Thursday, December 03, 2009

Too much

Standing in an enormous exhibit hall, I finally had a moment where I could check my messages.

“Katie,” PrettyHair greeted my voice mail (she said I had pretty hair the other day – it made me smile). “TinyFriend and I are in a cab going back to the hotel to get luggage. Then we’re catching the train. I, um, guess you’re taking the bus back home. I’ll leave the departure details in a text message.”

Her voice had been mildly guilty and I frowned darkly despite myself. The fact was that I had planned to take the bus back. There were a few options for coming home – a thing I desperately wanted to do since my head ached miserably – and people were taking various paths.

Now I rather like trains. Taking this one would have meant I could leave the show flow nearly three hours earlier. But while it was the more attractive choice, it was less sensible. The company sponsored bus was free while the train plus cab to where I’d left my car would have ended up being $100 or so. I also had meetings scheduled for later in the day so taking the train would have involved either excuses based on lies or an admission that I was tired and cranky and wanted to go home.

So I was going to stay late and take the bus. But I did not communicate that to my colleagues and I was, standing there surrounded by people talking and laughing in pairs or groups, furious that I’d been abandoned.

“Yes,” I answered my phone when PrettyHair called again. “I know,” I replied when she said they’d left.

“Well,” she paused, trying to think since I’m rarely that sharp with people at work. “I hope you get home safely.”

“Fine. Bye.” I replied, snapping my phone closed and reaching desperately for a sense of professional calm as I returned to questioning customers.

It was when I returned to the coat room two hours later that I began to feel sad. I mechanically tugged my suitcase from its spot in the corner and balanced my laptop bag atop it. I draped my coat over my arm and unclipped my badge from my suit jacket. I rode a couple of escalators, pausing to ask security for directions to the gate where my bus would depart, and got lost twice while trying to navigate the bridges and tunnels and endless choices of moving stairs. I had a snack at a table alone, pretending to read while feeling terribly isolated from people around me.

There were a number of buses outside when I found the properly numbered gate, the smell of exhaust nearly overwhelming. I looked around, knowing I was stuck in my head when I was unable to even imagine asking every driver if he could go to where I wanted. I looked around, feeling lost and confused, and pounced on the first woman who wore the same distinctive badge I’d removed from my jacket earlier.

“Are you going back to headquarters?” I asked, ready to burst into tears if she said no. She didn’t, smiling and motioning that I should follow her to one of the buses near the end of the row, offering to help with my luggage that I dragged behind me. I sagged with relief once I was settled in my seat, cuddled against my suitcase for comfort. I finished some email as we waited for more people to board, closing my laptop to embrace the darkness when the driver extinguished the lights and began to accelerate to join the flow of traffic outside.

“I’ve been reading,” I told one of the business leaders over fish and chips one evening, “and one theory is that depression is an overreaction to negative emotional stimulation.” This man, one I like and admire, nodded and nudged the malt vinegar bottle toward me. I nodded my thanks. “So when something bad happens, the brain responds more and longer than normal.”

“And that’s why you seem so sad sometimes,” he said quietly and I nodded.

“I just overreact,” I replied. “And though the medication helps, I still get lost in it sometimes.”

I felt overwhelmed there in the bus, sitting as I was in the third row, as far from the others as I could manage. There was a man behind me who would laugh now and again and something inane. It was all I could do not to turn and demand he stop. That he respect my pain and disappointment and feelings of abandonment and remain silent as we stopped and started depending on the will of traffic around us. I would tense each time he chuckled, gritting my teeth and closing my eyes and silently begging for conversations to cease.

I thought of the latest person to be done with me in a personal sense, smiling rather bitterly when I realized I’d thought I’d be the one to be done with him first. I do alienate people, I acknowledged, eager to make the break before they can decide I’m no longer worthwhile. But I’m sometimes inefficient. I grow increasingly skilled at keeping people at a distance and shoving at anyone who manages to get too close. When wondering if that was as horrible as it sounded became unpleasant, I let my mind go blank while I stared out the window.

I felt brittle with stress by the time we arrived at the building, stepping awkwardly from the bus while coaxing my suitcase down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. I waited for a woman to reach me, smiling weakly when she emerged.

“I’m sorry,” I said first. “My friends were supposed to come with me, but they didn’t and my car is over there,” I motioned and winced that it was more than a mile. “I could walk,” I offered.

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “It’s late and cold – I don’t mind taking you.”

I nodded, following her to her car and waving before throwing my suitcase in the back of the Jeep and tucking myself behind the steering wheel. I sighed, momentarily euphoric to be back in control of my transportation. I called my parents, spending my commute home catching up and asking them to bring Chienne back to me on Friday. The entire crew will arrive – Brother, his girlfriend, Little and Smallest Ones, Mom, Dad, Chienne and – if caught – Mr. Sprout. I checked my mood and realized I wanted them here. Pleased, I decided it might have been stress and exhaustion that made me react so strongly to taking the bus on my own. Not a big deal at all.

TinyFriend called just as I was pulling into my garage and I glared at the phone before answering.

“Hi,” I replied to her tentative greeting. “Did you need something?” I listened as she said she only wanted to make sure I’d arrived home. “Just now,” I answered, barely managing not to snap out the words. “I’m fine. Good night.”

Realizing I was furious and hurt once again, I came inside, only to wince when there was no happy canine to offer joyful greetings. I sat on the floor to unpack my suitcase, throwing laundry in a pile by the steps and leaving toiletries inside the bag to tug upstairs with me. Not wanting to analyze the day or my reaction to it, I said a quick prayer that I’d fall asleep quickly, turned the television on the lowest volume to keep me company and went to sleep.

It is a big deal, I thought as I drifted off. But I don't know how to change it so we'll leave this post sans suitable conclusion.


microbiologist xx said...

I understand totally about keeping people at a distance or cutting people out of your life before they do the same to you. I tend to do that too, and it's really a difficult habit to break. I don't know how much better I am doing with the friends and family I have managed to retain as some of them have described me as secretive since I tend not to share.

JaneB said...

Life is hard, that's a nasty truth. I hope you were just very tired, and that that made everything worse, so that things seem less of a big deal now - and that your puppy is helping

Anonymous said...

I hope you feel better soon! Recently (and taking advantage of the caffeine break while I was really sick with a cold/flu and wanting to sleep through a couple of sick days), I quit all consumption of caffeine. Surprisingly, it's made me feel less stressed out and more productive at work - no more jitters that make me waste time and no more moments of anxiety or sadness when I try to sleep at night. If I crave a warm drink in the morning, I just make a cup of hot, mint (herbal) tea and add some honey.

Anyway, I'm recommending going "caffeine free" to everyone I know who's stressed out. Yes, times are really stressful, but who needs caffeine to compound that stressed-out feeling?

Wishing you happier holidays ahead,

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