Once in a while, I reach a point of fatigue that requires me to admit that I have had enough. Without realizing it, lately I have slipped back into a pattern of “What do I have to do next?” and “What’s my next deadline?” Mind you, I work in education, so for the most part, the only deadlines with which I should be concerned are those I impose on my students, and yet I find myself scurrying from one check mark to the next, worried sick about making it “on time.” This has gone on so long, I don’t even remember what it is like to enjoy long stretches of time, which I qualify as more than three days in a row. I am exhausted, and it is showing. It has been showing for a long time.
This occurred to me less than an hour ago. I am drinking a beer and people-watching, on my one true day off this week, which only means that I didn’t have to clock in somewhere today, not that I don’t have fifty things to do. More check marks. I swore to myself a long time ago that I would not live a life defined by obstacles, and that is all I have done for more than four hundred days. I would do the math to determine the exact amount of time, but I would make myself sick by doing so. In the last year, I have fought more battles than I needed to, lost a massive relationship, rekindled the sparks of another two or three, made almost no progress on the work I want to do on my house, floated paycheck to paycheck, read few books, watched few movies, and generally have not lived the life I want to have. As it is for most of us, I have been my chief obstacle. Most of us know exactly what we want to do, at almost any given time. And then, we don’t do it. More check marks. More nonsense. More time wasted.
One high-top table away from me, a father sat opposite his young son, who was probably around four years old. People are coming and going in waves, and really I was minding my own business, but their conversation was intriguing. My eavesdropping started around the seven-minute mark, when Dad asked son who was the best football team.
Son: “I like the Bad Guys.”
Dad: “There is actually not a professional team called ‘The Bad Guys.'”
Son: “Yeah. I like them.”
Dad: “What colors do they wear?”
Son, starting to cough: “Dark colors.”
Dad: “Cover your mouth–what kind of dark colors? Black?”
Son: “Yeah, and other dark colors.”
Dad: “Ah, I see. What about teams that have dark colors and light colors? For different game days?”
Son: “I don’t know about that. Definitely The Bad Guys, though.”
They went on like this for more than ten minutes, in a very casual tone. I did my best to pretend I was otherwise occupied, but I could not help laughing aloud more than once. A little while later, Mom showed up, and it became apparent what was actually going on. Mom and Dad said a few things to each other, but it seemed forced. Mom didn’t look at Dad, although he looked into her eyes and watched her lower lip tremble. She didn’t respond to his hug, and she seemed to shrink into the background as Dad walked around the table, stood son up on the chair, fixed his coat, said, “I’ll see you Tuesday, okay? I love you, buddy.”
Mom and son went into the food market part of the store, and Dad looked over his shoulder at both of them as he walked away, out into Sunday night. I finished my food, and stopped disinterestedly flipping through a text book. The dark blue of the late afternoon has turned to black. Christmas music is playing faintly in the background. It’s hard to breathe.
This year has been another hard one. I am tired of being alone, but I am more tired of doing things I do not want to do. I am tired of running from check mark to check mark. I am sick of this manufactured life. I refuse to do this for another year. I did not forget how to spend my laughs, but I scheduled them to occur after obligations were met. It’s not much of a way to live, but it is a pretty efficient way to watch time pass.
I want more smiles, and more evenings spent with warm looks and sincere embraces. A kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve, in stark contrast to last year. No more lists. No more deadlines, except for the self-imposed. This has gone on long enough. I’m listening to the younger me, the one who remembered his dreams the next day. The one who lived according to the next wave.