. We’re buying it.
There’s nothing wrong with my life. I know this.
I’m a lucky ass bastard.
I know this too.
Six years ago I was sitting alone in a Ford Taurus drinking Ancient Age whiskey and smoking Pall Mall cigarettes, about to get a divorce, staying in a room in my mom’s house, seeing my children occasionally.
What sort of piece of shit human gets ungrateful and full of self-pity after surviving alcoholism?
Well me, I guess.
I know my life is the best it could ever get.
Because I wake up every day free, or mostly free, and not dying so quickly, and like a normal human being.
But my heart and gut say otherwise, folks.
My heart’s all “This shit is meaningless. ALL OF IT.”
My gut says “When are things gonna not be so hard? Why did you have that last kid, moron? You clearly can’t afford these kids.”
I don’t fucking know why.
Because newborn breath. Because siblings. Because family. Because maybe I make crazy decisions. Because maybe I just did.
Because your logical-financially-sound-thoughtful decision making bullshit lifestyle doesn’t make much sense either. It doesn’t really seem to work either.
I know some people with money coming out their diamond-kissed ears and you know what they do?
THEY BUY MORE SHIT. They buy things until there’s nothing left to buy and then they look around and say “Is this it?” And they’re REALLY screwed because they’ve got nothing, and realize way late they were sold a big, mean lie.
And others, they make well into the 6-digit incomes and you know what they freak out about?
The wrong private school. The wrong this or that or whatever the hell. Paralyzed with fear these rich-ass human. They can buy the best of everything this town’s got to offer and you know what they do? FREAK OUT ABOUT CHOOSING THE WRONG BEST THING.
So your way sucks too, grown ups.
I don’t want to talk about it because it’s wrong, and I know it. The way I have this strange sense of being unfulfilled and a little bored, exhausted and uninterested, the persistent feeling that life was going to be more. I try not to think about my year in Barcelona, when the world opened to me in a way that made me feel so alive I would smile walking down the street like some broad in a motherfucking Hallmark movie.
Or when I was 19 and it all seemed so goddamn possible, so there. Just waiting for me to decide.
I don’t want to talk about it because it makes me an utter and total asshole, and that’s a tough thing to face.
So instead, I feel pangs of self-pity, moments of dark gray, when I see somebody who I think has it better.
I yell at my kids more. I cry sometimes. I wonder if it’s depression.
I wish I were healthier. More patient.
I wish I hadn’t gained so much weight.
I wish I lived in the forest. At the ocean. Anywhere. Somewhere.
Eventually I get so sick of myself and my wallowing and self-pity I drag my ass to the motherfucking wilderness.
While there, I see my nearly teen go fishing, catch a trout, clean it with her dad. We fry it up and eat it at dinner.
I see my toddler naked for all the warm hours of the day and the Labrador curled up next to her.
I watch my kids learn to play poker with their dad.
I tell my nearly 9-year-old stories about this and that when I was a kid and he sits riveted to my face. He looks at me like he wants to look at me all day for the rest of his life.
I see my husband smoking his pipe in the sweater I bought him 10 years ago, because he says it’s the thing to do when we’re at the cabin, the cabin his great-grandparents bought when his grandfather was a boy. His grandfather who was born in the 1920s. There are pictures of his dad as a baby on the wall.
I tease my husband because his shirt came up when he wrapped the baby on. He pulls it up higher. We have a smoke after the kids go to bed. I feel oh so bad. At 3am Rocket pees outside and looks at the stars for a minute. I do too.
I row onto the lake on a little fishing boat and I’m rowing backwards. The kids laugh at my idiocy. I jump in the cold mountain lake and feel 30 years of mistakes roll down my back as I get out of the water.
I watch the smile of my baby.
I watch the smiles of my other kids in the eyes of my baby.
I watch the fire throw strange light on the faces of these tiny sleeping humans.
And I remember.
I remember that this pain is mine and mine alone and it isn’t because of this life, now, these kids, this house, the money we don’t have.
It’s the ache in me that’s lived forever, down down down and it’s the one that reaches out to you, you there mother, yes you, and says I hear you.
Talk to me.
It’s the one that laughs hysterically, sings terribly, old 1980s songs, while the sun hits the kids’ dirty scruffy little heads and we row, back into life, to family.
Cracking the hell up, because have you got a better plan?
I didn’t think so.
So just talk to me.
I hear you, mother.
And I fucking love you, too. We’ve got a thousand beautiful things to see.