Lost Minds and Wallets
Yesterday I lost my wallet.
An anniversary gift I gave myself last year. Seventeen years working at the same company — myself. Me. I am the company.
Truth is, I wouldn’t buy it again. Pretty much the instant I took it out of the package, I realized I’d let my wrong part do the shopping. Too fancy.
When I was younger I expected I would grow into a woman with singular tastes, who might be described as “knowing herself,” and maybe even a little bit fancy. A crisp white shirt or a cashmere sweater, hair blown-out, lipstick kind of woman. I can be her, for an hour or so, but it’s inconsistent and an effort.
And, two nights ago, while in the parking lot of grocery store where I’d anxiety shopped for ground beef in two-day-old pajamas and no bra, I dropped my fancy wallet.
Less lipgloss, more panic. Real life.
I’d gotten an email from a friend who generally knows more than I do. He’d stocked up on meat and cheese, and toothpaste and toilet paper, and because he’s not generally alarmist, I became alarmed.
Out of earshot of our kids, I mentioned his note to my husband and said I wanted to slip out to the store to stock up on a few items just in case.
And because my husband is very good at emotional math — he quickly added up the energy of soothing my concerns himself or leaving me to a multipack of chicken legs and promised to cover bedtime.
We live in a suburb outside a major city. Our grocery store looked like the zombie apocalypse. No meat, no beans, no canned anything except artichoke hearts (because ew), no paper products, no dairy, no bread.
Still, I bought some things.
Somehow the things multiplied like wet gremlins in the five minutes it took to get home. I muffled a sort of apology to my husband as we hoisted thousands of single-use plastic bags into the house. His reply?
“Babe, this is fine. I get it.”
As a longtime therapist, I am telling you — that right there is #marriagegoals. My people drive me crazy just like yours do, but when it comes down to it, my husband lets me have my feelings and doesn’t shame me for my crazy. God love that man.
After he’d helped me haul in twenty-seven packs of chicken nuggets (non-organic, because please, the organic moms were at the store weeks ago, and the remaining organic chickens are respecting the quarantine), we sat on the couch for an hour saying we wanted to watch a British cop show as an appetizer to the main meal of going to bed. On our way up I mentioned I was nervous we still didn’t have enough toilet paper. I’d been Googling. Sold out everywhere.
In the morning my husband walked through the small Target on his way to take conference calls from my silent, empty, therapy office. I got this text:
“Toilet paper at target. One pack per person. I bought one.”
I immediately yelled to my daughter and my babysitter (who does not usually live-in — she’s been with us since she stepped off a plane from a three week trip home to Indonesia into a world expecting her to self-quarantine. Moving into our basement made more sense than exposing at-risk members in her regular household). My girls jumped into the car without even asking why — ready to roll at the urgency in my voice.
But I couldn’t find my wallet.
I looked in the usual places, as did the entire household I’d woken with my stomping and my swearing. Eventually, Lucy grabbed a handful of cash my kids made selling disinfected legos off the porch to similarly stir-crazy neighbor kids (for charity, stop judging Judy).
“Desperate times,” she half-joked.
We parked on the street and I had my tween stand outside the store until I neared the cash register. The shelves of toilet paper were already practically empty and a sign “one per customer” was prominently displayed. As I carried away two packs a woman called to me.
“They will only let you buy one.”
I shook off her commentary. She didn’t get it. Once I had this toilet paper, everything would be different. The Charmin multipack promised calm deeper than Deepak.
Back home, looking at my treasure trove of toilet paper, I felt a quick shame glimmer…one pack per person. So others can have some, Meghan. OTHERS.
It turns out, hoarding toilet paper didn’t help. I was still anxious, and irritable and generally not okay. But no wonder I was still out of sorts. I had my groceries, my paper products, but not my WALLET.
The kids took care of themselves. They did reading and writing, an art activity made from my most hated substance, slime (hey, as Lucy says, desperate times) In a moment of inspiration, they even played four-square.
I looked in the freezer, in the car, in the trash. I called the store, again.
Eventually, I sat down at my writing desk.
I tried to journal, but like the best intended guided meditation, my mind was elsewhere.
I took and a deep breath, closed my eyes and imagined the inside of my wallet. Various credit cards-replaceable. Business cards-unimportant. My family’s health insurance cards — annoying but non-critical. My driver’s license-a true pain in the ass to lose. Might be hard to get a new one given the crazy of these days.
Tension in my chest increasing despite my breathing.
And then I got it.
I don’t need an empty grocery store, or a dearth toilet paper or even a lost wallet — I am already anxious all on my own.
I have held the emotional basket for fifteen worried clients this week. Everyone’s lives are just a little bit on fire. The world’s stress means each of us is more of our anxious selves than usual. People who typically stress about money are more stressed about money. People who stress about heath — more stressed about health, about connection — more stressed about connection, about kids — more about kids.
Me? I stress about enough. It’s been my greatest anxiety for years. Being enough. Having enough.
I literally have it tattooed on my wrist.
I sat, not writing in my journal and heard my own voice encouraging clients to be “patient, and curious and gentle” with themselves. I wondered if every word I’d offered this week was really just me talking to myself.
And then my eyes fell on a picture of my dad.
A professional headshot. The one we didn’t use for his obituary, opting for a more casual one of him laughing on the beach.
It’s a good picture. Black and white, well-defined lines. He looks handsome, healthy and very confident. He’s almost smiling.
Looking into his eyes, I imagined him saying: “This isn’t such a big deal.”
He would mean it. He wouldn’t say it to make me feel better. That wasn’t his way. My dad was a man who had been through. Difficulty is an offering and a revelation. My dad let us struggle out of respect and he didn’t pretend otherwise.
I compressed thousands of infuriating conversational snippets into one second. I thought of all the childhood worries he either didn’t join or downright dismissed and possibly for the first time since he died over two and half years ago — I longed for him.
I wanted my dad to minimize this whole current affair. I wanted his grumpy voice on the phone to annoy me enough I’d insist he pass the phone to my mom. I wanted to commiserate with her about being stuck at home, worried about other people. I wanted her to remind me how we’d been trapped in the house in the blizzard of ’78 and started to run out of food. I wanted her to worry about me a little, and then reassure her we have enough. More than.
In my full-blown imaginary conversation with both my dead parents, I could feel the both/and of it all. The not enough. People already losing — security, plans, jobs, independence, dreams, and lives. And the enough. Enough health, enough food, enough toilet paper, enough safety. I felt it:
But mercy, did I miss them.
I took a deep breath and pictured my wallet and the toilet paper, and the empty market shelves — and I blew out the way you do candles on a cake. The opposite of a birthday wish. Tears leaked down my cheeks.
In the mess of my desk, I felt my chest loosen and fill.
I knew before I even called the store again after lunch. They’d found my wallet. I could feel it. It was ready to be found.
The manager was giddy.
I was grounded.
Loss reminds me of everything I’ve always needed to know.
And it’s okay to feel it.