A woman raised her hand, and paused dramatically before stating “I think we need to be aware of the problems divorce causes. I see it at school, and I can see straight away who the kids from broken and divorced homes are – they are psychologically damaged, and are incredibly emotionally needy. We need to recognise that, and it’s one reason why..” and I deliberately turned the volume switch hard to the right in my head, drowning out the rest of her smug comment about how wonderful her marriage was and blah blah blah. I waited until the Relief Society teacher had asked another question, someone else answered, then I gathered my bag and simply walked out. Out of the room, out down the hall, out, further out, to my car, where I dropped my bag into the boot, dropped myself into the driver’s seat, and listened to the tense, rapid seethe of my breathing. Maybe I should have stayed, I considered, tension flaring across my fists. I probably should have spoken up, I suggested, half-heartedly.
Nope. I stated, definitively. Not after this week. That would have been too much. I could still go in, I acknowledged. Be the voice of a reality they don’t know or understand.
I considered, listening to nothing but the tight hiss of my mood, until the throb of my heartbeat eased from my ears, until my breath ebbed softly from my lips, until the drizzle smudged the windscreen mottled silver and greys.
I’m not going back in, I decided. This is me being kind to myself.
Surprised, and grateful, I simply sat, and did nothing but let the stress drift out and quietly fog the corners of the windows.
It has not been a good week.
In the course of the last eight days, between the two of them, the boys have outgrown three sets of shoes. THREE. All of which are needed for school/everyday use. They are also going through a growth spurt, this time at the same time so they are both cranky and tired and out of sorts and ravenous… it’s not good for relaxing evenings, I have to say.
Money is tight. I did the math, and knew exactly when I could afford to buy my tickets to the USA. Anxiety had eaten everything soft and vulnerable in my belly, though, and last Sunday I was having second- to ninehundredbillionandeleventy-hundred thoughts about going. Last Sunday Wong was off colour, so I stayed home from church with him (and stressed about not teaching my class yet again, despite the Sunday School President’s reassurances that he understood and cheered my being a Mum first – I hate feeling I’ve failed my responsibilities so, so much). I had my tithing settlement interview with Bishop later that afternoon.
“How you doing, Sel?” he asked.
“I’m okay, thanks.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me, “Only okay?”
“Some days or weeks, Bishop, being just okay is a win. I’m fine, the boys are fine, I’m okay. Not brilliant, but that’s okay.”
He raised an eyebrow at me again, then started the settlement. Putting his serious face on, Bishop asked me if I paid a full tithe this year.
“Yep, I did.”
He shook his head at me. “I don’t know how you do it, Sel. A single Mum, two boys, working and being a Mum and your calling, and paying a full tithe. You’re amazing. You really are.”
I shook my head, disagreeing. “You are, Sel. How are you not a great Mum? Are the boys okay? Are you okay?”
“Bishop, the boys are fine, I’m fine, I’m just tired. I had no intention of coming in here and crying,” – I pulled a tissue out of the box on his desk at this point, wiping my eyes “it’s just been a hard week. I feel like I can’t do everything I’m meant to do, or want to do, and doing it all sometimes is…. Ugh.” I laughed in frustration, wiping at my leaky eyes.
“Sel, you’re not meant to do it all. You’re not. You are doing an amazing job with your boys. Really. What about America – when are you going?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know if I should even go anymore.”
“It just seems…. Selfish. To leave them. I’m all they have Bishop. Me, 24/7, nobody else in my family, just me. And I’m thinking of going away, for two weeks without them? It’s selfish.” The tissue died between my fingers, a sodden, torn mess still being mangled as I spoke.
“Wait,” he said, “We’ve had this conversation before. Sel, go to America. It’s not selfish. The boys will be fine. You have someone to look after them, it’ll even be good for them. It’ll be good for you. Think of how you’ll feel getting back, batteries charged and having done…Go to America, go out and have FUN. No responsibilities, except relaxing and doing what you want. You’ll email the boys, ring them, but it’s not being selfish, Sel, not at all.”
“You need to take time out for yourself, Sel, or you’re going to burn out. If you could have one day to yourself, to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?”
Immediately I blurted “Go somewhere where I didn’t have to talk to anyone.” He blinked, startled, and I laughed. “Seriously, Bishop, it’s what I’d do. Go for a walk on the beach, just relax somewhere with nobody asking or needing anything…”
Bishop looked at me, kindness and strength evident. “Sel, go to America. You know you need to. It will be good for you, and it’s not selfish. Go, and enjoy yourself, and don’t worry about the boys. They have heaps of us to look after them while you’re gone.”
