Everything You Should Be
It's a slow drip out your feet as soon as you step out of bed in the morning, leaving a trail of confidence behind. More of you goes down the drain when you shower, and you imagine some of it like the strands of hair that you untangle from your fingers, and shake into the trash. By the time you put on your shoes, you are tired.
Brush teeth, brush hair, brush away the parts of your life that you enjoy. They won't be back today, probably.
Put on clothes and get in your car and put on lipstick at a stoplight. Park and walk up the stairs and collapse at your desk. The day is starting, but you are over. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe when things are okay, you will be okay.
Some of my earliest memories are marked by Scarcity, and it's evil twin, Anxiety. I was a happy, sparkly, brown-haired little kid. I remember making jokes and new friends and chasing imaginary ponies down the block. But I was also a kid who woke up with night terrors about the rapture and never told to my parents, because they already had five of us by then. My name means diligent, and I used to hate that word, but it's led me for all of my life.
I diligently gathered up a collection of Shoulds. I picked up Shoulds for years in all the places you find your ideas, and stowed them under my futon, alongside my diary with the tiny key and hot air balloon on the front.
I should be pretty. I should be nice. I should obey. I should work hard. I should be an example to the younger kids. I should be a leader. I should be submissive. I should be worth it. I should be smart. I should be okay. I should make it on my own. I should pray. I should be modest. I should be liked. I should be holy, because God is. I should be okay. I should be should be should be should be should be.
I started a lot of my entries “Dear Dairy,” and I’m still not great at spelling.
There's a girl who lives in the condo below us. Or, below and beside us, really. Our house is what is called the "carriage unit," a phrase I didn't hear until I moved to southern California, where homes are "units" squeezed into every awkward bit of space, rather than single structures surrounded by grass. Our home is nested over three garages, tucked into the unused space between the other, bigger houses. We don't have a view, but the other two units do. The girl is about 12, I think, because I can see that her limbs are stretching awkwardly, but she doesn’t wear makeup, and smiles shyly at me when I wave at her while I roll the trash bins out to our curb. She and her friend with a long blonde ponytail are playing in the driveway while the clouds are turning pink. They alternate between taking selfies and tossing a large blue ball high in the air, giggling. The ball catches the light and looks purple.
What has to go wrong before you admit that you need more help than you are getting? When you drive home in the dark and realize, blocks away from your destination, that you didn't turn on your headlights? Where do you think you can hide from your Shoulds, when they have been with you for your whole life, maybe since your cells were multiplying twice, four, sixteen times? Why do you keep insisting that you are okay, even when people ask if you are okay, because they know you aren't? How many therapists do you have to see in a year, hoping just talking will help, before you ask for medication?
What has to go wrong before you admit that you need more help than you are getting?
When I get a flash of clarity and strength, I immediately decide where to spend it.
My mind gets a paycheck and I have bills overdue. Tonight, I spend my hard earned brain cash on baking. I press butter into (gluten-free) flour with my hands, and notice my nails. I need to paint my nails, because the current color is half chipped away. You can tell how I'm keeping up with Everything I Should by the condition my nail polish. I mentally put "paint nails" on the To Do list of things I won't get done this week, and set it on fire.
I measure teaspoons of baking soda and salt, then pour out buttermilk in globs; I roll the dough out with the hand-made rolling pin my parents gave me for my birthday several years ago. It is smooth cherry wood, strong and solid. It does its job.
Have you ever been jealous of a rolling pin?
I roll and fold and roll out the dough, and fold again, knowing I am probably working the dough too much. But this is the most soothing part, so I don't mind. My biscuits will be dense and clumsy, but I am making them. I cut them into hearts.