I recently had a grand old epiphany. I do not love myself, and I need to change that. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.
The funny thing is, epiphanies aren’t uncharacteristic of me. I’ve had them weekly, for as long as I can remember. It’s quite exhausting.
I made pretty good regulars at the bar doing this natural habit of mine. Poor Sean. He gets the bulk of them. He can always tell when one comes on. He’ll be going about his business, playing his videogames, and I will get this crazy ferret look in my eyes. It always starts off, “You know what I just realized…”
I have a lot of triggers. Reading good writing especially sets me off. Movies. Images of and encounters with others I meet and know. Odds and ends of conversation that eventually pile up and mean something to me.
I start to move around the room and flail my arms like Gumby in profound discovery. And Sean can’t help but watch politely, with his Xbox controller nestled in hands. He will take it in, measure it, and say something in two minutes that sums up a 30 minute gurgled blurb of words I have just vomited all over the living room.
And I’ll be all classy and say something like, “Fuck man, yeah, that’s exactly what I mean!”
Not every epiphany is Jesus is the Messiah worthy. Not every conclusion I reach makes sense, and sometimes Sean throws it back at me like a football. “But baby, last week, you said something that totally contradicts this…”
But “My name is Sarah, and I do not love myself” is an epiphany that knocked the wind out of me. Once when I was little I jumped off this swing set in the park behind my grandmother’s house. The second I jumped, I knew it was too soon. When my little girl belly collided with the wood chips, the cold fall air sucked out everything inside me. No one was there to see it. I couldn’t speak to call for help, let alone make any sound at all. Maybe someone will pass me by, I thought, see me fumbling around on the ground.
This epiphany feels like my stomach and lungs have been knocked outside my body. I’m left running my fingers over the wood chips, trying to find my voice.
I am not alone this time. I have people. I especially have Sean. I’m choosing to share this with others, but I’m still very much alone in my journey to love myself. I must figure out how to love myself, not because others say I should.
I’m also not about to project the love I have for other people onto myself. You know that saying, “You cannot love others without loving yourself first?” This is horseshit when it comes to me. I love people plenty. It can get creepy sometimes. This is different, and I have to figure it out.
After I wrote “My name is Sarah, and I do not love myself,” I had no air left inside me. I woke the next day in a cold sweat, ready to ambush my blog and pull it off the internet, terrified what people would think when they read it. And I remembered I didn’t love myself and felt like shit because now I truly know so.
But for some reason, I was able to go about my ways just fine, well in the same clunky but sure enough fashion I go about my life every morning. I put on my business professional wear that I am getting good at assembling. I made an overeasy egg, popped it, watched it explode on toast before inhaling it, my favorite. I ran to the train with my still wet hair flying and turning to daggers in the cold air with seconds to spare like always. I read on the train and every now and then glanced up to watch a man play solitaire on his phone, eavesdrop on a woman’s conversation about Thanksgiving plans to drive with her family to Ohio.
I returned to work, ready to start loving myself at an alarming rate. I’m a 20 something who lacks patience. Surprise, surprise. But I had a plan for the day. Clearly someone as disorganized as I am needs to start having plans—another epiphany I’ve been trying to follow through on lately. Send email to Lily. Find one job and apply for it. Email Joan, ask her if she has work for me to do yet. Edit my friend’s book.
The reason my list is not composed of more “work” things is because work in general has come to a halt for everyone, as it does in consulting work sometimes. And also, I’m a quasi-employee. I have an expiration date: December 22nd is my last day. Merry Christmas to me, I’m fucked if I don’t get a job that pays the bills in the next couple of weeks.
I emailed Lily. She’s a writer who I’m trying to connect with. Apparently networking is what the cool kids do these days. We found each other on LinkedIn. She has this beautiful smile that’s in mid-laugh and that lights up her profile picture, very uncharacteristic of the professional headshots with blue backdrops and screwed on smiles. I set up a day to meet her and was decently excited. However, this was the only thing on the list I did that day.
One thing I noticed when I got off the elevator on the 25th floor that morning was that no one was around. It was the three administrative assistants and I, the one and only intern, who decided to come into work.
The day before Thanksgiving. The office was closing early. Oh yeah. People were prepping to see their families. Oh right. I wasn’t at all ready to see mine. My grandpa, who was one of the main reasons worth suffering through the holidays, was hospitalized a week after Thanksgiving last year. He waited until Christmas was over, and then he died. Sometimes, I think the tighter I close my ears, the louder the silence, the closer I will get to feeling him. I look for him in the pond reeds. Maybe it’s something in the geese calls. I still hear the rattle, his lungs emptying like a spray can.