He spoke, and the stress trilling in my belly was calmly swallowed by a warm bundle of clarity. I’m going to America, and it will be a good thing. Good for me, good for my sons. Peace uncoiled through me, flowing through my veins like warm caramel. I’d book the tickets during the week, before the flights got any more expensive. It would all work out, and be an amazing experience. Settlement done (in more ways than tithing), I returned home, back to my boyos, humming hymns of praise and thanksgiving.
I booked my tickets on Monday. My travel-agent friend even arranged an extra day in Texas, at no change to the flight costs, which caused excitement to start fizzing and spark deep inside. The charge went through, money switched banks and it was official – I’m going to the USA in August. It was a great end to Monday, driving home with the reservation happening in my ear. Then the week kind of exploded.
We have been down two people at work, which has meant trying to cover other people’s jobs, plus management have added more (insanely useless) paperwork, which has further increased the time it takes to complete a task, which then escalates the simmering tension between office and warehouse staff. The paperwork also affects the truck drivers, which they are not happy about either, and while they are for the most part a great bunch of guys, any whining is still whining. All small niggles, when taken individually, but all together an itching rash of boils has descended.
Tuesday, at the busiest point of the day, the fire alarm went off at work. It’s a major hazard facility, so it’s taken incredibly seriously. I’m a fire warden (and designated first aider), so I got to put on my sexy hardhat, grab a walkie-talkie and haul butt through the facility, hollering into every shed as I went to check for injured or missing staff. Buildings cleared, I reported to my boss, and then walked a couple of hundred metres around the block to the designated safety area, where we waited for the firemen to arrive. Half an hour later, we were allowed back on site. I left work at 630 that night, bone tired, realising I wouldn’t see Hatro until he got home after Young Men’s at about 9pm. I got home just after 7, to find the electric frypan still on, the boys’ chores undone and Wong bouncing around super-excited because he’d received his first birthday party invitation since moving here eighteen months ago. I had two glasses of Milo for dinner, scrubbed the black from under my nails, and started work on the kitchen.
Wednesday, as I was unloading another unscheduled delivery (yet another source of frustration the manager in question is impressively belligerent about, the stomping little Machiavellian dictator) my supervisor came up to my forklift and indicated I should turn it off.
“You’ve lost your windscreen.” Baffled, I checked my mirrors – yep, just as I remembered, my fork had zero windscreens to start with.
“You’ve lost your windscreen. On your car.” I blew out a huff, shrugged; half laughed and said “Of course I have.”
My supervisor looked at me, suddenly wary.
“What happened?” I asked, stretching my back out against the seat, bracing for the latest calamity.
“Three of the guys and I were out the front having smoko, a ute sped past, then all of a sudden CRACK – Garth nearly crapped himself, he was sitting closest – and your windscreen shattered. It’s still held in by the tint, but it’ll need to be fixed. Why don’t you go ring someone, and get them to fix it this afternoon.”
The twanging, labouring cord of deliberate calm broke. Visions of growing feet, airline tickets and power bills danced behind my sunnies. “I CAN’T get it fixed,” I snapped. “I can’t afford it.”
My supervisor took a surprised half step back, but already I had my hands up, placating, apologising. "Sorry, it’s okay. I’ll ring my insurance and see if they’ll cover it. Right after I finish unloading.” An hour later – again, at the busiest part of the day – I stalked out the front to assess the damage.
Sure enough, the entire rear windscreen was a sparkly mosaic, only held in place by the tint. That it happened was an incredible demonstration physics, trigonometry and Murphy’s Law. I was parallel parked against the kerb, with cars tightly close to the front and rear, and the rock had hit way over to the left of the glass, with enough velocity to shatter the entire window. There was even crumbs of glass on the roof! I spent what would have been my lunch break and an extra half hour being transferred between my insurance company (“No, sorry, no window coverage is showing on your policy”) and the Window Extortions R Us company (“We have the window in stock, but the only appointment we have is a window from 4-7pm – is that suitable?”) “Are you sure?” I asked the insurance people, and “Sure” I sighed to the glassy pirates, who would be relieving me of nearly $500 for replacing my love note from an anonymous rock. $500 that I didn’t have until payday.
I rang my Mum, hating the necessity and embarrassment of it. She answered the phone, delighted to hear my voice, and I explained what had just happened to my car. I was reassuring her that I was fine and not in the car, when the fire alarm began squalling through the site. “Mum, I have to ring you back because I’m at work and the stupid bloody fire alarm’s just gone off… I’ll ring you back.”
