An open let­ter …

On end-of-year hys­te­ria

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­

Gen­er­ally speak­ing I be­come hys­ter­i­cal once, maybe twice a year. In the past 12 months there have been two episodes. In­ci­dent one: Au­gust, ski­ing hol­i­day, poor vis­i­bil­ity on the moun­tain so de­ci­sion made to go on a bike ride. Mer­rily enough, off we set, two fam­i­lies of four, but colder, mud­dier and steeper than ex­pected we dropped like flies. A fa­ther only just re­cov­ered from the flu and the two small­est were the first to turn back, then a mother and freez­ing daugh­ter, un­til it was me, my hus­band and son. On­ward, we said. And usu­ally I pride my­self on my phys­i­cal stamina. How­ever, as the track grew ever more pre­car­i­ous and the weather in­creas­ingly in­clement, I was forced to ad­mit de­feat. I’ll see you back at the house, I said, an­tic­i­pat­ing the wine and chips I’d shortly be down­ing in front of the heater. It was fur­ther and trick­ier, though, than I’d thought, and I started to take these sharp, pan­icky lit­tle breaths. Soon it was as if my fin­gers and toes were no longer mine and my cries came as loud and di­vorced from my nor­mal way of be­ing as if from some en­snared beast. A ute of yob­bos ap­proached. Take pity on me, I silently pleaded. Save me. Yet they just ya­hooed past and I rode on and on, be­fore fi­nally I was there. Too stiff to re­move my sod­den cloth­ing, too hoarse to call out, I crawled up the stairs, where­upon my shocked friends were forced to un­dress me, lower me into a hot bath, re­turn me to nor­malcy.

In­ci­dent two: Novem­ber, home alone, lunch­ing on a sand­wich of egg in white bread. The egg was mashed with a lit­tle mayo, pars­ley and curry pow­der, and it was all per­fectly de­li­cious, when a mouth­ful lodged in my throat and the hot tea I tried to gulp down only turned it to glue. I ran around my kitchen, hoick­ing and awk­wardly thump­ing my­self on the back, imag­in­ing I would die there, my novel un­fin­ished, my chil­dren moth­er­less, that my hus­band would re­marry a Salma Hayek looka­like. And as my life flashed be­fore my eyes, and the dog watched on non­plussed, a mu­cilagi­nous lump flew from me. It landed wetly on the floor, the dog ate it up, and my fu­ture was handed back to me.

I fig­ured that was it for 2017, un­til last week hys­te­ria over­took me anew. At a dance show to mark the cul­mi­na­tion of my daugh­ter’s year of les­sons, we clapped rap­tur­ously at every fer­vent dis­play and cheered on the lit­tlest. But when a group of fully grown women took to the stage, sud­denly the sparkles and pasted-on fa­cial ex­pres­sions, which had been so en­dear­ing on the younger per­form­ers seemed vaguely ridicu­lous and I started laugh­ing madly and couldn’t stop. And ever since, it is as if a flood­gate has opened up. Out run­ning with my dog, a hatch­back drove up on to the foot­path in or­der to avoid a scooter. I heard scream­ing com­ing from some­where, then re­alised it was me. I sense it in my chil­dren, too, and my hus­band, friends and fam­ily, strangers even. Knack­ered, we are all count­ing down. Just three more days of school, I prom­ise my son. Just two more Christ­mas par­ties, I tell my hus­band. Just one more er­rand, I vow to my­self. It’s hardly sur­pris­ing ev­ery­one is a teensy bit hys­ter­i­cal when you think that, for many of us any­way, our big­gest cel­e­bra­tion of the year also sig­nals the fin­ish of school, work, and the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer hol­i­days. There are hams to or­der and stock­ing fillers to dream up, projects to sign off and camp­ing sites to book. This year the weather has been so un­ex­pect­edly fair for De­cem­ber that most evenings the streets around the in­ner-city beaches near where I live are filled with peo­ple in togs, tow­els draped around their necks. I find my­self mar­vel­ling at how any­one finds the time to head to the beach in the mid­dle of the silly sea­son. One re­cent night, though, a list of jobs as long as my arm — presents to wrap in or­der to catch the post for fam­ily over­seas, se­cret Santa to or­gan­ise for my son’s class — I de­cided I was go­ing swim­ming. And as the warm, murky wa­ters flowed over me and with each clumsy, salty stroke, I felt the hys­te­ria eb­bing.

It’s hardly sur­pris­ing ev­ery­one is a teensy bit hys­ter­i­cal when you think that, for many of us, our big­gest cel­e­bra­tion of the year also sig­nals the fin­ish of school, work, and the be­gin­ning of the hol­i­days.

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