Overwhelmed, as I was today, with posts in my reader that mostly had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day (today)? Well be overwhelmed some more! Stream of Consciousness… ah, crap, the prompt was for Attachments, not—… Well, I guess an addiction to work could be considered an attachment, no? No. Whatever, it was written without edits beyond typos & name/pronoun clarity fixes, so you can see how good or BAD a writer I am. Enjoy it or skip it. About 1,300 words. (Update: added paragraph indentation.)
She had to pick up the kids from the day care. She had to find the keys first.
It was a heavy, hectic day, and she, a mother of four, could hardly read the shopping list let alone the tax form due in a week.
Abigail had worried about this kind of day happening, and it happened. But it wasn’t the kids that overwhelmed her, it was her job. Or set of jobs, sometimes having to work with extended hours.
She thought it was a fine idea to drink the night before, after the kids had gone to sleep. Friends were over, or rather the friends that remained since entering her thirties, with high school and college pals falling by the wayside. Part of their reasons—those that moved on—was the fact that she had married young, but divorced, and still became unavailable. Another was that she’d matured on the surface. (Having kids can only push you so much there.) And, of course, she was stuck in one place, where a few would be forced to physically move on.
Abby didn’t have a hangover, but she might as well. Her morning job consisted of mind-boggling forms at the office. She was finally able to leave the cubicle, but her desk had piled up more than she could’ve imagined. To make matters worse, she had made a few too many obligations with friends and neighbors.
Like all Thursdays, she did not see the avalanche coming. Relatively, her paperwork was excruciatingly boring but lighter on count.
It was just something about this day, though. It didn’t feel odd, and there were no question marks demanding her ever-presence. She was spread thin, but for this moment, shy of noon, it all seemed meaningless. She had overextended herself into an existential crisis.
“Is this…what they call, a quarter-life crisis? No, I’m thirty-one.”
But she didn’t have one. It surprised her husband, in fact, that she let go for so long. She supported the kids well, and him too, but the surreality of her behavior scared him even more than the fact that they had four kids.
“Oh, God, what am I going to do?”
She started to feel hollow. She played nice but never blatantly lied to anyone. She was, more or less, transparent, and now she was invisible, or would be without the kids.
She called him.
“Ben, I-I-I… I need your help. Normally, I would not be calling unless I… Everything just feels so real and unreal at the same time. Ben?”
Long ago, he had awaited this day, that she would come to terms, and see what he would see. But too much time had passed, and it was water under the bridge.
“Yeah. I’m here. I’m not sure what I can do, though.”
An unrecognizable office worker passed her office in the hall—a nearly bald man in his fifties, maybe sixties. Abby felt so hollow for this moment that the man passing the office might as well have his name on a post-it on his forehead, that it would seem normal to her. But for some reason the thought got her to snap out of her tangent. She recalled the fact that Ben now lived in another state.
“Oh, uh—I’m sorry. I know you’re…two-hundred miles away. But everything seems so…I don’t know how to describe it.”
“You feel lost?” Ben replied.
Abby adjusted her hand on the phone. “Yeah. Yeah.”
“Like you can handle it, but it’s become pointless—or feels like it has?”
“Yeah—how do you know so much?”
Ben sighed over the phone. “I felt the same way. Before you pushed me out.”
“I didn’t push you out.”
But that’s what it felt like to him. He could handle a family of four. But he couldn’t handle feeling like he was being erased. He could be selfless for only so long. Like her, he saw friends, and tried to escape every weekend. But it still became too much. Too much without reason. She caught him lying about where he was, and considered it part of her job to set him straight. He gave up a month later.
“It was insane, Abby,” Ben said. And just the way it sounded, through the tiny speaker of the phone, reasonated with her. She was no longer on the same plain with him. But just that word, “insanity.”
“You’re right. Yes, yes, absolutely. And I’m sorry.”
He wanted to say it was too late for sorrys, but now he empathized with her enough that he wanted to help. He’d a girlfriend at this point. He still loved Abby, but he couldn’t possibly love the inability to make things work. He paid child support, and visited when he could, but nothing was calm when he did.
She understood he was overwhelmed the time they divorced, and said she was willing to change things to keep the house in check, to keep him. But the light in her eye wasn’t there. She wasn’t true with herself, and he knew it. He tried for so long, and no parallel was met.
“But what can I—”
Her boss entered, interrupting her sentence. It was unusual to Abby that her boss, a woman, wore a pencil skirt. And flesh-colored lipstick. Abby expected her to enter with a folder, papers—something, but Lee-Ann’s hands were free.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to have to call you back.” Abby was overwhelmed by the elements that passed her by in only a few minutes.
“Say, why don’t you take the day off,” Lee-Ann said. “I know you’ve been busy…more than I could handle, to tell you the truth. And since the promotion, I just thought you could have a real break.”
Lee-Ann never spoke like this to Abby. “Uh, yeah.” Abby was on auto-pilot for eight years, and now she was almost terrified of herself, slipping further. But it was the logical thing to do in this situation. “Thank you.”
Abby wondered why her boss had a change of heart. And then it hit her: Lee-Ann didn’t know. She was hard on Abby pretty much because Abby wanted the work.
“Oh, my God,” Abby said.
“I don’t think a day off would be enough. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m supposed to pick my sons up from day care. I have a dental appointment tomorrow. My life is slipping away, and I don’t know what to do. And it’s not the routines that are getting to me. It’s that…my whole life right now…it’s nothing but routines. Absolutely nothing.” Abby put her hands on the top of her head.
Lee-Ann shifted. “Let me get you a cup of water.”
Abby didn’t need to pant. But she did it anyway. It was time to break out of her routine. It was time to stand where she would normally sit. But she worked herself up too far.
The boss entered with the water, but Abby needed to hit the bathroom.
Abby hugged the toilet as she purged. Already, she welcomed the change, frightening as it may have been. Not for one instance would she give up on her children, but she knew she needed a load off. Day care couldn’t fix the problem if she still worked sixteen hours a day. Working when she was home and working when she was paid.
The sudden change surprised everyone. Abby’s boss gave her the rest of the week off. After a heart-felt and relaxed day with the kids, who could barely speak English but understood well enough that she was different, that things were going to be different, sent the kids off to visit her parents.
Freddie, however, having been through the insanity the longest, doubted much of a change. Abby, sleeping in, would recover, but now she’d fear her eldest child would become an anarchist or a slob. But today was her day. Her day to finally be together with herself, after so damn long.