Starting over. I’m so tired of those words, so weary of standing by Mr. Coffee with eyes burning and certain of my grimace in spite of myself, knowing I need to ungrimace as I’ve been gritting my teeth at night and surely there will be a price to pay.
That price stretches beyond what I know already: the ache in my jaw in the morning when I wake though it’s 4 a.m. and I’m anxious to maneuver myself back into dream, though it’s 5 a.m. and I’m blinking at the alarm, though it’s 6 a.m. and I surrender, dulled and motionless in front of the bag of French Roast. How vulnerable I feel.
Here, I replay my reluctant refrain: I’m starting over at starting over again, and this is the least of it – cutting back from six cups a day or maybe eight to two cups a day or maybe three.
I open the freezer and reach for the grainy-seedy-fiber-filled bread for toast, tempting when my stomach spells out “feed me” in a series of small nervy growls that won’t emerge for hours yet, though I contemplate a nibble of something with the dark roast as it brews. And I opt to grab a big big bowl-like cup and imagine myself very very French by beginning the day with café au lait as I formulate a seriously flawed equation wherein I know I ought to be solving for x or y or some other algebraic stand-in.
Damned if I’m coherent enough to know where to place the abc’s much less xyz’s as I try to reconcile the left side to the right in its abundant absurdity; this, the only morning reckoning I possess:
coffee + coffee + coffee + coffee + coffee + coffee = 1/2 coffee + 1/2 milk
It’s only natural for a coffee lover to wonder how in the hell that will ever do.
I peek in the recently cleared out then refilled-with-healthy-fresh-food fridge, now with its Vitamin C additions and Vitamin D additions and additions of everything theoretically energy-renewing that I can afford. I scoot the bottle of orange juice closer to the front (for later, with toast), I shut the door, I find I’m utterly disinterested in anything but the spectacularly aromatic ground coffee I’m not consuming, and whatever else is required to start over at starting over, again.
This is the brave new world of women and wanting and work and wanting and feeling wanting, wherever we may find ourselves: we want for the better lover or the better orgasm, for the bigger breasts or perkier breasts or any breasts at all; we want for money in the bank or a bank that doesn’t hover over the shoulder as we write out the monthly checks or click the keys to move digital dollars with equal distress; we want for the vacuum that pushes itself and the kids that don’t call for loans, and whether we’re wanting for work or simply wanting without knowing what we want is hardly the point considering we’re still sucking in our gut like we were twenty years ago, and fretting over our appearance like we were twenty years ago, and questioning ourselves like we were twenty years ago though admittedly in a different light. Now, we’re sighing over our BMI or BP or B12 not to mention the egregious effects of earth’s gravitational pull on all-parts-headed-south.
Which brings me to the South.
Generally, I love All Parts South with their heavy-handed heat and splendid sunshine and slightly less clamorous pace, the sensual south of anywhere and the South of France especially which, at the very thought, pings resentment at Twenty-Years-Stuck-in-One-Place, so it’s only natural that I’m thinking of starting over at starting over, or at least imagining starting over so I can gear myself up for actualization: Perhaps I could manage a city in the south like Aix or even Avignon though I know Aix and I don’t know Avignon other than a child’s sing-song voice of a charming bridge set in the sensations of innocence and dancing.
I conjure a sandwich board to drop heavily over my head and shoulders that allows for the delicate display of a pretty décolletage so I may appeal from all angles; I will stride up and down the bicycle lane of a nearby near-highway, letters boldly emblazoned into Fightin’ Words and Writin’ Words: Will Work For Ticket to Paris. From Paris of course I could catch the TGV to just about anywhere in the South and even, were I so inclined, to keep going (at last) to Italy.
Instead, I opt for the Reality Task List on my usual morning plate though I am oh so indignantly and inadequately fueled by one half coffee and one half milk in a big big very very French blue shiny glazed bowl.
I consider the necessity of resurrecting the annual cleaning frenzy I embark upon with gusto and resolve each Spring, which may mean the end of February or the middle of moody March or the foolish first of April: Color-coded folders are waiting to be tucked into their rightful slots in stacked see-through storage boxes, magazines and books toppled from once organized towers glower for lack of attention, skirts in wool and linen and silk and knit tops and satiny camisoles snarl from the chair where I tossed them weeks ago as I tried them on and, to my surprise, found them fitting though they languish in full view so I might come up with a place to wear them – other than Paris.
