I wanted to write something wise about this past year. I wanted to take a sage look back, bright spots highlighted with gratitude, low points vaguely alluded to then quickly turned on their ears and repackaged as lessons learned. I wanted to recount our family vacations, our celebrations, our laughter. I wanted to write about a few trying moments so I could show how I’ve weathered the storm and come up with a plan for next year. I wanted to smile nostalgically at last year’s blinks of undiluted bliss as I leave the cliffs and crags of 2015 behind me and soar into 2016 with my wings fluttering in the brilliant light of the new year.
I’m like that. I believe that if I try hard enough and use pretty words, all the sucky stuff will stay firmly behind me simply because the numbers on a calendar have moved on. I think that if I just soldier through, gritting my teeth, making like I’ve got it all under control, trading in my sad for mad – because it’s much easier to be angry than on my knees in the closet sobbing into my sweaters – that I can start over, better, lighter, stronger on any given day. If I fail, I just keep on keeping on, armored against tears and sorrow and sad. I was going to bullshit you into believing this past year wasn’t bad at all, just “challenging.” With a little fairy dust and a click of my red-heeled shoes, I was going to convince us all that this year was a sweet balance of ho and hum, ups and downs rather than mostly crappy. Listen, I read Big Magic and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough is next. I’ve got it all figured out.
Unfortunately my umbrella went missing and now I feel compelled to discard the sing-song first draft of my year in review. I don’t always remember to bring an umbrella with me when the weather calls for it, but I did yesterday and I was damn proud too. In fact, I was on point all morning. I made coffee, fed the screen-addled kids who are almost as sick of winter break as I am, had a friend over to check out my kitchen so she can hire my contractor, organized my desk and peed the dog. I left the house just in time to make it to my spin class with all the things: socks, hair tie, water bottle, wallet, phone, coat and the umbrella. I felt downright high driving to class, satisfaction surging through me like heroin in the veins of a junkie. At 9:44 a.m., victory was mine. At 10:23 a.m. I was sweating my ass off, triumphantly burning calories I plan to reclaim in the form of a New Year’s Eve gin and tonic. At 11:07 a.m., when I realized my umbrella was gone, I was crushed.
I looked all over the studio, in the lost and found, the bathroom, at the front desk. No umbrella. I told myself, “It’s just an umbrella, replaceable, from Target. Someone probably thought it was theirs and took it by accident.” Yes, yes, of course, but I wasn’t having any of it. I’d done all the things this morning! I’d covered my bases! I didn’t deserve to have my umbrella go missing! I stalked outside into the rain, pissed. Like really pissed, like muttering-swear-words-to-myself pissed. More pissed than I usually like to let on, preferring to glide and gloss right over that icy surface to the grass-is-always-greener side of the pond where I can trade in my skates for flip-flops and cover up my swollen eyes with my Tom Ford sunglasses.
I didn’t do that yesterday. I stayed pissed all the way to the car, unlocked the door and threw my pissed self into the driver’s seat. I sat there for a moment, totally pissed. Then I started to cry. I cried and cried and cried. I cried about my missing umbrella and the disregard of strangers. I cried about my marriage and my kids and how I am blindsided by their needs even as I scramble constantly to meet them. I cried because I’m worried my girls really, truly don’t like each other. I cried about the health scare we had this year and my aunt’s death from effing cancer and the deep sorrow seeded in the hearts of my uncle and cousins. I cried because I let fear and obligations keep me from writing more and because my day-to-day overwhelms me. I cried because I could not, for the life of me, force the glimmers of light that I know shone throughout the year to pierce the darkness smothering me in the front seat of my Buick.
Totally did not see that coming.
I could blow this whole episode off and say it’s because this time of year is just plain exhausting and who wouldn’t cry their eyes out over a missing umbrella? I could tell you that the rush-drag-rush that is the end of the year has left me nursing a not so happy holiday-hangover. I could tell you thanks so much for your sympathy and understanding, but I’m fine, ready to soldier on. Ready for January 1st. I could but I won’t.
The facts on the ground still stand: the children will fight, the dog will vomit on the new rug, friends will expect more than I can give; I’ll run late, I’ll screw up, I’ll forget to buy butter. I will remember to do all the things, say “I love you” to all the people, make the calls, arrive on time, eat kale, appreciate small moments of glory and still, umbrellas will go missing. There will be sadness and if there’s anything I learned from Inside Out, it’s that sadness is okay. It’s got to be better than the backbreaking alchemy of turning sorrow into resentment and anger. If I can just let myself curl up on the closet floor and cry, then there will be an after and maybe, maybe, maybe in the after there is room for joy.
See what I did right there? I figured out my one goal for 2016: make room for joy. If that means more snot-nosed sobbing, then I guess there will have to be more snot-nosed sobbing. Meanwhile, I’ve got a certain umbrella-sized space just waiting to be filled.