The second night we spent in Washington State, I was still awake at 2am. I came upstairs and took a quick look around our very empty house. Checked on the children. Sleeping in their empty rooms. Stood in the kitchen. Staring at the mostly empty pantry.
There was this whrrrrrrrrr noise, every few minutes. Over and over again. Whrrrrrrrrrr. It was the empty fridge. It created a rhythm in the otherwise empty space. It was creepy and comforting at the same time. But mostly creepy.
I eat when I can’t sleep. It’s a bad habit of mine. But here in this new space, we had not yet had a chance to stock up on the little things that you hide and hunt for when insomnia disrupts your rhythm. I remembered that a friend had baked a small loaf of banana bread and gave it to me when we first arrived. I took the time to slice and eat a piece carefully. I remember feeling so thankful to have a homemade snack, humbled by how such a small thing could make me feel so comforted.
I thought I wanted to cry — but here in this emptiness, on the other side of the country from my home and the place that I grew up, the place that my children were born, the place where my parents still lived, I could not find, inside my heart — the button you push, when you need a good cry.
I had spent so much time being big, that it almost hurt to try and be small.
There is a rhythm in living up to the standards of the people around you. It starts when we do the things we know we are supposed to do: go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, buy a house, get a better job, have more kids, make more money, buy a bigger house, buy a nice car, and then, and then, etc. etc. Somewhere along the way, my rhythm stopped being mine. It wasn’t society. It wasn’t my kids. It wasn’t my husband. It was me.
I’m not referring to some sort of quest for self-actualization — noble as that might be — it’s not my intention in life to reach the top of the hierarchy. I don’t have any misguided notions, regrets about being a wife or a mother, wishes of what might have been. I was empty. I lacked a real rhythm. I mean just a regular living life, getting up and breathing, doing something besides surviving rhythm. The thing that beats in you and makes you want things, the space that is filled when the wonderful things in life give you something to hum about, the button you push when you need to have a good cry.
Somewhere along the way, my rhythm became a dull and throbbing sensation that rushed to meet deadlines and struggled to bring home a check. I went to a job every day that left my spaces empty, until I lost it and longed for it, retracing my steps, convinced that I could have done something different. I followed a schedule set out by people who I shared my children with, mutating my love for them into something I had to prove every day, watching and being watched by the standards that estranged parents hold for one another. I made phone call upon phone call, dancing with the mortgage company to a nonsensical music that they created for our lives. I smiled when I met strangers. I had conversations with people who were friends. My mouth and my movements choreographed to a pretentious sing-song that constantly assured the people who shared my space that I felt fine and everything was okay. All the while standing in an increasingly empty space, wishing I could stop being so big for just a moment. The rhythm of being someone you are not, the clanging of music that is not your composition, the whrrrrrrrring of a world that I stopped being a part of made me forget how to feel.
Life away from the every day noise has been a luxury I never thought I would have. My days are chaotic, sometimes run by my children’s schedule. Always dictated by last-minute things I have forgotten to do. Occasionally worrying about what to cook for dinner, at times bothered by illness I can’t control. Sometimes my nights are sleepless, like tonight. But not for any reason except that I have thoughts that I need to write down, brownies I need to bake, toys I need to pick up, last week’s episode of a show that I meant to watch.
I have found a rhythm here in Washington, in the few people that I have become friends with, my small container garden, my yoga in the mornings, the farmer’s market on the weekends. Despite the obvious chaos of being a mother of five children, the unavoidable stress of life in a recession, the reminders of fragile health when I am breathless at the top of the stairs — for once in a very long time, my cadence is purely my own.
I don’t hear the fridge anymore when I’m up late and I can’t sleep. It’s been replaced by a ticking clock, the air conditioner, sometimes I hear the dishwasher. I find snacks waiting for me, even at the latest hour. Sometimes I leave the TV on, sometimes it’s the washing machine. Even when I am exhausted the next day from being up all night, I can feel my heart being filled with the sing-song that is a livable life.