Notes on awful Februaries perdu

12 February 2012

“I don’t care what anyone says: February is the cruelest month,” my best friend from grad school told me during my awful first year of teaching and living in Texas, when I probably spent every weekend lying on the sofa in fetal position. Wait, maybe that was my second year, which was just the same — except I also agonized about the fact that my misery had been going on so long. The weekends were the worst, because without the structure of the work week I was left to myself. Oh, those endless empty hours of feeling bad that I wasn’t smarter, tougher, effortlessly brilliant, or spending all my time prepping for class.

My friend’s statement about February was prompted by my description of the awful nightmares I’d been having. In one of them, I was trying to navigate Texas’ crazy looping highway interchanges — except that instead of being in a car, I was on a bike that didn’t work very well, so I spent my dream huffing and puffing to get that fucking bike up and down on-ramps and off-ramps only to find, at the end, that the off-ramp wasn’t yet completed and I was standing in a pile of powdery dirt and dust, alone. It was almost laughable, it was so awful.

All my dreams seemed to involve my working as hard as I could for naught. One of them involved my trying to run but finding the air the consistency of molasses, so I was forced to get down on my knees and crawl, pulling myself forward by grabbing at clumps of grass — because the internal logic of the dream is that I must move forward. Another dream scenario had me trying for hours to make someone understand why the whole situation was such a problem and having them misunderstand or fail to hear altogether.

In other words, my nightmares were just like my waking life, except thrown into the most obvious metaphor available, in case I missed the point otherwise.

It was so awful because I knew perfectly well I should be able to do this but I just couldn’t. It was all so impossible. I was so unhappy, defeated. And then to wrestle with all of it in my dreams, too … no wonder I spent a lot of time in fetal position.

Last year’s February was awful, too, and so was the year before that. The only thing that improved was that I wasn’t reduced to the sofa anymore. At least not very much of the time.

This year things are different. I caught myself thinking the other day about how much I miss grokking with my great girlfriends — I like this temporary place, but there’s no one here to grok with. That teensy complaint made me remember those other Februaries. Months so awful that the open-endedness of a weekend was enough to derail me. When I was so desperate to get out from under my grad school debt that I punished myself additionally with the cheapest food — pasta dinners, sardines on crackers, meals of nothing but broccoli sautéed in garlic because I couldn’t manage cooking more than one dish.

I’m not there anymore — in fact I enjoy insane luxuries in contrast. But I won’t forget. I can still feel the aftermath of those dreams as if I were still grasping at the ground, trying to pull myself forward — or standing in the dust at the end of a half-finished highway offramp with a broken-down fucking bike, lost and alone. Those Februaries are past but not forgotten.


6 Responses to “Notes on awful Februaries perdu”

  1. servetus Says:

    February *is* an awful month. For reasons that you know the first two weeks are almost weeks of recrimination. It wasn’t so bad this year, thank G-d.

    I wish I had been more aware of this at the time. I’m sorry.

    • Didion Says:

      But you know, my friend, that I had no idea you suffered in February until two years ago. NO idea. We are both very good at pretending to be okay, at least when it comes to something that is so impossible to explain that the mere idea of being forced to articulate sends me back to the sofa. It was important to me that people at work not see me as fragile, and I didn’t know you well enough at the time to trust you with it.

  2. Aldine Says:

    i know that dream so well. Once i was puttering along a freeway in a miniature car while all the gigantic four wheel drives roared past me. I could see people in the cars laughing at me as they sped along. Then my car turned into a shopping trolley and i had to try and row it along the highway (apparently, I blamed my lack of progress partly on our shopping expeditions).

    Do you think beating ourselves up in dreams (or in waking) is about sabotaging our own progress as much as about fear of not making enough progress?

    Either way, it sucks. i wish i’d been there every February to help chase your blues away.

    • Didion Says:

      Oh Aldine, I think you heard every single one of my issues at the time, albeit long distance. And I know you’ve had your Februaries too. The worst part of all of this is the forced separation from one’s girls.

  3. Dienna Says:

    There is a plus side to February—it’s the shortest month! Soon March will be here and along with that, spring!

  4. […] right person for the message is whoever reads it at the right moment, which is somewhat comforting. As Dear Friend wrote yesterday, February is a really hard month for many of us. Me, too. So let’s just take it hour by hour, […]

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