I consider retrieving the wardrobe wonders and returning them to their padded cloth hangers in toile and red satin and silvery metal with clips and even the old wire hangers from the days of the dry cleaner and the corporate life.
Must I really start over at starting over with the clothes, the papers, the books, the everything that accumulates as the hours pour into a cavernous well of days disappearing too quickly as I work, or work at working, or write, or work at writing, or dream – and now too often – must work at dreaming?
I feel the press of the rush and it isn’t caffeine. Starting over as we know is Big Business, but starting over at starting over is a big pain and no one talks about the drama of it, the gut-grinding terror of it, the recidivism; no one warns us of the overly aggressive goals or the insidious self-sabotage, the bumpy path to anything sustainable whether it’s health or relationship or career or even a place to hang your feather-adorned fedora and call it home; no one reminds us that life is after all a bumpy road at 40 and at 30 and no doubt at 60 and at 70 as well as at half a century which rings roundly but is its own mixed bag. And you’re hungry, you’re so hungry for someone who will speak up and tell the truth as we know it but never dares.
Couldn’t we possibly admit that we are the same in our heads at 50 as we are at 20 or 30, that we are the same in our heads at 60 as we are at 15 and at 35, that our dreams resolutely recall each glowing moment as we might recreate it?
I caution myself against other sweeping statements as desperate for coffee I know myself to be unreliable. I will nonetheless assert that the glitzy promotion of starting over at any age in any place is only half the story and possibly less for half a century of Real Life, and all of it impossible to attain on half a cup of coffee consumed with half a cup of warmed milk.
There is Paris that was waiting for me for years, Paris with a lover whose face I can still nearly touch, Paris itself my lover of four decades, longer than any friendship and longer than any affair of the human-to-human heart and longer than any endeavor other than tap tapping away at a keyboard on a Smith Corona and then a Selectric and then a Thinkpad and then a Dell and then an HP and another Dell, and of course the small blue composition notebook and the Claire Fontaines with their tiny grids and the sheets of paper now yellow and tucked in folders tucked in drawers tucked in boxes tucked away behind baby jackets and letters from a dead mother and plastic containers of spare 40-watt chandelier bulbs for a chandelier I no longer own in a house I no longer inhabit in a life I no longer recall.
Amend that. I recall only too well though through a haze and even then, there was Paris waiting, Paris as the last resort and first love, Paris as the Destination-When-My-Children-Are-Grown and of course When-I-Am-Free-To-Start-Over, but maybe we are never as free as we think or we are freer than we realize and starting over at starting over is possible if we can just envision it again with the help of a little more caffeine.
And I don’t know where to go or what to begin as I’ve begun so much simultaneously orchestrating the harmony of that So Much, and though it continues and I register progress, the weariness is pressing and the hair grays all the same and Any-Thoughts-Of-Life-Otherwise fade as well and nudge me into asking if this is what growing old is about: leaving behind the 30-year-old self, though you know you’re still there but no one else can see you; acceptance of another number, though it is so foreign as to seem like an alien system of digits; tracking a face in the mirror, though it couldn’t possibly possess a valid passport much less a bag at the ready and a wallet full of Euros and the fortitude to hop the R. E. R. to the Péripherique and then two lines or maybe three to make it into the fourth, to breathe and walk and of course to sit outside in a chair with an oval back in a smooth tight weave where at last, you sip un bon café.
Paris, waiting as a perch, as welcoming as any aging haven, as methodical in her end of the rendez-vous bargain as the old whore with more tricks up her sleeve than you can imagine though you know a few of them from visiting her soaking haunts and her dirty streets as well as the lit and fashionable spots we all mention in our postcards to envious friends; Paris, waiting as home-never-quite-home which is just as true a label for anywhere else; Paris, where suffice it to say there is no I-Have-Arrived Place of Permanence for some of us (or all of us), like the last City Dwelled and the One Before That. There is only the constancy of scaling ever more imposing peaks and sliding back on whichever slopes slippery or otherwise we previously vanquished with some success, the slippage startling in its miscalculations and humbling in our lack of preparation, and so we murmur “ah, the economy of the 21st century” (or the media or the government or marriage or institution of your choice) as we settle into starting over at starting over as the only true normalcy we may enjoy, but less so when the glass reveals just how exhausted we really are.
Still, another cup of café au lait piping hot and jazzed by a few drops of Chanel on the neck and a lick of mascara on each and every lash will soften the reflection, and we whisper that we are the same in all the ways that count and better in others, so perhaps starting over at starting over again isn’t entirely out of the picture.
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