waiting for a stop sign to turn green
Wednesday night I had a real girl’s night out as I haven’t for a long time–certainly not since Esme was born. My friend Ruth will fly back to New Zealand in a few days, for a long stay, and Manuela will also be going back to Germany for the entire month of October. We had been talking about the three of us going out together for a long time, and our opportunities were running out, so we finally did it, although I had to leave behind a grumpy Esme in the hands of her dad, shut the door, and not think about the likely occurence of going-to-bed tears and her confusion and discomfort over my absence. I have been bound to her through breastfeeding for a full year now, with the intervals between feedings ever-widening, of course, and her absolute dependence growing less and less. But still, it’s an integral part of her around-the-clock existence. I don’t begrudge it– I cherish it– but it does really circumscribe my life. But Wednesday night, something inside, plus the requisite blessing from Jeff, gave me permission to break away for an evening.
I tend to think of downtown South Bend as a sub-par destination, but Wednesday night, as I drove toward it in Manuela’s car to pick up Ruth, it sparkled in my long-dormant imagination. Simply being in a car headed for restaurants and downtown city blocks gave me feelings that I haven’t had for a long time. It sounds banal, but in the context of my current life, just wearing a nice-ish shirt, eye make-up and earrings can symbolically function as something almost poetic and festal.
Manuela, Ruth, and I sat outdoors on the corner of a main downtown street near a lit fountain, and it just so happened that people were out and about on a Tuesday night, perhaps because this may have been among the last in a cluster of truly warm nights this year in northern Indiana. So to our surprise the downtown area felt somewhat alive. There were even street musicians playing by the fountain. We ordered a bottle of wine and just talked, and quickly I began to remember what wine can sometimes do, warming you and the world, making everything and everyone poignantly funny and unconditionally likable. For me, it releases me from the burden of wariness of self, things, and others– a sober outpost where I normally station myself. Going to a restaurant with good company, other women who you enjoy talking to, having wine with them is a simple, common experience. I’m sure there are plenty of people whose lives are configured differently from mine, who do this sort of thing routinely. But it didn’t feel ordinary to me at all. It felt like a feast day after a long fast. That makes motherhood sound dreary, and I don’t mean to make is sound dreary. It isn’t dreary, but it is quite demanding.
Manuela and I had our cameras and took random pictures of each other and our surroundings, all colored in an incandescent hue of streetlight warming the night air. I’m afraid that I probably laughed harder and acted a bit crazier than either Ruth, who as a member of the workforce was being deliberately restrained in her consumption of wine, and Manuela, who was driving us home. I could feel that I was being expansive, laughing at things that weren’t obviously funny, capable of befriending any stranger. The aware core of me (yes, that part remained well intact) was sending a few feeble signals of possible concern about whether I was making a fool of myself. But the truth is, it had to concede that I was in the right place, doing something I needed. In just that mildly inebriated state, I felt such huge release from the scaley crust of seriousness I usually wear, which shows up in the serious and intense conversations I lead everyone into, and in the relentless way I feel the need to weave meaning from experience, and from the way I analyze myself and the world, and well, the many other serious ways in which I occupy myself. There is also the way in which my experience of motherhood so far has been accompanied by an intense uncertainty about whether I am meeting Esme’s needs– all of them, all the time. None of these things are bad; in fact, I’m sure they’re necessary and good. But still there is something merciful about feeling their grip slacken a bit, just for one evening. I wouldn’t want to live in that slackness, but it’s nice to experience it ocassionally.
On our way home, Manuela expressed some of these same things, and we agreed that the evening had been wonderful and just what we had needed. I was still giggling at everything at that point as well. As we rolled into the student housing complex and hit the last stop sign, she stopped at it a bit too long and then announced that it was the second time in her “driving life” (she didn’t drive very much before moving to the States) that she had accidentally waited for a stop sign to turn green. I thought that was cute, and also a great metaphor for how ordinary life feels: like a continual series of stop signs. Stop signs don’t turn green, but sometimes, as if by magic, they do.