Tension was radiating like sunburn from my knees to shoulders as I stalked into the office, and up to the unknown visitor at the fire alarm panel. “Tell me if this is for real, or just a test” I bluntly commanded, sunnies still on, hand squeezing the electronic juices from my phone. “Uh, it’s just a test?” he hopefully answered. “Thank you,” I responded, turning away. “Hey Poppy, can you let James know the ‘This is just a test’ announcement can’t be heard out the front?” I asked going by her desk, on my way out the front yet again. Breathe, Sel, I told myself. Breathe.
Hit redial, Mum picked up and within seconds she was telling me to breathe through my tears. “Hey, I’ll pay for the window, don’t worry about it,” she chided me. “Now, what’s going on?”
I feel like I’m being kicked while I’m down, king-hit with a crow bar, pushed underwater by an elephant… “I’m trying so, SO hard, and it’s just not working” I sobbed out, mortified to be crying to my Mum at the grand age of 36, sounding like a four year old.
“Hey, hey – I KNOW you’re trying hard, Sel, it’s the only way you do things. And it IS working. Take a deep breath.” She waited while I sucked in a wobbly lungful. “And another one…” Again I pulled in breath around the rough edges of my sobs. “You are doing an amazing job, you stubborn girl. Are you sleeping properly? Working overtime?” I mumbled no and yes and dried my eyes on my high-vis jacket. “Go and put the window on this credit card,” she instructed, quickly rattling off the details, “and quit worrying about everything. Really. It will work out. It’s only money, right?”
I calmed down a little more while Mum chattered about my Nan’s plans to visit her, what the dog had been doing to the hose… When I could talk in complete sentences, I thanked her, swapped I love you’s, then went back to work.
I am going to America, I told myself, over and over and over again. Loading trucks, counting cartons and pallets, chasing paperwork and herding forms I repeated it like a mantra. I am going to America. The tickets are booked. I am going to America.
The afternoon provided some welcome gratitude draughts as well. “Hey,” my supervisor stated, stopping between me and the stock I was cataloguing. “Don’t take this week’s hours as flex – take it as paid overtime.”
“But I thought management doesn’t want overtime?” I reminded him.
“Tough.” He replied flatly. “If they want us to work understaffed, and still expect us to meet quota and deadlines, they can pay for it.” He lowered his head until he had my full attention. “Get paid for your overtime, Sel. Yesterday’s and today’s hours should go a good way to paying off your window. You already have most of the hours you need for your holiday with flex, and we’re only just into June. Take the overtime hours, Sel. Make the buggers pay” he grinned at me. So, without doubt, this was a definite blessing. I’m looking forward to seeing what my next pay will be.
Then, my phone rang again. “Hello, Sel, it’s Capt’n Bloke from Glass Pirates and Extortions – is there any chance we could come and fix your window in the next hour? You won’t be able to drive the car for at least an hour afterwards, or would 4-7 tonight work better?” I nearly bit my tongue off trying to quickly agree to the early appointment. A young guy was at the front reception within half an hour of the call, my window was replaced, and it would be more than ready to drive home by the time my day ended. Thank you, I breathed, the prayer sparkling against the glass and sunlight and shiny new window. Thank you for this tender mercy.
Thursday and Friday had me stuck driving a desk instead of a forklift, covering for Poppy who had two days leave. I hated it. The paperwork mountain had exploded into a towering, convoluted mountain range of scanning, filing, paper-handling and timelines since I’d last covered for her, for no discernible cause or worth, other than management had decreed it. The days were long, tedious, and made me even more exhausted at the end of each day.
Friday, I rang the boyos on my way home. “Get socks and shoes on – we’re going shoe shopping.”
“What? At 7 at night?” Wong squawked, amazed. “Yep, it’s now or tomorrow, and I really, REALLY don’t want to tomorrow.” I sighed at the thought and at the traffic snagged around the next corner. By the time I collected the boys and we got to the shopping centre, I was officially ready to hand in my sanity and crawl under the nearest set of shelves, but shoes were needed.
After passionate negotiations (on the boys’ part) and final acceptance of their pleas (on my part), shoes of sufficient size, comfort and style were found and bought. One set were seriously reduced, so I bought an extra pair the next size up for Wong, still remaining under budget: another blessing, shining brightly before my tired, thankful eyes and heart. Then over to Coles for apples and milk, and the happy find of chicken drumsticks on special. As the woman tumbled the chunky pieces into a bag, Wong suddenly piped up “How has your day been?” The woman looked up, obviously startled.
