Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed; The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates from a life to come.
-Alexander Pope, An Essay On Man
I don’t really know what I’m doing right now. I wake up every morning, hoping. I don’t even know what I’m hoping for. I simply hope, every morning. I hate getting out of bed. I hate it almost as much as I hate emptying the dishwasher and putting away groceries. I hate it so much that I will lay in bed and lay and lay and lay long past the time every decent person is up and going.
I lay in bed, scuttling under the pile of blankets and constructing an ad hoc pillow fort, hide myself from the dog, and I hope. I listen to the garbage men come and go, I listen to the school buses, I listen to my old, drafty house creak and moan, the dog snuffling about in the complicated nest she has constructed from old blankets at the foot of my bed. And I hope.
I’m so lonesome, I can hardly see for it. It is not good for a body to be this alone for this long. I have spent so much time alone, I’m not so sure I haven’t forgotten how to be around other people. Being alone was freeing, at first. Having the house all to myself, not having to share the television, not tripping over someone else’s shoes. I missed my daughter away at college but I looked forward to starting a new phase. Hope.
But then, there was the lump in my breast and cancer came and everything changed. The aloneness felt sinister. It felt threatening. It was deadly. Treatment symptoms made most of my nights miserable. I would lie awake in bed, staring at the pattern the blinds made on the ceiling, breathing through the pain, hoping I could make it to the bathroom in time or hoping most of the vomit would hit the trashcan by my bed. Always making sure to have my phone close by in case something happened and I needed to call for help.
I don’t know. I think maybe I make other people uncomfortable. I try to not talk about the big, scary things. I try to shield the people who love me as much as I can. Maybe my friends think I want them to make things better for me and they can’t and so they feel inadequate or apologetic and it is easier to just not be around.
I hurt for them because I know what that is like. I remember how impotent and angry I felt as my best friend wasted away, in and out of the hospital, ravaged by cancer. Even though it came as no surprise, the news of her death left me limp for weeks. It was so goddamned unnecessary. She didn’t have to die. But she did.
Miracle of all miracles, my disease has not taken the same course. I have been given a reprieve. Here I am, alone…again. What do I do now? Hope.
I have a friend who insists anyone with a blog is by definition an attention-seeker, an exhibitionist. The first time she said it, I disagreed. The second time, I winced. I tell myself I am doing this to stay disciplined in my writing. It makes me a better writer. I don’t know. I hope it does. Whatever ideas I had about editors knocking down my door, The New Yorker begging hat in hand, have died. They are as dead as the schoolgirl dreams I carried in my heart when I first left home.
What do I hope to gain by doing this? Am I an exhibitionist? Am I a secret narcissist? Why do I continue to take this beating that calling myself a writer means? What is it all for?
Of all the coping mechanisms available to me, mixing a cocktail seems to be my favorite. It is one answer to the question “what do I do now?” The ritual of mixing and pouring are comforting to me. I take time with it. I take care. I enjoy selecting the liquor, the glass, deciding if it will be on the rocks tonight or neat. Twist? A splash or no?
I settle in my reading chair with my glass on the nesting tables beside me. I don’t do much reading in my reading chair any more. I don’t have the necessary bandwidth for it. It takes too much concentration.
Anhedonia has set in, as it often does this time of year. It is a cruel irony, the moments when I most need to experience the old joys, I am least able to. I drink my cocktail and I listen to my Christmas music and I watch my dog slowly edge closer and closer to the space heater. Eventually, virtually wrapping herself around it until there is a distinct aroma of burning dog in the air. She adjusts but only at the last possible moment, absorbing, stealing for herself, as much heat as she can stand.
I understand, sympathize, with her. I suspect I resemble her, ready to wrap myself around whatever warmth I can find. I sip my drink and I wait until it is late enough to put the kettle on for tea. I shuffle about, letting the dog out to take care of her affairs and going from room to room, turning off lights, locking doors, filling the dog’s water bowl. I have it all timed perfectly.
I let the dog back in and reward her with a treat and the kettle begins to trumpet and I pour my tea and I take my pills and the dog and I settle into bed for the night. She shuffles her blankets and circles three times before settling. I turn on the news and arrange my pillows. We are spinster sisters, having the same argument every night about how much coal to leave on the fire, who last had the hot water bottle, hoping.
The tea is warm and soothing, while the news most often is not. Eventually, the pills and the tea and the cocktail do what they do and I turn off the light and tuck in under the blankets and close my eyes. And I hope.