There are these moments, immediately familiar, when it seems the world ought stop because something you want to happen just will not. The pregnancy will not materialize. The phone will not ring. The man at the window will not budge. The message will not arrive. The right girl (or boy) will not be found. The treatment will not be possible. The separation will not end. The offers that arrive dissipate with random passing breezes.
You had waited; you had been patient, so patient. You had counseled yourself and consulted the experts and rallied and tried everything. You had, as the Nigerians would say, tried. You had made some mistakes, but you had resolved to fix them. You had put yourself out there, really, walked out on a limb. You had come tantalizingly close. And so, you had allowed yourself to hope. You had wished and desired and invested yourself, and you had nurtured that hope with conviction, and allowed it to grow.
Hope is not a bad thing, right? So you’d always been told. But oh, when it’s dashed just the morning after it has risen like a bread dough that couldn’t be baked, you’d wish it had never been there at all, such a mess does it leave behind. In fact, you’d wish for freedom from wishes—because wishes aren’t horses, and beggars don’t ride.
You’d find yourself raw, unable to be touched. You feel yourself in a bubble, cut off. Stories will come to you, of those who have suffered so much more and longer. Mothers who have lost children, or found their healthy, strapping 13 year-olds slumped in chairs because tumors are pressing at their brains and nobody, but nobody, could have known. Children who have lost mothers. People with no safe place to spend the night, or no way to know if father will be there tomorrow. An illness that came slowly, and never left. News that came suddenly, and never left. But you will not listen, really because you are in a bubble and counsel from elsewhere is still warped. Because you’re fighting, still fighting so hard to reach out and grab that which you want, that which you know, with the astounding certainty of ages, is right for you. It’s impossible to think otherwise at this moment. You’ll keep checking email, waiting for the numbers to change. You’ll hear the phone ringing even when it isn’t. And so it is that your hands will miss the ropes thrown to you and grasp instead at air. Warm, empty air, as the lifelines pass you by.
Then: slowly, but slowly, the bubble will dissipate. It will not pop suddenly, but suddenly you’ll realize it’s no longer there. You’ll look around. You’ll hear the laughter of children, who had no idea where you’d been all this while, and who’ll ignore your every worry in their characteristic, heedless ways. The sounds of the distant ocean will once more become distinct amidst the peals. Their cadence will lift you up. The compulsions of your day—the need to get food on the table, or to answer the person who has arrived as you asked before you knew what things would be liked (when you had still hoped, and wished), or to pay a bill or send an email or wash the piling dishes—these things will propel you to normalcy. And somewhere, somehow you will allow them to, accepting that there is massive solace in mechanical mundanities.
You’ll get up, at last. You’ll search the cupboards, absently at first, but then things will start to come back into focus. You’ll look around for ways to work with what there is, instead of searching for things that need to be found. Old, completely blackened bananas, ignored amidst all yesterday’s visions of fantastic highs, become your tools of recovery. You’ll think: it’s time to learn how to bake a banana bundt cake.
You’ll beat your despair to the measured rhythms of the beater going round—round—round. You’ll let it go with each eggshell crack. You’ll pour yourself into the batter—not so that you can free yourself from something horrible, but so that you can transform yourself into something beautiful. You’ll work slowly, because it still takes effort to summon energy. But the ingredients will be kind; today they will understand. They’ll help you to bake the most beautifully fragrant banana cake ever. No quick bread, this. Not easy. But something rich and moist, holding out not hope but the surety that all will be well. A resurrection of things that once seemed only fit for the trash. A combination of whatever there was, and whatever there was left, into something that will bring joy, quite incognizant of its origins.
You’ll remember lessons from storybooks. About Sophie, who was angry, very, very angry. About the baker who held back. Simple tales will suddenly make perfect sense, even to you. You’ll carry your slice of cake up to the place from where you can see the ocean or the mountainside or the green meadow or the blue sky. You’ll hear the sounds of birds. The wide world will comfort you. Things will still seem insurmountable—but you, you’ll be more equal to them now. You’ll hear the words St. Nicholas addressed to the baker who held back anew: fall again, mount again, learn how to count again. You’ll know they were said to you, too. And you’ll look at the still uneaten slice in your lap and take a bite—and wonder, though you feel your bruises still, if your fresh counting lessons haven’t already begun.