Last week I had several job interviews and one trip to New Jersey to pick up school books and materials. G and I spent Saturday running errands and taking care of the house. I spent Sunday in the city. This week, I am actually working. All this sudden business has interrupted my self-care regimen.
Normally, I lift hand weights every other day, attend yoga classes twice a week, and sneak in a cardio workout from Fit TV once or twice a week in the mornings. I also use Burt's Bees pore refining mask three times a week, mixed with tomato juice for my "troubled" skin. Last week, however, I only fit in one yoga class, no cardio, and skipped at least one day of lifting. I only masked twice. I don't think it shows, but I feel the difference. I feel sluggish, I feel greasy, I feel fat.
Being unemployed for the last few weeks, especially after only working three days a week over the summer, allowed me to develop a routine for doing me-things, on my time. I think this is what makes housewifery seem so appealing - the freedom to run your own schedule and fit in the things you like as well as the things you need, according to your own needs, factoring in stressors like "time of the month," etc. When I was home, I always managed to fit in one hour of downtime to watch my soap. I always made a good homemade lunch, and often dinner. I found time to clean the floors or dust the windowsills or some such housecleaning task. I drove to the grocery store at times of day when I knew traffic would be minimal. I played music - any music I liked - as I cooked or cleaned or did other things about the house, rather than have the TV on (and muted) as G often does. I talked to my Mom on the phone for as long as she had time. I made the occasional necessary call to the bank or the unemployment office or EZ-Pass. I made post office runs. I had all the time I could ask for to write, read, research various things, read blogs, and email friends. It was sweet.
It was also lonely, and isolating. I have no real friends in Rockland County. In order to have a social outing of any kind - even just a cup of coffee - I have to go to either Manhattan or Westchester county. Nobody ever comes to visit me here. I whine about that to myself a lot. It's hard. I've tried to meet new people in my town, but I haven't met anyone that, frankly, I think I could stand talking to for more than five minutes. There are a lot of eccentric artsy nut jobs in this town. I invite my existing friends over from time to time, but they always seem to have prior obligations. Isn't that interesting.
Most likely they just aren't willing to drive over the Tappan Zee. I drive over it all the time, jerks. And I have near panic attacks just getting behind a wheel. Jerks.
Yesterday morning my car wouldn't start, so G drove me to and from work. On our way home, we stopped for a few groceries. Upon arriving home, we put the groceries away, changed clothes, plugged in the little car battery jump kit, and walked a few blocks into town for dinner. We were starving. We ordered way too much food, and brought home the leftovers.
Immediately upon returning home from dinner, we fussed with my car, and finally jumped the battery. We drove it around for fifteen minutes listening to Norah Jones. By the time we got back it was 8:30. G briefly spoke on the phone with his parents, while I setup a little repast for Rosh Hashanah. When he got off the phone, we lit candles and said prayers. We had our apples and honey and bread, and managed to relax for a few minutes, reminiscing about a dinner party we'd attended one year ago. I laughed hysterically, as though the events had occurred just yesterday.
Then it was time for bed. One of those days that just slips away from you. Autumn.
This morning, I forgot to bring my leftovers from last night in to work with me. They would have made a luscious free lunch - baked ziti with eggplant, red sauce and lots of cheese. I'll have it for dinner tonight, but I'm already feeling the pinch of having to spend seven or eight bucks in the cafeteria. I never know when I'm going to see another paycheck.
I'll get one check for this week, and it will be enough for next months' loan payments, but other than that, I have no income at all. My unemployment is screwed up - it's taking forever for the state to process my new claim, and I'm not getting any payments. So every penny I spend on lunch or EZ-pass or the occasional manicure feels dangerous. I haven't been to a hair salon in over a month, and it shows. My cut is growing out badly. I tried to give myself a blowout with a brush, my dryer, a straightening iron and some glossy hair product that wasn't cheap. I wound up looking like Cousin It. I just have too much hair to do this myself. Goddammit.
I have always worn my "look" like armor. When I feel truly comfortable around people, or when I'm going someplace where I'm pretty sure nobody knows my name, I don't wear nice clothes. I've just fallen out of the habit of looking fly. I don't get manicures, wear makeup, or even really do my hair anymore. I comb conditioner through it in the shower, which gets out all the tangles, but then I just air-dry it and throw it in a clip or ponytail. I wear sneakers from five years ago, t-shirts that don't really fit well, and jeans that are old and ragged, but not in a hip way. They don't fit well, but they feel soft. In essence, when I don't care about how I'm seen, I don't bother with my appearance.
But when I feel the need for it, I can look great. I pull out the makeup and get the blowout and the manicure and shimmy into clothes that transform and shoes that click, and everything matches from the jewelry to the bag to the eye shadow to the outerwear. It's full-body armor, a bubble of LOOK that I encase myself in. It's intimidating to some, and it's meant to be. It's attractive to others, and it's meant to be that too. Mostly, I decide who I want people to think I am, and dress accordingly.
Don't get me wrong, I dress up for fun too, and any excuse will do. But I can always tell the difference. I wonder if anyone else can. I imagine G could tell the difference by the way I go about getting dressed, as he's there in the apartment, watching my mood, seeing how I choose outfits, the look on my face, the way I fidget and whimper when I'm stressed. But could even he tell the difference just by looking at the finished product?
