Fun tune blasting on the car stereo, I hope the drivers around me parked on 400 don’t notice the air drumming on the steering wheel, the singing along.
It’s my first day of a new job. To the other lemmings, the traffic and the predawn coffee and getting all gussied up is old hat. Not me, I’m pumped. After sixteen years, I’m rejoining productive society, or so it’s called.
It’s not an internship, but a returnship. Still, I’m tempted to revert to twenty-two, with the sweaty palms and the tendency not to know when to shut up and stand ground, but I remind myself to double that number (!) and act my age.
My friends, they stay home and raise young’uns like I have. They’ve been calling with questions and looking at me over lunches like I’m a zoo animal.
You’re going back in there?
First it was the novel writing, then the horseback riding, now this. How many midlife crises are you allowed?
Or am I trying adventure on for size? I can’t write good story without living a little.
That is, if living is a hundred-minute early morning commute. Nevermind—armed with a box of boutique donuts, I enter triumphantly. Let’s do this.
The boss lady, she’s on the phone. I search awkwardly for a spot to set up shop, plug in my laptop. Later I spend three hours in a brain-dump, getting the deets on the duties of an exit-ing editor. Head spinning, I scoot down the street to Whole Foods to grab a cup of soup to bring back to my desk, but not before taking a moment to walk through the flowers section, breathing in stock and rose and hyacinth. I glance up guiltily—I don’t want someone from the office, also getting lunch, to see this tiptoe through the tulips.
I’m a wannabe poet in professional-land. But I’m determined to be authentic. I’m forty four. Can I walk the line? A navy pencil skirt, but with fun tights? I try to channel the side of me who’s a tiny bit my dad’s daughter. He’s a bull, if a bull in a china shop.
I adore that man. He’s one of the main reasons I can do this.
I can do this, right?
I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan. But after the little one is tucked in early and the spouse and I pour a glass of red and catch up on our days, we find ourselves waking up cold and bewildered after dark, the twins giggling at the foot of our bed. One of them snaps a photo on her iPhone.
“You guys fell asleep! What’s for dinner?”
Tempted to ask for a blanket and roll over, I drag myself to the kitchen to start chicken paprikash, kale, egg noodles. Luke plays sous chef.
We eat at nine, but we eat. And the four of us sit hearthside and joke and sit some more. I somehow have juice left to help one polish an essay, to lock arms with the other, rest my head on her shoulder and tell her what a highlight it is to visit. We don’t tear ourselves from the den until eleven.
Contrast is key, I’m learning. All work and no play, or vice versa, can dull the senses–or kill them. When it’s freezing out, my afternoon cup of tea tastes all the better. When you’ve sat all day in a little gray room in a gray chair, fuzzy socks and firelight present as coziness supreme.
Not that my new assignment is 20 degrees and domesticity is Earl Grey. I want to work. My contract is for ninety days: I’m ready to pour myself into a project, to try to leave something better than I found it.
Next time I’m in Whole Foods, I’ll buy a bunch of those flowers, and I’ll set them in the window of the little gray room.