February sucks. February in Chicago sucks even more. February in Chicago under a newly installed regime that has you worried about an impending nuclear war with Australia sucks the most. I need a distraction from politics, even just for ten minutes, and I’m guessing you do, too.
Last night, for example, I asked my husband to pour me a big glass of Eff You Trump. He knew exactly what I meant and brought me a glass of wine. I feel like I’m losing it, waking up to news from Bizzaro World every morning. I want to think about something else other than the demise of our future for a few moments, don’t you? And, dare I say, laugh? For your amusement, I offer up a tale from a February gone by; I promise it will make you feel better about yourself and take your mind off of our current horrors.
It was a winter day much like today: no sun, cold, dreary and no hope in sight. A day where I couldn’t help but wonder:
What if this lack of sunlight causes a rapid-onset, instantaneous, evolutionary change?
What if, on a cellular level, my brain says, “Okay, the sun must not exist any longer, we don’t actually need eyesight anymore. Retinas, begin Mole Person Mode.”
What if we’re already beginning to adapt to a life spent living underground?
What if my children start digging holes and tunnels in the backyard, a sure sign we are all well on our way to becoming Mole People?
This was one of those Mole People days. A day so bad, so gloomy, so boring, so full of everything that sucks about winter, parenting, marriage and life, that I lost my marbles.
You see, we had just finished a two-week run of having Influenza in the house. I had a high fever for days, a hacking cough that sounded like I should be in the ICU and I couldn’t get out of bed. I often have fantasies that involve me not being able to get out of bed, but they also include novels, bonbons and ocean breezes. Reality had me in fever sweats so badly that I had to keep changing my sheets and my curly hair matted into dreadlocks.
Once I was well enough to get out of bed, but still not better (let’s call it “Mom Sick”), I had to take care of my kids, who had also come down with it. I felt like a very tired, coughing, Civil War battlefield nurse, minus the sawing off of limbs with rusty axes. It wasn’t fun, but we all got better eventually.
Except now that I was better physically, I got totally down in the dumps. It snuck up on me gradually until the fateful day where I lost my marbles because the kids wouldn’t stop arguing, bickering, whining and my husband wouldn’t look up from where he was fixing a toilet. Picture the movie Rain Man, except instead of fixating on Judge Wapner, Rain Man was obsessed with fixing the toilet. And the soundtrack to the movie was the sound of four kids arguing about Xbox in the background.
“Is this my life??” I found myself asking. The answer was yes and so, I needed to get out of the house. I needed peace and quiet. I needed to not be a parent for a few hours. I left, rather dramatically since no one was paying attention and went to the theater to watch a movie, chill out and regroup.
One of my best friends happened to be in town for the weekend and we had made plans for the whole family to get together with him for dinner. Dan and I had met playing in a string quartet in grad school and had been close ever since. Seeing as I had just run away from home, I texted him from the dark, quiet theater to tell him there had been a change of plans: it would only be me coming to dinner since I had just quit being a Mom and being married.
Dan was mainly concerned that he was still going to get his Lou Malnati’s pizza fix. Once I assured him that would still happen, he moved onto asking me how I was and what the hell had happened. I tried to explain to him how overwhelmed and exhausted and pissed off I was, and he texted back that he was feeling lonely from his perpetually single, Old Maid status, so maybe this was the perfect match between us– we could be miserable together.
I had an even better idea: for us to swap lives for a bit. He could move in to my home and take over my life and thus never have a free moment to feel lonely, while I’d slide into his life to get some alone time and a chance to breathe.
What’s more, I’d write a screenplay about our swap: gay man becomes a suburban Mom and suburban Mom gets to live the freewheeling lifestyle of a single gay man. Added bonus, we’re both violists so not a day of work, not a single note!, would be missed.
And when my hilarious, touching and emotionally resonating screenplay was made into a movie, it would, of course, be nominated for an Oscar. Dan would be my date and we’d both be really skinny and dressed to the nines. And obviously, my screenplay would win the Academy Award.
