Sometimes there’s pure fear when I sit down to write. It must be how people feel when they sit down to talk to God, that breath before they pray. For a few moments, you’re overwhelmed by the sheer impossibility of what you’re about to do. You’re going to vomit something out; it’s going to be impassioned but imperfect and inadequate, and there’s no way it can save you.
Yet somehow, it does. Like God, writing both intimidates and redeems.
Last night I lay awake, my son having just crawled in bed with me. I needed to pee. More than that, I needed to write, but I didn’t want to disturb him. My stomach felt a little sick, and I was anxious. Probably ovulation, I reminded myself, but I couldn’t stop thinking.
I was trapped.
Maybe I felt sick from the sausage. I remembered with shame how I’d snapped at dinner when my son refused to eat more than a few bites. He’d been bothering me about sausage for a few days, so I’d gone to get some, knowing that what I brought home wouldn’t be like the kind my parents always bring from the local butcher. Later that day: “Can I have some sausage?”
My husband paused after the first bite, made a sound: “Hmm.”
What? I’d demanded. It’s sausage. It just tastes like sausage. I’d been waiting for a sign of disapproval from either of them so I could fly at them. Why do I even try? Let them eat Velveeta and McDonald’s. That’s what they both want anyway. Just two more bites, I negotiated with my son. Then, Fuck it. I took his plate away and threw the rest in the trash. I knew I was being mean, but I couldn’t stop.
“Honey, he’s a little kid,” said my husband. “That’s how they are.”
But you, I thought. I knew the way you would act, that you’d pause, or maybe you’d smell it because you have to smell everything you eat like a goddamn raccoon. I knew, and I hated that I knew.
Familiarity breeds contempt, I thought suddenly, and started to panic. Then I was out of bed, a future version of me looking down on myself, telling a story: And this was the moment she knew she had to leave. Was it like Gills-and-Fins said? You don’t want to get married. You say you want that, but it’s not what you really want. He’d accused me of getting bored with him. We’d just broken up, and he’d said it out of anguish, but what if he was right? What if I was just now figuring out that I’d be better off alone?
When I get anxious like this, I test myself, make myself feel love for my husband—but of course, I can’t. It’s a test I’ll always fail, because fear leaves no room for other emotions.
I couldn’t let the anxiety take over again. What would I do if it did? I was already on the maximum amount of meds, and I’d have to wean off and try something different, a possibility too daunting to face. This latest dose had so far been enough to keep me from going over the cliff. Sometimes I felt the vertigo, the dizzying worry that I was about to fall, but I’d stayed connected with the ground for a year and a half, and I wanted to keep it that way. The spots of less-than-life still loom in my memory: November 1995-August 1996. Summer 1998. Summer 2003. August-December 2005. Again in 2007, all through 2008. March-June 2010. January 2013. October 2014.
I relaxed enough to surrender to a string of tangential memories–a “parade of sausage,” if you will. First, as a little girl, scraping intestines as part of the sausage prep at the hog butchering on my great aunt’s farm. Then cooking with my ex, fat split sausages sputtering in the pan. That was the boyfriend whose Subaru I had inadvertently driven into the support beam of our neighbor’s second-story deck, collapsing it. He’d gotten me out the passenger side and then we’d stood there—he and I, Ray, and Ray’s boyfriend—watching the deck sink onto the car slowly, like a soggy sandwich. Alan, the neighbor who owned the deck, had brought me a glass of bourbon to calm my hysterical crying. When the police left, and insurance information had been exchanged, we mused on how unruffled and understanding Alan had been. “We should send him a basket or something,” I’d said. “Like a basket of sausage.”
“He’s Jewish,” Ray had replied crossly, interrupting himself from talking about the police officer’s delicious-looking buttocks.
I wanted to message my ex: It feels like a lifetime ago that I drove into that second-story deck. But it was 3:30 a.m. I didn’t feel nostalgic, per se—more like disoriented, like the person who took out a deck wasn’t even the same person lying in bed thinking about sausage. The person who once took out a deck dreamed of being married and having children, and now that person is this person, married with a kid and feeling inexplicably trapped. It’s not that I’d do anything differently, not that I’m unhappy. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s just that there is grief inherent in every choice. Every time we choose something, we reject something else. I experience this every day now, when I spend time writing and worry that I’m irreparably damaging my child by not paying enough attention to him. It makes sense why those early female intellectuals I’ve been researching rejected traditional marriage and motherhood, pledging themselves instead to ideas.
If I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell her to go ahead and be happy, to enjoy the long hours of complete autonomy. Although there are wonderful things about being a wife and mother, taking on those roles doesn’t flip a switch that fixes your life. You’ll barely free yourself from one set of chains before you’ll be chafing at another. One day you’ll lie awake, not wishing yourself out of the life you have, but wishing for more lives, for a chance to explore infinite possibilities, to be all the things you will never be this time around.
For now, it has to be enough that you’re writing into the morning; the regular hooting of an owl outside has subsided, and your husband is awake, filling the house with the smell of strong coffee. Look away from the screen, you tell yourself; touch him, do something. One day this life, too, will feel foreign and remote. One day, as poet Jane Kenyon writes, it will be otherwise.
Footnote that isn’t really a footnote: I’m going to use “Parade of Sausage” as the title of my memoir.