I’ve seen the look before.
It’s the loving smile, with a touch of distant stare.
It’s usually spread across the face of a grandmother as she looks at your toddler son in the grocery checkout line.
Only I’ve never quite understood it.
Not until this morning.
Not until I passed the little guy standing in the grocery checkout line. His bed head, the jammy pants, the tattered stuffed animal pressed between his arms.
So I stopped — brought to sudden halt by my loving smile, my touch of a distant stare.
What I saw was my 22-year-old, at age 3, holding his tattered Simba.
I think I must have had an idea I might need a little extra help today when I stood briefly in the kitchen, wondering which automobile I was going to drive to the coffee shop today.
I have an old truck and I have an old VW bus.
I don’t normally drive the bus once winter arrives. There’s no heat and the wipers barely work. But Winter can’t seem to decide when he’ll be kicking off his shoes, so here we are on December 22, headed toward 59 and sunny this afternoon.
I know I need some medicine for my soul today, and I know that dose is often delivered in the VW key that hangs from my keychain. I’ve also found that the steering wheel of that bus is often as therapeutic as any therapist’s couch I’ve sat on.
The emotional hangover.
It’s that brick that sits on my chest the morning after a particularly rough day of feeling my feelings. Of writing my writings. Of being.
Getting out of bed is usually easy enough. It’s what comes next that can weigh so heavily.
The deep yearning for some one or some thing to make it all better.
As comforting as they sound, I know none of those is good for The Soul.
I know the best thing for me is to maybe grab the right car keys and just turn the engine over on another day of a world whose corners sometimes feel as if they’re getting away from me.
Even when that ride takes me to the kid standing in the grocery checkout line, and now I’m dabbing at the tears that well in my eyes.
The emotional freight train never makes a sound.
You just find yourself moving from the grocery to your favorite bagel shop, standing in line behind a couple high school kids wearing their sweat pants and trendy knit caps and indifference, staring at their phones.
That’s when you’re crushed by the runaway vision of your own boys and the holiday-break mornings when you were always the Morning Guy — the one who ran out to the bagel store, letting everybody sleep in, excited in a really Dad sort of way to surprise everybody with fresh, hot bagels when they woke up.
You even rounded up the dogs and took them with you, so they wouldn’t sit in the front window and whine and bark until you got back. And you even stopped at the dog park to watch them run, because it’s their holiday break, too.
Only you don’t wake up in the same house any more.
That day will come again, I tell myself. But it’s not today. Today is a day I simply stand behind random teenagers and dab at tears with the sleeves of my sweat shirt.
We’re less than an hour into this hangover and it’s already pulling me toward the water and aspirin of self-pity.
I have my bus keys, though.
And I have my coffee shops.
The Stones live album on my headphones.
“There is only one thing you should do. Go deep into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary; they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty—describe al these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects you remember.”
And now the exhale.
And the gym.
And the bus ride there.