Only an actress could make a party dress into a suit of armor. Please, hold your applause until the end of the programme.
I noticed this past month that I hadn't been bothering with Looks. I dressed up for the job interviews, but I mostly resented it. I did like getting dressed for one job interview last Monday, but that was a job I really liked the sound of.
The other two interviews were flat-out annoyances. Black suit, closed-toe pumps, one pair of earrings, (not two!) blah blah blah. Sadly, I know I will not get the fun job. Not so sadly, I doubt I'll be offered the stupid ones either.
The last two time the laundry needed doing, it was G who did it. I noticed that my clothes were almost all T-shirts, pajamas, tank tops and jeans. Lots of socks too, meaning I've been living in my beat-up New Balances. I have been very, very comfy for the last month.
It wasn't like this in the fall of 2004, when I was freshly fired from the Siberian Work Camp, and living on severance. I was nervous all the time. My mood swung wildly from serene and happy at being released from that awful job to terrified at not having any income beyond unemployment. Granted, I had a lot of other stress factors at that time - bitchy roommate, uncertain lease status, an old boyfriend messing with my head and estrangement from my church - but I remember busting my ass to find a job, and not ever feeling that sense of safety that allows you to fully relax. I was so afraid of the future then.
It is different now. G said that it would be. He offered to cover our living expenses while I job-hunt, pay down my debt, and work towards getting back on my feet. I agreed. He said that I would be able to relax, that I had good instincts, and that he believed in my ability to get back on my feet. And throughout these eight months of living together, he's pointed out the progress I'd made during those times when I was so stressed I couldn't see it with my own eyes, and told me he was proud of me. Things are different now.
It's easy for me to say that it's G's financial support that has made all the difference, but there's more going on than that. It is true that his financial support has enabled me to successfully manage my meager income, which has enabled me to pay down my debt, and work my way toward financial freedom. However, he does much more than pay the bills. He believes in me, and he tells me so. He says that my primary focus should be right where it is - on moving my life forward, taking care of myself, and getting out of debt. He says he is more than happy to handle living expenses in the meantime. He is confident that I won't always be in this dependent state.
He also knows that I struggle emotionally with my dependence on him, and that I'm not completely at peace with it. He assures me that he knows I'm not taking advantage of him. He reminds me that I will have a whole new career by next year.
I slip sometimes. I lose touch with my own faith. Something unexpected happens, derailing me for a short period of time, and despair oozes in from under my skin. When this happens I can stop believing in everything, even G's love for me. It's happened once or twice. I get angry at him for being human and start picking him apart. I see his caution as fear, and interpret his quiet ways as avoidance tactics, and decide he must be sick of me by now, and surely doesn't love me anymore. I start calculating exactly how he will extricate me from his life. I then proceed to demand grand gestures from him like an addict demanding a pill. I cry and shake and tell him all this, and then I tell him how stupid I feel for feeling this way, that I know better than all this, and then I cry even harder, from shame. Then I tell him how frustrated I am about the thing that happened to derail me, the temp assignment fell through or the IRS lost my tax check or I spoke to my attorney again, or whatever it was. Then he holds my hand and tells me "This is a temporary setback. Something else will come up." And I know this is the only way to get through life.
I downplay how happy I am. I say "At least I'm not living with my parents." I'm afraid to admit that I'm so deeply invested in this relationship. Every time I have in the past - admitted it, reveled in it, believed in it - it crumbled away and I found myself back in the race. Some little part of me still believes in the Other Shoe. Maybe if I downplay things it won't drop.
I lie a lot too, about what I want. I say I'm not ready for marriage again. I say I don't want to rush into getting engaged. I say that if - IF, I emphasize - G and I do decide to marry, I want to elope. I don't need or want another wedding. Lies, lies, lies. All lies.
Well, sort of. I'm probably not ready for marriage again.
I have G on a bit of a pedestal. I admit, I have a need to look up to my man. I want to be with people who deserve to be on pedestals. And not just men - friends, family, bosses, colleagues. The question is: Why can't I put myself on a pedestal, right up there with them?
Oh... I want someone else to put me on a pedestal. Well, hell. Here I go again, expecting others to be like me. I don't know when I'm going to get past that. Maybe somewhere around the time I finally convince myself that no one will ever hire me for a decent salary. Ah... I see a connection here.
Whenever my faith in humanity is tested, I in turn test my relationship. My need to be elevated by my partner is the same as my need to be recognized by my bosses, my choir director, my friends. Whenever I feel unrecognized by the world at large, so I demand that my relationship make up for this. I look to my relationship to salve my basic insecurity and lapses in self-esteem.
This seems, somehow, normal. I think everyone does it. It doesn’t, however, seem fair, or right.
I want to be healthy and strong. I want to be true to myself. I want validation from my peers and from my mentors. I want to be married again, and I want children. I also want to be ok with waiting for these things, even though I’m much older than I thought I’d be when I had all of them.
Again… this seems so normal.
I will take an evening yoga class after work this week, and get my hair trimmed. I’ll lift my weights in the evenings and do my face scrub before bed. I’ll find a job. I’ll lose that little spare tire around my middle. And G and I will last as long as we are good for each other. Someday, whether it’s to him or not, I’ll get married again, and have those kids. Hopefully in that order, but I’m not fussy.
This is all temporary, and I can wait. It's going to be a busy winter.