While I was accepting my Oscar, I’d ask my husband from the stage if he had fixed the toilet yet and if the kids ever got off of the damn X-Box. Then I’d throw the mic like Lady Gaga at the Superbowl and go party at the Vanity Fair bash with Dan.
We both felt much better with that plan established. I told him I’d meet him at Lou’s and settled in to eat popcorn, watch my movie and dream of revenge.
During the movie, my phone buzzed and I looked at it, glowing in the darkness. It was a Facebook friend request and I almost dropped my popcorn when I saw who it was from: my old boyfriend whom I hadn’t heard from in nearly twenty years.
He was the only musician I had seriously dated, back when I was in college and he was a grad student. He was ready for more of a relationship than I was so I told him I thought we should be friends, instead. He wanted no part of that, it was all or nothing for him and he meant it: he wouldn’t take my calls or answer my letters.
So that was it…until now, on this crappy, cold and dreary Sunday when my husband was fixing a toilet like a plumbing savant and my kids were being impossible. I dropped my phone like it was on fire and went back to my movie.
After my movie, I drove to meet Dan. He had texted me that he was going to get as much of his sobbing out during the drive so he wouldn’t be crying in the restaurant: his Mom had driven him mad. That’s when I knew we were going to have the best dinner ever: two dramatic, creative, flouncy queens, trying to top each other with sob stories. Wait’ll he heard about my Facebook friend request– I would win this pissing and moaning contest for sure.
I let Dan go first, with tales of what it’s like to drive with his Mother in the car. His imitations were first class and hilarious and I was laughing so hard I was crying. He also described how she fell asleep for the entire second act of the opera he had just taken her to for her birthday, splurging for really expensive seats, “so she could nap in style,” he wailed.
Then it was my turn and I laid it on thick, complaining about the weather, my kids and my husband. He wasn’t impressed, told me he didn’t like it when Mommy and Daddy fought like this, and even asked if he could choose my husband over me if it came down to it. Dan was my friend first but as everyone seems to like my husband better than me, I’m used to it.
I still had my trump card (wait, can we still say trump?), and I very dramatically pulled out my phone for him to see the Friend request I had gotten. I was excited to spy on my old boyfriend– let’s call him Gregory–and discuss every single detail.
Dan begrudgingly looked at Gregory’s picture and gave a meh—he was not impressed. “I don’t like blonds,” he sniffed, himself a blond. “I like black hair… like you-know-who.”
“We are not talking about my husband today. We are mad at him, remember? But aside from hair color, I need you to chose who is the better looking man, so I can feel superior about my life choices.”
“No question,” Dan said. “You clearly made the better choice. But, he is conducting all over the place, look it says he just conducted the London Philharmonic last month!”
I put my head down on the table and started moaning.
“I mean, who cares! London Phil is no big deal. Look at all you do! Umm…like, you know. Really. And…you have kids! See?”
“So does he. Keep scrolling. Three. And oh my God, his wife. He married an Italian soprano! Look at her! I need you to look at her and then look at me, and tell me who won.”
“Who won? We’re really doing this? Can’t you both have won? Or no one won since this isn’t a contest? You really want me to compare you to another woman? Aren’t you a feminist? I thought feminists didn’t do sorority girl shit like this.”
It’s like Dan didn’t even know me after all this time: of course that’s what I wanted.
He looked at her picture. “Uh oh. She’s beautiful. I mean! So are you! You’re both beautiful!” He was starting to look nervous. He ordered a second diet coke.
“Who. Is. More. Beautiful.” I asked him through gritted teeth.
“Well, when you make your eyes look all crazy like that, there’s no contest. You! You are the most…beautiful. Definitely. Wow, look how big the whites of your eyes are. Impressive.”
“Oh my God, Dan! I can’t be Facebook friends with this guy! He has a professional page filled with his concert dates and studio pictures; him conducting from different podiums around the world and my Facebook is filled with stories of how no one in my house flushes the toilet. Or weird stuff they say, weird stuff I do, weird things that happen to me. Why am I so weird? Oh my God, he won.”