I tried to not let the vacant surrounding cubes bug me. In general, I try to ignore the cubes, occupied or unoccupied. I don’t like to think about people working in a literal box for hours every day. It gives me the heebie jeebies. I had a plan. Stick to the plan, I said. It’s okay, Sarah, you are doing great. You got this. I “love” you, Sarah.
I opened my email, got the usual mechanical rejection letters, but remained in good spirits about meeting with Lily next week. Onto task number two. Then I had to take a massive piss. I relieved myself, but took a detour after, my feet hitting the boxy floor in the silence underneath me. Good lord, people really aren’t here today. Why I am here? Why don’t I just go home?
I should have just went to the bathroom and went straight back to my cube. But no, I really wanted to see what an empty floor looked like. When I moseyed back to my cube and sat down, the nothingness started creeping in over me, breathing its bad breath on my shoulder. Task number two. Task number two. I forgot what task number two was.
It was a radical turn of events. I jumped over to job searching. Task number what? Eh, who fucking knows? I just need a job. I need a job to call my own. Hey, this job looks like it would fit me. Wait, no. 3 to 5 years. Fuck you, I’m applying anyway.
Sarah, you don’t have Social Media development training, why do you think you can apply for this? Sarah, you don’t even know what SEO means. Sarah, you’re pretty much incompetent for all of these jobs you’re clicking on. Here’s a thought Sarah, why don’t you write another funny cover letter where you pretend you are competent and fit into these places you’re applying for? Yeah, you’re funny. People find that quaint. You’re a loveable golden retriever. But you don’t have to have any real skill to land a job.
Let’s leave the brain power to the big boys. There’s always that bar down the street from your house. You may have to wear low cut shirts and press cold beers against your nipples again, but you’ll make friends, like you always do. You have no one here. At least you won’t be alone in a box—given a computer and crayons to color with and told to figure out your job. Besides, you gave up remember? Now you spend your days dreaming and mentally jacking off.
And I’m back to drowning in an internal pool of self-directed sarcasm. Old habits. Not loving myself. When did the inside of my head begin to look like the inside of an asshole?
Then something happened that I will try my best to explain. It’s something that’s never happened to me in this extremity before. Yes, I overload on myself all the time. Usually, I find some Grumpy Cat meme or watch some dumb video a friend sent me of a guy getting a pie slammed into his face, and I start to laugh a little and ignore myself. But right then, humor didn’t appeal to me because of the way I have been using it lately. I’ve been using humor to pick at the scabs of myself.
Eh, who are you kidding? You laughed at your own jokes anyway. You know what’s funny, how much of a delicate flower you have become. A limp daisy. A blown dandelion.
I thought about how hard it’s going to be to love myself when I am unemployed on my ass weeks from now. And this was the part where I short-circuited.
Suddenly, I got really warm. Like after I’ve pounded back a few beers. I could feel my ears surge. Is it hot in here? Then I started to breathe aloud. Well that’s weird. And hard. I am pretty in pretty good physical shape. I know how to control my breathing very well. So this sudden loss of breath after doing nothing at all struck me as odd, and I was scared. Oh man, oh man, something is definitely not right. Calm the fuck down.
Tears started trickling down and burning my face. In the middle of my cube, I began to cry and wage war on myself. Like a little bitch. Snot and eyeliner running like lava. The whole nine yards. I used my shirt sleeves to wipe my nose. I didn’t want to get up. There were still the administrative assistants. Surely, they would see my face. You look like Rudolph the fucking reindeer. A jolly sight indeed.
I was scared shitless. What was happening to me? I googled suicide hotlines. But wait, this isn’t right. I don’t want to kill myself. Is there a number you can call for when you begin to cry and lose your breath in the middle of your cube?
Then I googled “how to seek emergency mental health when you don’t have health insurance.” I fanned my face with one hand and scrolled with the other, read quick phrases, but nothing popped out at me, explained to me how this could be fixed and right NOW, except “call 911.” I feel like I’m dying. Wilt, little flower, wilt! Should I call 911? But then I will never get a good job reference from this place. Sarah, why the hell are you crying and laboring like a pregnant woman right now of all places? FUCK!
I log into Facebook, forcing myself to blow air consistently through my lips, and scan my list of friends. Who is online right now? Now. Right now. Who is online, and who do I trust to help me through this RIGHT NOW? Being alone with myself is not helping. You’re damn right, it’s not.
I messaged my friend Lauren. She’s a writer too.
“Lauren, are you busy right now?”
“No, why what’s up?”
“I need you to do me a favor.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I’m having a….”
And then I deleted the words before I finished typing the sentence out. What will Lauren think of this adorable little scene? Probably that I’m fucking crazy. She’ll probably start avoiding me from this point forward… Sarah, stop bothering these poor people; they actually have jobs to do, you know? No one has time to coddle you.
