2022, I mean, okay, I guess?
Walk in a straight line, sit quietly, and don't touch anything as New Years' intentions
Many years ago, my loathsome ex-husband bailed out on me, my two tiny kids, and our 100 lb Rottweiler. (PSA: dog pictured is not a Rottweiler. This is my current supervisor, Jett the Boston Terrier.)
And our mortgage.
And I had been staying home with the kids, so I didn’t have a job.
But, wait, there’s more.
For an absolute crescendo, he had some kind of thing with his mixed doubles partner from our suburban tennis league. It was a plot line what would’ve gotten me booed out of the writers’ room at the Lifetime Movie Network. Like, if you’re going to wreck my life, could I please have a less hackneyed cliche?
A few weeks later, I was telling my story of woe to two of my close friends from grad school, both of whom had survived horrendous divorces. We met up at some chain restaurant just off the service road of I-20 for iced tea with free refills, advice, and crime-scene analysis.
“Well,” C released a deep breath at the end of my monologue, “at least it can’t get any worse.”
G, whose horrible ex made mine look like a rookie, lowered her chin, cocked her left eyebrow, and drawled Dateline’s Keith Morrison-style, “Oh, it can always get worse.”
C and I both agreed that, henceforth, “it can always get worse” (emphasis essential) would be an article of faith. At times, it has been a whole philosophy.
Here’s another one.
As a toddler, my daughter was a darter who loved nothing more than to run full-throttle for the Great Wide Open, ideally Wide Opens involving moving cars. This meant that any outing required that I (1) carry my younger toddler in a sling and (2) wear shoes appropriate for sudden sprints and the occasional diving catch. I was in the ready position with them in the checkout line at Whole Foods one day when my then 18-month-old son figured out that he could get a leg free of the sling from about the knee down. While I was trying to divide my focus between paying and preventing a jail break, my son identified a target. Some marketing display professional had stacked wooden wine cases at the checkout line up to approximately the height of my waist, with the piece de resistance unboxed bottles on the top of the stack, bowling pin style.
My friends, when I tell you that this child grew up to be an athlete. The wine inside the dark bottles turned out to be a violent red and the sound of crashing glass stopped shoppers, even my little darter, in their tracks. [Cue rippling “whoa” murmurs throughout the store; a couple slow claps; “wet clean up” PA announcement]. Zero bottles were left standing. To my surprise, the employees immediately started apologizing to me and asking if the kids and I were hurt (we were not), which, considering the blood-colored splatter, was a legitimate question and probably a corporate liability concern.
I didn’t have to pay for the demolished wine bottles, so that’s not the takeaway. The metaphor for me is that I can prepare for the future with containment apparatus and appropriate footwear and live in a state of hyper-vigilance and some tentacle somewhere can still pop out and smash something. It’s a less concise mantra than “it can always get worse,” but I actually find it calming to know that I cannot, in fact, prevent catastrophe and death through sufficiently exacting planning. I spent a lot of my younger life lying awake, plotting escape from various disaster scenarios, so relaxing my grip on the illusion of control has bought me some sleep.
So, no, I’m not welcoming 2022. I’m ushering it in like a small herd of goats into a Williams-Sonoma, trying to keep it together but also trying to stay realistic about the inevitable broken crockery and chewed artisanal table linens. You will not catch me saying that 2022 is going to be my year. I mean, I hope the COVID disaster gets better, but I’ve studied enough history to know that these hundred-year plagues tend to circle the globe for about three years. And our great hope, vaccine technology, is hamstrung by our species’ least virtuous characteristics: stubbornness, willful ignorance, greed, selfishness…I could go on.
An editing contract came in yesterday (hooray!) and I’m finishing up back-end work on my asynchronous online class. Forward momentum. Measurable progress.