Tonight, Baxter and I took a walk. I needed to clear my head, and he needed to run through leaf piles. It was just cool enough for a winter coat and gloves. The streets were deserted, and I could see people inside their homes doing normal people things – decorating trees and watching TV and washing dishes.
It was good to be alone (save for the canine and the felines) tonight. I’d spent the day running errands, sitting in the bleachers at my nephew’s wrestling tournament, working in the backyard and then wandering through the house, straightening random things here and there half-heartedly. Will was pulling one of his marathon 20-hour work days and we communicated by leaving messages on each other’s voice mail. I didn’t feel like calling anyone else, but when the phone rang, I lunged for it, and gave the telemarketer from AT & T a whole three minutes of my life before hanging up.
This has been a tough week. The antibiotics finally kicked in and my throat started to feel more like a throat and less like a tiny orifice with a brillo pad wedged inside it. In the meantime, I’d lost a few days of writing time and it was hard to pick up the pieces. My sentences felt stiff and predictable, like the writing on the old USA network sitcoms, back when only people with no other options watched USA network.
Then the bad news began.
Another student, a beautiful, brilliant girl who sat in the back corner of my creative writing class two years ago, committed suicide. I can’t begin to understand it. If I had to name an emotion, it would be anger. I’m so, so mad about it – and so sad, too. I subbed on Thursday for two classes she was in, noticing how there was a sort of negative space in the classroom, something that everyone was stepping around and talking around. Our hearts were still aching from Dillon, only a month ago. I said to anyone who would listen, and many of them did: it gets better. And it might get worse again, but it always gets better. And there are always people who love you – even people you might have forgotten in the middle of things.
Then on Friday, I came home to a letter in the mail, a sort of “thanks, but no thanks” from the government job I’d applied for. There were other applicants better suited for the position… blah, blah. I told myself over and over that I wouldn’t be hurt if I didn’t get the job, because if I wasn’t right for it, it was better to know that up front, rather than at the end of some prolonged training period. I am the first person to rail against the incompetence of officials, elected or otherwise, and I wouldn’t want to be one of those incompetent people myself. But still – I guess I’m hurt. I haven’t found a way to reason myself out of that emotion.
So tonight, I left the house with a stack of clichés – a heavy heart, a lump in my throat, my brain fried. “Let’s run,” I said to Baxter, and we did, through dark streets and dozens of leaf piles. We ran past cats, too absorbed in our running to slow down for a proper sniff. We settled into a sort of pace, although Baxter the show-off always likes to be in the lead. I suppose if any of my neighbors had looked out the window at that moment, they would have seen a wild-haired woman in a bulky coat chasing a frantic beagle down the street – and they wouldn’t have been too wrong. But the thing is, I felt better with each mucky step. I wasn’t running from anything, exactly – and in fifteen minutes I was home again, setting the alarm behind me – but it did feel like I escaped something. Maybe it was a only a layer of skin, like the gray feeling that had settled over me, but by the time we were crunching through the leaves on my unraked lawn and climbing the steps to the front porch, I was believing what I’d been saying all week: There’s always a tomorrow, and if that one doesn’t work out, another tomorrow right around the corner. And also, there’s always the possibility of a night run, and ready-for-anything beagle to take it with you.
Paula Treick DeBoard