A Drive, a Dog, and a Question

Maybe I’m avoiding politics, or maybe it’s the restlessness that sometimes accompanies my cycle, even as it grows shorter and less reliable. Maybe it’s the fall air, warm for September yet still hinting at change. Maybe it’s being home with a puppy and Mani not feeling well, that sudden need to get out of the house.

I piled her into the backseat, on top of the seat cover we got so as not to destroy the car with fur. Pulled up a podcast I’ve been wanting to listen to, hit play, and started driving. As soon as we got on the highway, I felt like I’d made a mistake. Somehow, Chalupa had gotten herself underneath the seat cover, so now it was above her. Like a toddler in a fort, she panted and paced, and I regretted not harnessing her. I regretting getting in the car at all.

A wave of anxiety came over me.

With the dog panting, her head between the two front seats, eyes on the road — no joke — I kept my hands on the wheel. The internet cut out, and with it, the podcast, so it was just me, dog, traffic, and the question of why I had thought this would be a good idea. She was shedding all over the seats of Mani’s car. I imagined telling Mani about the whole outing when we got home. How it had seemed like a good idea at the time.

You may be wondering: What is she even talking about? Why is this a big deal? And rationally speaking, it wasn’t. An impulsive outing to a town 30 minutes north of here with my puppy in the backseat — maybe not the most relaxing choice, but certainly nothing to beat myself up about. And yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing as I drove, trying to soothe her, vividly reliving the days of having a baby and needing to do anything but stay home and driving, but instead of falling asleep, the baby just cries and your stress levels go up instead of down.

I pulled over at a Dunkin’ Donuts and walked around the side, then the back. Chalupa peed. She sniffed an abandoned stroller and I wondered what had happened there. Then Chalupa pooped and sniffed some more, before we walked back around to the front of the store. I opened the entrance door wide enough to ask the woman at the counter if we could have a cup of water, and she kindly brought one outside. Chalupa lapped it up, leaving a small puddle by her front paws, and I heaved her back into the backseat (she’s not quite tall enough to leap up herself).

It was not a relaxing outing.

I didn’t listen to the podcast. I didn’t even listen to music. Driving with doggles did not make Kavanaugh go away, nor the cold that has hit my family, one of us at a time over the past week. It didn’t alleviate my unfounded anxiety or give me any great ideas. I was just glad to get home. Apparently, Chalupa was, too; she is crashed out under the kitchen table now.

Some days, I feel this tug I can’t name. It’s part sad, part dull, part blank, part tired. It’s the parts of me I think of as less appealing. I am quiet, introverted. I don’t have much to say. I don’t have sparkles or glitter or pizzazz. I am just here. I am breathing. I am alive. It is a day.

When my kids were little, there were days when their dad would get home and I would be so done. Crazed to “get out” for a while. I would go bring my notebook to the lake, but didn’t always have much to write. I think it was more of an accompaniment, a gesture to myself, as if to say: I am still a writer, even though I have nothing to say.

Having nothing to say is scary for a writer.

And sometimes, it’s true. The words don’t form. The thoughts don’t click. The impetus misses its cue and leaves you alone on stage with no lines. The audience, though? There is no audience. Just a floor. a raised curtain, and row after row of red velvet seating.

In moments like these, the temptation is to make something of it. Like Daniel, Fudge’s little friend in the Judy Blume series, who always puts up his fists: “Wanna make something of it?”Always ready for battle, for struggle, for meaning, for implications — none of them good. But maybe that is one of the things I’ve learned in the intervening years since my babies were babies: There is no need to create a big story around a low-energy day, or a bout of restlessness, or a spike of anxiety. The world gives us plenty reason for all of these.

Still, I want to know why.

Why do I feel sad? Why do I feel blue? Why do I get myself into circumstances that exacerbate rather than alleviate stress?

It’s quiet now. Quiet outside — just Chalupa’s little breathing noises — and quiet inside. Thoughts of not being enough flit through my head, and I try to observe them the way you can at Magic Wings, the place on Route 5 where you can sit on a bench amidst hundreds of fluttering butterflies. They land, they alight. They hover, they lift. They feed, they rest.

The state of our country is weighing on me heavily today, like watching a train wreck in slow motion, car after car after car. Grief wells up in me, and I want to dive inward to find its source even as I know its source may be older and deeper than memory. Moments from my own childhood bubble up — moments when one of my parents was fearful or angry, moments when I froze or retreated. Consciousness feels like a strong current some days, and I worry about getting swept down the river.

On the way back this afternoon from the drive I might as well not have taken, I crossed the blue bridge over the Connecticut River. The water looked impenetrable from above, and I found myself imagining swimming across from one shore to the other. Would the water be warm or cold? Would there be a current? Would I make it?

Will we make it?

This is the question I’m carrying. At the beginning of the day when all is once again new, in the middle when hunger soars or energy dips, at the end when it is time to surrender all that remains undone, I wonder if we will make it. As a country. As a species. As humans with such deep capacity to love and also such terrifying ability to destroy.

I take refuge under a prayer shawl, in a pew, in a people. I seek shelter in ancient prayers and everyday tasks that give life meaning. And I hope it is enough. Yom Kippur is coming, and the stakes feel higher than ever.

3 thoughts on “A Drive, a Dog, and a Question

  1. Diane Flaherty says:

    I so admire that when you find yourself “alone on stage with no lines” you find a way to write down what you’re feeling! My way is not to write but to go to reading from others who express what I’m feeling. Thank you for being one of my “go to” writers, Jena.


  2. em-i-lis says:

    Jena, This beautiful post resonated so deeply with me.

    “Some days, I feel this tug I can’t name. It’s part sad, part dull, part blank, part tired. It’s the parts of me I think of as less appealing. I am quiet, introverted. I don’t have much to say. I don’t have sparkles or glitter or pizzazz. I am just here. I am breathing. I am alive. It is a day.”
    That tug!

    “I am still a writer, even though I have nothing to say.” Oh, how haunted I’ve been by having nothing to say lately. Or haven’t I but lack the words or the courage or the spirit to name it all?

    Part of my flatness is grief. And anger. And worry. The world my children and yours are growing up in is not well. It’s not what we want for them. For us. And it’s hard.

    Love you, Em



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