“I need you to tell me how your day is going. Right now.”
“My day is pretty boring, actually haha…Sarah is everything okay?”
I logged off Facebook, slammed my laptop closed, and blew my nose into my jacket hanging onto the back of my chair. Oh the drama. Sarah, give me a break.
I sat trying to remember my brief training and attempt at breathing exercises a long time ago. But I couldn’t concentrate. The dragon lady menstruating, stomping around in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. This scene was too much for her to handle. She couldn’t get over how pathetic it was and needed to remind me so. I looked at my phone. A missed call from Lauren.
I got up and floated over to a team meeting room. Success, none of the three people looked up. The team meeting room: windows, windows everywhere. A glass box. I ripped the black phone off the side table and pulled it down onto the large one in the middle of the room. I sat with my back facing the glass, heaving.
I called Sean. He had been in Colorado for work for 3 days. Maybe he hadn’t gotten on the plane to go home yet, I thought.
When I heard his voice I tried to sound calm. Fail. Fucking fail, Sarah. He can tell. Find a tissue already. Never mind, here we go, more tears. Like a toddler who falls down and cries only when other people lurch to see if she is okay.
“Sean, Sean. I’m… having… some sort of breakdown or something, I think. No one’s here. None of my managers are here, I don’t talk to the others, I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do.”
Sean, who has been armed and prepared for almost fires with me for years recognizes the urgency. “Sarah, I need you to listen to me, okay, sweetie?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Okay, yeah. What should I do?”
“I need you to go your desk, get your things, and go home. Now. No one is there anyway. Stop torturing yourself and go home. The second you leave the building, you will feel better. Promise.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re right. Okay. I got this. I’m going home.
“Sarah, seriously. Don’t stay. Go home. Call me when you are on the train.”
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry and thank you. Hey, I love you.”
“I love you too. Call me on the train.”
“Yes, the train. I got it.”
I wasn’t ready to leave the room. I wanted to wait for the hiccups to stop before I collected my things. I called Lauren back and told what had just happened, that I was sorry for taking off on her. I told her not to worry, I was okay now. She told me she knew how I felt; she was where I was before. Her voice was smooth when she said I needed a new job that fit me better, and that I deserved to be happy. I told her I loved her and had a plan. Get my things. Get on the train.
I asked her if she wanted to hang out with me. The thought of seeing her when I got home instead of a Sean-less empty apartment cleared some of my dizziness and made the room look less watery. She told me to come over. We could do our workshop. She, Alexa, and I could do our writing workshop that we missed last week because of our busy lives.
I left the room and headed back to my desk. I didn’t sit down. I began collecting my things. Mike, one of the three assistants, sauntered on over to me. I froze.
“Here’s this month’s calendar.”
He held it in his hand for a moment and lingered on my face, waiting for me to grab it.
I grabbed it and looked at it like I was reading it for a second. “Thanks Mike! Hey, Happy Turkey Day, eh? You gonna be playing your new Playstation hardcore this weekend?” When I smiled, my face unstuck a little bit. It was good enough though. He continued on.
“You know it! Hey you too, and don’t forget to do your time sheet.”
“Aw, I almost forgot! Thanks for reminding me, bud.”
I would do my timesheet at home. I had a plan. Pack the rest of my things. Get on the train. Call Sean. Go home. Workshop with Lauren and Alexa.
I practically ran off the 25th floor, my boots hitting the planks disguised in carpet under my feet. I said goodbye and Happy Thanksgiving to the greeters at the door. It always struck me as odd. This building has its own personal greeters. They grew on me too, especially the woman with the bright pink lipstick. One of these days, I am going to ask her name, but in the meantime I run like hell to get out.
It was sleeting outside, and my boots cowered and said sorry for the lack of traction. I pushed past to the front of the crosswalk and waited at the light with the tough, gritty bunch in the crowd. A man revved the invisible engine in his foot, ready to spill blood on the long Chicago sidewalks. Jaywalkers wandered across anyway, ignored the “fuck you” horns and close life calls.
When the light turned, I kept up with the frantic turkey trot. Oh how we gobble each other. I crossed the bridge and passed the disabled homeless man in a wheelchair I bought a cheese, ham, and turkey sandwich once. He shielded his face when he saw it, so I slathered it in mayonnaise, ate it, and dabbed my mouth with embarrassment on the train ride home.
Once at Union Station, I descended the cement stairs. Down below the ground, hell bound trains screamed out their rusty pains. I picked up speed when I saw others running, even though I knew I still had time. Out of breath, I barreled breasts first into the open train. I pillaged through my pockets and pulled my phone free. I began to dial Sean’s number.