By the time I had opened my fourth wedding invitation in one week, I was convinced my life was over. I was going to die single, alone, with flowered wallpaper in my flat. I would be at some point in my mid sixties and having a successful career as an actuary. Because I was an actuary, I would be able to calculate the chances of dying on that particular day and, realizing that my odds were increased, I would have laid myself out in the wedding dress I bought at 30 and waited for Death. Of course, what I would’ve forgotten to consider would be my nine cats. Who, after going three days without food, would begin to eat my face.
Why is it we are told to always plan ahead? In our freshman year of high school we were told to start thinking about colleges. At college we were told to on the first day to consider our options for graduate schools. And for my masters, I have to come up with a five year plan for my career, which to me sounds vaguely like Stalinist Russia. And I know whatever I say, be it I want to be married by 35 or I plan to be complete my masters within the standard two years, God will just laugh.
The irony of planning ahead is, of course, when things don’t go according to plan we feel like failures. It’s like the more we know about the path we feel that we have to take, the less confident we are in the direction we are going when we get blown off course. As a disabled person I can’t live alone, but I have no idea who I’m living with after May.
“This is why you need a man slave,” my friend begins. She’s been engaged for just under a year and I’m planning her wedding. I feel like she has her next five years planned out, but then again, she’s calling from Russia.
“I’ve got my own company. That’s kinda like having a husband and a baby all rolled into one. I just worry if this deal doesn’t go through and the company folds, I’m going to have to live in a nursing home and play card games all day. Maybe I’d be better off doing that though.”
“You wouldn’t. You can’t even hold the cards.”
Days like this, I’m in freak-out mode at full force. Life seems too long, an endless series of events and unforeseen occurrences that I can’t begin to plan for. Who will be cooking my dinner a year from now? What if I never find an agent? What will I do when my wheelchair dies now that the company has quit making the kind I need? What if I think I find someone, and he leaves me one night with no help?
I can’t see past the next hour at this point. And I am well on the road to driving myself to the funny farm. So I do the one thing I know how to do. I go to the pub.
Another friend is there and he asks me how I am. I’m fine, just like everyone else these days.
“That good huh? Spill it.” He’s known me for over five years, and is therefore one of my oldest friends in the city. Which means he’s earned the right to hear. Everything. Even the bit about the cats eating my face.
“…And then I think about I have nothing to worry about so I shouldn’t feel bad. So of course then I feel worse and worry even more that I’m going crazy.” By the time I’m done my friend has every right to bolt.
“Well, that’s certainly logical,” he states, looking at me.
“How?” I can’t help but challenge him on this one.
“Because no one can see that far ahead in any sort of detail. Really Athena, looking ahead further than next month is always overwhelming to those of us who are among the living. It’s just like acting. We stay in the moment because it’s all any of us can do. It’s got nothing to do with your disability. We can’t hardly take in the now fully. There’s too many variables to try and figure out five years from now.”
On my way back home I make my way down to the docks to wait for the next ferry. It’s cold and I have no idea when the next boat’s coming. Maybe I missed the last one. My mind reels off again. I think about everything I want to do this year. How I want to direct Macbeth and Our Town back to back. The two together would provide an interesting death and rebirth of innocence. After that, I want to call in a new movement teacher for a workshop and perhaps start a new study on neurology and Alexander Technique…
The boat is just visible on the eastern edge of the Thames. Its bow light echoing on the surface of the water, grows stronger with each passing minute, oblivious to the blackness that it pushes through. It’s beautiful in a way I’ve never noticed before. And I think of what the Stage Manager says of Emily at the end of Our Town when the young woman asks if anyone every really sees the beauty of the world while still alive. And the Stage Manager says “No. The saints and poets, maybe they do some.”
And then I smile at how we’re all are straining away do live life, that we forget that life is never well planned. And it was never meant to be.