A Momentary Lapse of Anxiety
Plus an ostrich who definitely gets it
I feel so much closer to many of you after the (albeit brief) Virtual Launch Party on Monday. I had such a good time, and due to popular outcry I will definitely be hosting another one after this month’s wave of events has finished. Thanks to everyone who attended, to the lovely Teresa (aka the doula who helped birth my littlest) for hosting, and to the gracious and talented Meg for attending. It was a very good time, even if we only had 1/3 of the time we’d planned for. I’ll send the recording shortly to those of you who had a ticket but missed it; if you didn’t have a ticket but would still like to check out the conversation and Meg’s haunting reading, just reply to this email!
I needed to say all that before getting started, so as to acknowledge the love and support I feel from this crew, but I do like to save Wednesdays for just the essay, so I’ll shut up about it already. Please enjoy.
Santa Cruz, 2008
The dog was back at the motel, and it was making me anxious. We’d hung up the “Come Back Later” door hanger, and sweet Macie was never one to cause mischief. Still, the fear that a housekeeper or suspicious manager would find her in the room and either let her escape or rat us out kept tugging at the back of my mind.
My fiancé and I had spent the day walking the boardwalk, riding our bikes up Highway 1 and back down again, standing at the shore as I pointed out the half-ironman swimming route. “Eventually you warm up,” I said to him, as much to deny my teeth-chattering truth as to convince him.
The sun was setting, but the sky was one disappointing gray note, a fact that tightened the line between me and the pup. No seals or even waves to watch. Full stomachs, sore feet. Goosebumps from the evening breeze. There was no reason to stay out here any longer.
“Let’s sit for a second,” he said, gesturing to one of the benches lining the pier.
I pulled my arms into my sweatshirt and curled my knees underneath me on the bench.
I wanted to sit. I wanted to enjoy the fading light. I wanted to sink into his body, his warm arm wrapped around me, and just look out across the ocean contemplating life and our place in it.
Or I wanted to want to, anyway.
But did even five minutes pass before I patted his knee and said, “Okay, let’s go”? Did I have time to contemplate a drop of water or a grain of sand? I was 26. what did I even have to contemplate?
“Have you always been like this?” he said.
“So antsy, like you can’t sit still. Can’t you just relax?”
I wouldn’t have known to articulate it back then, but the idea of sitting idle sent fire through my veins that only action could extinguish. There was always something to do. There wasn’t time to be idle. Yes, the dog had me worried. But it ran deeper than that.
Four-plus years as a kindergarten teacher (two of them feeling like a failure every day) had shown me there was no time to relax. Every minute spent relaxing was a task that wouldn’t get done, a moment of my upcoming workweek that wouldn’t be meticulously planned for, a chance for my class to go sideways and for me to be exposed for the failure I knew I was.
I adjusted myself on the lounge chair and closed my eyes against the equatorial sun. The only other person out here, a guy 10 or 15 years my senior, looked at his phone through sunglasses, flicking his finger from time to time in one direction or another. I almost turned to grab mine, too.
But no. If I went back inside, someone would need me. And even if I managed to evade detection, I would now be filling my brain—if not my body—with more movement, more to think about, more to do.
I was on an island off the coast of Venezuela where you can find ostriches and Keshi Yena and protected beaches and stray goats. I was free, for a minute, to contemplate the water ahead and behind and the lives I’d created with that man from so long ago—not just the ones we birthed, but our own as well.
What more was there? What more did there need to be?
I closed my eyes, wiggled my toes, and melted into the sun’s embrace.