Five different assignments cling to my waking thoughts, and before I finish them five more will grab their heels and demand that I complete them. The clock reads 5:00 a.m., and I stumble toward the ink-dark kitchen, tugging the banker’s lamp’s dangling chain on the way. The splash of light it gives I can handle, but more would slam my eyes shut again.
I pour water into the crimson kettle on the stove and turn the gas knob. I dump coffee beans into the grinder and turn it on, cringing as the rhythm screams through the house. The book I am making for my art class whines from its place on the kitchen table. Now, now, now! You must complete me now! I ignore it and stare at nothing as I wait for the kettle to wail.
When it does, I forget the next step. I take the lid off and start to plunge my hand into the boiling water, but I stop before my fingers burn. I shake my head and replace the lid, pour the water into the French press, stir it, and wait. Stupid girl, I think.
But it’s early. Before me lies an hour of writing, an hour of exercise, an hour of homework, and then three hours of work, an hour of lunch, five hours of class. And after that, more homework: reading books I wouldn’t chose to read outside of school, writing research papers on subjects I struggle to care about, making those awful art books that do not forgive the sins of escaped glue and uneven cuts.
Kashi Simply Maize cereal becomes my easy dinnertime friend. I eat it every night. My husband eats frozen dinners when he gets home, or a dollar burrito from Del Taco.
This will end soon. I will graduate in a few weeks and be done and happy.
But though I do not know it, I am happy with this busyness.
I am always doing.
I am never without tasks.
We have graduated, and now we begin the stagnant state of waiting to find out where we go to school in the fall. Louis leaves for his first full day of work as the head teaching assistant for La Sierra University’s biology labs. He won’t return until late night, because in addition to running labs he teaches one himself: gross anatomy. And that one ends at ten. I sit at the kitchen table, which is devoid now of splayed artwork and loose homework papers. I am a housewife, with no homework to rattle my bones and no presentations to prepare for or papers to write.
I planned the menu and went grocery shopping and cleaned and did laundry yesterday. I hum as I gaze out the silent windows, and then sit down with a book. I read for a while, think about writing but don’t, and then stand. I walk through the living room, through the bedroom, toward the only bathroom, turning sideways as I pass the bed. Someday Louis and I will live in a house that does not force us to turn sideways like that.
Slow hours later, I realize I have nothing worthwhile to do. I have no children to care for, not even my German Shepherd, Bella, who can’t live in this cottage because there is no yard. I cannot write, for reasons I wish I knew. Panic claws its way up my throat and the cottage walls step toward me. I look at them in disbelief. This, this absence of busy, was supposed to bring me joy.
I rise at six, make my coffee in the kitchen’s fragile, brilliant morning light. My basil plant reaches toward the sun and has sprouted new leaves, which makes me feel better about the African violets, which perch next to the window with the basil but are wilted. Steam curls from my favorite burgundy Longaberger mug, which my mother gave me on my eleventh birthday. I think it will last forever. I pluck my Bible and journal from my desk and sit in my recliner, read and think and write and sip for an hour.
And then my pace changes completely. I don exercise garb and embarrass myself in front of the TV as I try to nail a T-25 workout. After this I step outdoors and watch as the grass in the dooryard shivers in the gentle wind. I run two miles and return to the cottage, whose color is a meeting of salmon and taupe and age.
I shower, I eat, I read. I go to class, because I could not stay completely away from school and am sitting in on my favorite professor’s class sessions on young adult literature this quarter. I return home, eat the no-bake chocolate oatmeal peanut butter cookies I made yesterday, and then check the calendar on the refrigerator to see what I get to cook for a late dinner.
At 6:30 p.m. the sun crawls behind the distant hill, and I take a beach towel outside and lie on the emerald grass. I read, but I also watch. I watch the stray cat hunt for ground squirrels and insects in the tangle of blades. I watch the birds roost on electricity poles, wonder where they’ve come from and where they’re going. I watch the leaves on the trees shudder in the whipping wind, and that same wind moves through me and leaves joy to sit with me on the beach towel.
But most of all I watch the remnants of the sun as they un-burn the sky, slowly, until I am left in violet twilight.