My Day Off

It’s Monday, so I must be depressed.

When I was a kid (and by kid, I mean in my twenties) Sunday nights were rock bottom. My weekends went like this:

Thursday: at work, a rush of anticipation. Thursday night: always a big party—enter a dance club early, 9:00ish, still mostly empty. Stay until closing, alternating draft beer (Bud) and expensive mixed drinks—esoteric shots (brains, mud slide, sex on the beach) and top-shelf martinis (Tanqueray).

Friday: at work, coast through the day to the best of my ability, sneak out of work as early as possible, go to the gym. Friday night: repeat Thursday Night.

Saturday: sleep most of the day, repeat Thursday and Friday night, start earlier, end later.

Sunday: awake to a cumulative hangover and spend the day suffering. And as my hangover wore away, enter SNA—Sunday Night Anxiety. A phrase, as far as I know, that was wholly coined by my brother. It’s the weekly realization that the party is over, and you’re expected to produce something valuable over the next five days in exchange for the paycheck you earn.

Eventually, my SNA stopped reappearing. My party life settled down and my job became much more fulfilling. I won’t say I looked forward to Monday morning, but I didn’t dread it. Many weeks I planned something interesting for Monday night.

I took today off work. It’s Monday, I mentioned that already. I’ve been sick. For a few weeks, I’ve had a cough. A phlegmy, rattly cough that starts deep in my chest. But other than the coughing, I felt fine. Then my ears became clogged. I started losing my voice at times.

Today, I woke up sick. This pattern has repeated itself a handful of times over the past several years. The cold I’ve been fighting starts to become serious on the morning I have a spin class. I instruct the class anyway, even though I know I’ll regret it later.  It’s similar to turning your ankle at the start of a run—tomorrow, it’s going to be a mess, so you might as well get in one last good workout.

When I got home from my class, I was beat. Or at least that’s what I told myself. My cold needed more sleep. Tommy, my gray/brown tabby and I crawled back into bed and dozed off together for an hour. Susan suggested the day off. I was complaining about how I was feeling. And in truth, I couldn’t face work.

I don’t call in sick often, maybe one or two days each year. But this year, it’s been three or four times, and always on Monday. I don’t drink anymore. I get a good night’s sleep all weekend. I get up early on Mondays to instruct my class, but once I’m done spinning, I feel depleted. I can’t call it anxiety, not SNA. I’m not afraid of my job, my duties don’t stress me out. Today was worse than usual. I couldn’t bear the idea of being around people. I was happy to have a cold today. Happy to have a valid excuse to stay home.

At noon, I needed to go to the dentist. Thankfully, they didn’t make me wait. No forms to fill out either. This was an unscheduled appointment. My teeth hurt when I eat something cold, like the ice I chew on when I’m nervous.

I hate my dentist. I’ve never met a person who makes me feel so unworthy, so incapable. He actually says “tsk, tsk, tsk.” When he looks in my mouth, he uses that clichéd, Sunday-comic expression. He admonishes me about whatever I’m doing wrong to my mouth: tooth grinding, swollen gums, cracked fillings.

We’re about the same age, mid-fifties. His relaxation music is an XM station anchored on James Taylor, Jackson Browne and the Eagles. I’m sure he thinks it’s hip, but it’s undoubtedly the worst radio station in the world. Every now and again they’ll toss in a Beatles song, but nothing good—usually something like “Michelle” or “In My Life.” And anyway, they always cancel out any modest gains by following the Beatles with a hit by Chicago.

Today, between the initial tsking and the inevitable x-ray, I stared out the large picture window in front of the recliner chair. I had tears in my eyes. I tried to understand what I was feeling, but nothing came to me. I was just sad.

After the x-ray, the hygienist sat at my elbow, just behind my field of vision. She didn’t say anything. Well, first, she asked about the outside temperature, and I told her, but she didn’t respond. The conversation died right there. We both just sat, a few inches apart, for ten minutes. Me, feeling increasingly awkward, waiting for the dentist to return and tsk some more. This reminder of my social anxiety made me feel even worse. That, and the recommendation to get a crown on the offending tooth. Happy Christmas 2016.

bfOn my way home, I parked my car and went for a walk in the battlefield. Allow me explain what that means: I live in Gettysburg—the entire town is surrounded by a National Military Park. Five hundred acres with roads connecting all the landmarks. The residents call it the battlefield. The temperature, by the way, was pretty warm for December (low fifties), and the sun was out. A stiff wind was blowing, but the wind is always blowing here, except when it’s in really hot.

My walk had a surprising result: I flushed out some aggression. Meditative aggression: meditative in the way that running is meditative. My mind clears. And then it slowly fills with thoughts on a single topic, usually something that’s bothering me, and I poke at that topic for my entire run (except today it was my entire walk). I thought about authority—the MAN!

My walk route was a two-mile paved loop that passes through a shady area. I wanted to skip the shade to keep warm, so I cut a corner and walked a quarter mile through a grassy field. I was conspicuous. A dude in a dark fleece in the middle of a hay-brown field. As far as I know, I’m permitted to walk in that field, but I’ve never seen anyone do it.

I began to envision a confrontation with a park ranger: “Sir, what were you doing in that field? We’d like to inspect your pockets to make sure you haven’t collected any relics from the battle.” And I felt my blood pressure spike.

This isn’t a completely random thought. I’ve had confrontations with park rangers before. Twice. But both of those occasions, I suppose, were my fault. Once I was visited at my home by “national park law enforcement officers” to discuss my decision to cut a hiking path through a wooded section of the battlefield. The other time I got pulled over for letting my kids ride in the bed of my pickup. In my defense on the second one, a cop (a real cop) had just told me it would be okay if the kids sat back there.

But in today’s fantasy, I was innocent. I was just enjoying a peaceful walk a little closer to nature than the next guy.

No one does imaginary self-righteous-indignation better than me. I spent the last twenty minutes of my walk inventing an argument with a nonexistent park cop. Fighting for my rights and challenging an authoritarian bully. And before I knew it, I was back at my car. And whatever depression I was feeling forty minutes earlier was mostly gone. I got my heart beating with a little exercise and a lot of attitude, and it left me feeling restored.

Susan shook her head when I told her about my walk. She was the one who suggested getting outside in the first place. She thought my cold and my mood would benefit from some sun and wind in my face. She said I needed some vitamin D and a dose of nature. She didn’t say anything about getting pissed off. Pissed at nobody… for no reason. She completely dismisses the idea that my imaginary argument helped me snap out of my depression. She’s sure that my healthy time out-of-doors did the trick.

Me? I’m not so sure.

Note: The section highlighted in Blue Text was submitted to a Flash Contest. Each entry needed to be exactly 300 words. I called my entry “Take it Easy: a Flash Memoir.”


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