An open letter …
On end-of-year hysteria
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.