“Considering I’m still at work, it’s pretty crappy actually,” she smiled conspiratorially at him, “but I have the weekend off, so that’s okay.” Wong smiled back, then beamed as she asked “And how was your day?”
“Pretty good,” he noted, then grabbed the paper package under an arm.
“Anything else for you?” she asked him, and he grinned again.
“No thanks,” I replied, watching Wong wander off balancing his new shoes and the chicken. “Have a great night.”
By then, it was after 7pm, and there was no way I was cooking. I fed everyone Hungry Jacks, and we laughed together over our burgers and watched Wong have an existential crisis over deciding between an ice-cream sundae and a soft-drink refill. (The ice-cream won, but having to choose nearly killed him).
Home again, home again, a long weekend stretching enticingly before me. Except for the sticky floors, piled up dishes, a talk and lesson to prepare for Sunday, Wong having a friend over to play Saturday morning, and his “Healthy Minds” appointment an hour’s drive on the south-side of Brisbane Saturday afternoon.
I ignored the dishes Friday night, instead ferreting through quotes and talks and scriptures, trying to connect the dots of what I wanted to convey in my sacrament talk. Evening thickened while I read, considered, listening to Hatro croon to the dog and Wong laugh at his book, and – when he was in bed – the dog licking his feet. Scriptures, prayers when the boys wanted to sleep, then later crawled into bed myself while it was still Friday, but only just. Fell asleep warmed by the realisation that I had so many personal experiences with building and maintaining my testimony it was going to be difficult to find the right one to share in my talk.
Saturday morning had Wong – who for weeks has only been able to groggily open one eye to say “Bye Mum, love you!” as I leave for work each morning, before tumbling back to sleep – wakes up and is clattering around his bedroom at 5am. Ugh. I’m so glad he can get his own breakfast… I think, wrapping the doona and silver lining snug around me, and fall back asleep for a couple more hours. Turns out he and his mate have already planned their time together: Minecraft, a pot of tea, some handball. Minecraft happens, 11-year-old voices raised in enthusiastic disagreement only at one point, the tea doesn’t, and they spend 10 minutes trying to find a ball that meets their strict bounce:feel ratio balance. From what I can tell, they both have fun, which makes my housework and talk preparation run quite smoothly. Then the friend’s collected, I have time to throw another load of laundry in the machine, tell Hatro I expect the dishes to be done by the time I get back, to remember to put the rice on to cook (“Ma! I will!” – hmm, must have interrupted his book at a good part…excellent!), kiss his forehead - and Wong and I are on our way south, into some impressively glowering rain clouds.
An hour later and Wong shows no signs of running out of conversation, smooches my cheek and bolts out of the car to the meeting. I drive up the road to Maccas, order a hot chocolate and – because they look pomegranate red and gorgeous – a raspberry macaron. Why not, I think, and add a chocolate truffle log to my order, realising suddenly that I haven’t eaten.
I find a little corner table, pull out my talk references, a notepad and a book I started late last night. Half an hour later I’ve set out my talk, coded in my quotes, sucked down a third of the surprisingly good hot chocolate, and have discovered that macarons – even Maccas bought ones – are wonderfully delicious. I look up to see drizzle filling the carpark with whirly curtains, pull my cardigan a little closer and relax back with my book.
Home, dinner, Hatro having done the dishes AND the rice (blessing counting continues!). I work on my talk some more, and at about 8 o’clock realise the house is incredibly quiet. I check, and both boyos are fast asleep. I don’t even try to wake them, even though we haven’t had prayers or scriptures, and return to my talk. Eleven o’clock I’m taking deep, deliberate breaths, trying to get my frakking printer to turn on. No luck. I send a “Please?” of a prayer blistering towards heaven, with no happy little green light of response on my printer. I give up, and reassure myself it’s only 25 hours until this gorram mess of a week is officially over.
Sunday morning, I find an app that will let me read my talk off Hatro’s iPad. Which is great, until the slight shaking in my fingers during my talk constantly changes the size of the font. I lose my place a couple of times, my shaking gets worse, the page continues to jump. I skip chunks of my talk, hope it makes some sort of sense, and am absolutely delighted to sit down at the end of it.
Bishop speaks after me, stating it’s interesting that the first speaker’s topic was strength in the scriptures, my talk was on testimony, yet we both also spoke on what he was going to talk about – trials. “There are always trials,” he said. “Always.” I turn my thoughts away from the past week, instead focussing on the blessings of my testimony, my fuschia and black tights, the fact that my talk was over. Trials come, trials go, blessings are there for the seeing.
