I wish I could be one of those people who don’t allow things to bother them – how does the saying go? Like water off a duck’s back? And I’m not sure when it happened (although I suspect it had something to do with becoming a lawyer), but I’ve become one of those nervous Nellies who fret and stress about everything, especially things that are wholly out of my control. Every potential (and actual) misstep is a personal failing, a flaw in my character and personhood. I hate feeling like this, and yet I still do (which somehow makes me hate it even more).
Every weekday morning, when I open my eyes – usually about an hour before I really have to get out of bed, although I will frequently stretch that hour out for as long as I can – the first feeling that comes over me is dread for the day ahead. (Significantly, it doesn’t happen on weekends, which is why I appreciate them so much.) What am I going to screw up today? Petting Gizmo while he snores next to me helps me self-soothe a bit, and I will sometimes play a game of spider solitaire to try to start my day with a literal win. But once my feet hit the floor, my daily slog begins.
The worst days are the ones when I have to wake up at 8:10 a.m. to catch a 9:21 train to NYC. I’ve managed to schedule it so that I take the first off-peak train (saving $5 on a one-way trip) and can park on Long Beach’s main drag (where you’re not allowed to park until after 9 a.m.) rather than having to cross my fingers and pray for a spot on a side street. The train ride is actually relaxing – I’ll listen to my iPod and maybe nap or read (if I’m not feeling too tired) – but as soon as the train pulls into Penn Station, the knot forms in the pit of my stomach and the wave of commuter humanity surges: from the train, to the platform, up the escalator or stairs, into the concourse, over to the 8th Avenue Subway to board the E train uptown to Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street. Even at that more “civilized” rush hour of 10:15 a.m. (rather than, say, 8:45), the chaos still surrounds you.
On the sidewalk outside my building, I get a bacon and egg sandwich from my regular cart guy – although he appears gruff, he always seems happy to see me – and grab a soda and then head up to my office. I appreciate having an office of my own but, because I only occupy it one day a week, it is often loaned out on the other days to visiting attorneys who will inevitably steal my pens and leave some random document behind. I log on to the computer and tackle my to-do list, catch up with friends (although after nearly 14 years with the same firm, not many of my friends are there anymore), try to snag face time with my frantically busy boss some time before the end of the day, and then pack up my papers for the work-at-home week ahead and leave the office at a decent hour.
The eastbound commute is always more difficult – more expensive, more crowded, more chances for an aggravating delay. If I catch the right train, I can stay in my seat all the way to Long Beach; if not, I have to change at Jamaica, which is always a pain. If I’m lucky I’ll get a window seat in a three-seater facing forward; that way, because I get off at the last stop, I never have to bother the person in the aisle seat and no one has to bother me. If I’m REALLY lucky, the middle seat will remain empty and I can wag my elbows and keep my bag next to me rather than on my lap. Generally speaking, though, the train ride, while long (and provided there are no inexplicable technical difficulties), is somewhat relaxing after a stressful day. I catch up on my pleasure reading and listen to music until the train ever so slowly pulls into the Long Beach station. I pick up my chicken souvlaki platter at Abe’s Pitaria and, at long last, head for home.
I feel guilty, of course, leaving the poor animals alone all day – some days, between the workday and the commute, it turns out to be an 8- or 9-hour absence. Now that I am in my new apartment, it concerns me even more because I don’t want the boys to be barking and/or whimpering all day when I wouldn’t even know about it unless someone complained. I considered buying a device called the Cube, which is like a nanny-cam that allows you to interact with your pets remotely. While it initially sounded like a good idea, at least to enable me to keep an eye on what the kids were doing while I was gone, I’m afraid if they heard my voice coming from it, they would freak out and bark even more.
Walking in the house after a day away always makes me nervous. What have they done to the house? Have they pooped/peed/vomited in unacceptable locations? Have they eaten something they shouldn’t have? Have they somehow harmed one another (although that has NEVER happened, I still fear it)? Once I’ve made sure everyone is in one piece and the mess isn’t too terrible, I walk the dogs, change out of my work clothes and settle in for some TV. Occasionally I will reluctantly get back on the computer to finish something I left undone or that arose after I escaped the office, but I always hate when that happens. It’s like an encroachment, somehow.
By the end of the day, my dread is basically gone. I don’t know why it has dissipated, or how, only that it has. And when I get into bed at night, after giving peanut butter cookies to the boys and tossing around cat treats for the girls (Mimi in particular is very vocal about getting her share), I actually feel pretty good. I try to recall at least one thing from my day that made me happy to write in my joybook, and I give thanks to the Higher Power for my comfy bed, my creatures, the roof over my head and other various gratitudes. Bedtime is probably the high point of my day. But somehow, between that comforting moment and the following morning, about an hour before my alarm is set to go off, the dread and worry return, unbidden, to darken another day.