Our pizzas arrived, two separate ones because our very first and only fight in our 22-year friendship was over ordering one pizza, split in half by toppings. It didn’t work because Dan only likes cheese and I ordered a bunch of veggies on my half and he got mad at me because he said my veggies creeped over to his side and he could taste them on his all cheese pieces. I got mad at him because he was being a big baby who was upset that the he had to slightly, vaguely, taste vegetables. So, separate pizzas it is for us from that day forward and never have we fought since.
“Let’s look at his wife’s account.” I picked my phone back up. “Dear Lord, it’s all glamour shots! Her on stage in costume, singing. Her reclining on a couch in a studio, all professional shots! What am I going to do?”
“I have the perfect idea. Let’s recreate all his wife’s poses but with you instead. We’ll find someone in the prop department of the opera, borrow costumes, and use the stage. We’ll recreate the settings, the hair and makeup so you look just like her. Put you in a strapless gown, belting out an aria. But we’ll make your eyes all crazy…. yeah, like that!”
“What do you mean, ‘like that’? I’m just sitting here, listening.”
“Oh, right…I mean, umm, make them crazy then, not at all like how you look…now…” His voiced trailed off.
“So we take the photos of you,” he continued, “then we’ll change all your Facebook photos to the new ones and we’ll delete all your old pictures. You’ll basically have the exact same Facebook page as her. And then you accept his Friend request, he clicks on your profile and boom, his head explodes: there you’ll be, in the same outfit, reclining on a couch, singing on stage, but with big, white, crazy eyes. It’ll be the greatest thing ever. You’ll win.”
I finally stopped moping and was now laughing hysterical at the thought. I couldn’t breathe and was pounding on the table. I looked up to catch my breath and saw all of Lou Malanati’s staring at us, their pizzas halfway to their mouths.
I needed this laughter. I needed someone to point out what a brat I was being. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember why I was so mad at my husband. As Dan had asked, earlier, “So whose toilet is he fixing? Yours? Mmm hmmm, I thought so.” My kids were just being kids. I had the February Blues, is all. They showed up every single year, like clockwork. They suck.
When I got home later that night, my husband was waiting up to talk to me about my disappearing act. I apologized for ditching him and he apologized for being Bob Villa on crack. He and the kids were pissed they had missed out on a dinner with Dan so I promised to make it up to them.
I told him about hearing from Gregory after all these years and how no way would I accept his Friend request since I talk too much about real life and his life looks too perfect. My husband completely disagreed, telling me I had nothing to hide, plenty to be proud of, so what if he conducts all over the place, look at what you’re doing!
“But I just posted a picture of a puddle on our floor and wrote that I didn’t know if it was cat pee, kid pee or dog pee. That’s not exactly ‘eat your heart out’ material,” I said.
But my husband, who is extremely secure because he has the confidence of a thousand men (which is super annoying, by the way), couldn’t understand what I meant. Also, I couldn’t help thinking it was weird that after all this time, Gregory would reach out and send me a friend request but not say a word to me. Well, it turns out there actually is a hidden message account on Facebook and stuck in that account, was a lovely note from Gregory. I pressed the “Accept” button– without changing all my pictures into caricatures of his beautiful wife first. Look how grownup I can be!
I remember once calling my Mom one winter with a deep, dark confession. “Mom,” I whispered. “I want to move. I want to go live at the beach. I want to move to Charleston. I mean it, Mom. I want out of here!” I was expecting my Mom to gasp, “What!? Move from Chicago?” And instead, she laughed. “Oh, honey, everyone wants to move from Chicago during February. Everyone. It’ll be fine, you’ll make it to March, it’ll be spring soon.”
She’s right. Just remind me of it when I start to lose my marbles again, whether from the weather or politics, will you? This year, when the February Blues get me, I still may run out by myself to see a movie, because honestly, it’s a great coping technique. In the meantime, my messy life and I wish Gregory well from afar.