My class went okay, even with the surprising addition of swivel chairs. Counted that as a plus.
Then Relief Society, where I caught up briefly with a woman who still lived in Outer Darkness, North Queensland. “The branch is so much better,” she reassured me “so many people have moved in!” She had her sixth baby just two weeks ago, and he’s a cutie. It was nice to realise that I was appreciated up there, and still remembered.
Then the lesson started, full of the teacher’s admonition that marriage “needs to be about oneness with your spouse” and “tell him ‘I just want you to mop the floor’, and say it so he understands it” and other’s statements about “psychologically damaged kids” and that’s where I walked out.
After some time in the car, I went to Nursery. Tasha looked up as I entered – “Hey! You’re early!” she looked at the clock, back to me then said “Or are you skipping Relief Society?”
“Skipping,” I said, helping fold up the incredible CTR blankets she’d made.
“What, is the lesson on Eternal Marriage?” she laughed.
I shared some of the comments raised, and will probably go apologise to the poor Dad who was in Nursery at the time, suddenly finding himself surrounded by the words and inflections of a slightly ranting and sarcastic redhead.
“Dude,” Tasha said. “You should have ditched earlier, and come for the play-doh.”
“I should have!”
Nursery closed with prayer, then there were giant bubbles blown by Tasha and Sr Pearl, the other woman in Nursery (an incredibly gentle, empathetic lady) for the kids to pop. The Dad escaped rapidly (poor guy), and we kept discussing the Relief Society lesson.
“C’mon, Sel, you know that you want a husband,” Tasha stated, then paused to blow more bubbles for the tiny kids dancing at her feet. “That’s not what bothered you about the lesson.”
Sister Pearl came up and gave me a hug. “We just need to find you a husband, right Sr Tasha?” she encouraged.
“Oh, I’m trying!” Tasha laughed.
“It’s just the ‘divorced kids are obviously psychologically damaged and emotionally needy rubbish stated as a blanket fact.Ugh! But I couldn’t just sit there, because if I did I’d have said something, and people wouldn’t have understood or would’ve been hurt, so this is me being charitable by leaving Relief Society during the lesson.”
“You’re kids are awesome!” Sr Pearl encouraged. “My daughter says Hatro is just amazing,-“
“Ppfft,” Tasha teased, “Sel, you know your kids were ‘psychologically damaged’ well before your divorce!”
I laughed, needing the lightened mood, laughter, and finding surprising satisfaction in popping some of the bubbles. “You’re right about that, Tash!”
“No, seriously” Sr Pearl continued, obviously determined to help my feelings. “You’re a great Mum. Doing a great job. Don’t worry about your boys.” She hugged me again.
Tasha blew a tumble of bubbles, then looked me directly in the eye. “You have no problem with the doctrine of it,” Tasha stated, bubbles still floating through the air, “it’s the opinions and comments about kids you can’t handle.”
“I know. I just couldn’t stay there. Not this week.”
So we blew and popped bubbles, and Nursery finally emptied, and after some more chatting, it was time to return home.
Watched a movie with the boyos, slouched around in comfortable tracky pants, listened to the rain murmur against the roof and windows. Read late, slept in late. Last week was officially over.
Two – well, two and a half – things were on repeat last week which made the awfulness a little easier to slog through. First, “I am going to America”. This was a bundle of reassurance: knowing the tickets were bought and it was official; remembering the peace I felt, having decided to really, actually go; having something so luxurious and selfish and fun and amazing to look forward to. Second, the phrase “This is all water”. It comes as a result from a commencement speech I read nearly two weeks ago (I’ve reread it a couple of times since) by David Foster Wallace, which had an amazing video montage made of it, but has since been taken down due to copyright. The speech itself is stunning, and I even used the fish joke at the beginning to start my sacrament talk (albeit without the ‘hell’.)
The half was part of several scriptures “- endure all things”. The Lord knows I’m stubborn. More stubborn than I should or need to be, usually. But this past week seemed like one of those times where I just had to put my head down, and move forward through everything slamming against me. And when I was becoming especially discouraged, there was the uplift and belief of friends to boost me on, the smell of fresh water, and “-endure all things” echoing in my ears, the word “can” warming my shoulders, strengthening my shaking knees, wrapping me up to stay stubborn, keep going just a little longer.
Even awful weeks end, eventually.