We all had them, those days when as a child, you would be whining and blubbering with a tear-stained face, exasperating your mother. But now you’re an adult and somehow you’re supposed to cope better with frustration. You’re supposed to “take it all in stride,” to “not sweat the small stuff.” I don’t know about you, but I was never given any guidebook or tools to instruct or assist me through difficult times.
I am not referring to the days when we experience real tragedy, such as a death or a major illness or a catastrophe. It’s the days when the wicked witch of the west would moan, “Oh, the world!” It would be a day when my little French grandmother would sigh and say, “Ohhhhhh, but I!” (The words don’t mean much, but the sentiment does.) It would be the day you drop the twenty dollar bill and never find it, and then you go home and your child drops the pitcher of milk that shatters and splatters all over the dining room table and then drips down onto the carpet. Or it would be the day that you mistakenly put fingernail glue in your eye instead of eye drops, and when you go home, the late mortgage payment that you finally put in the mail has been returned to you because you forgot to put a stamp on the envelope.
One of my days was during finals week and my apartment was a mess. I was down to my last set of clean clothes – the ones I hated because I felt like such a geek in them. My hair needed cutting, I was out of money and I was behind on my bills. I looked around where my daughter and I lived while I attended the University of Minnesota, and wondered why my life never looked like those advertisements for Kodak. You could never take a picture of my life, put a frame around it and use it as a successful ad campaign for that company.
It was 10:00 a.m., my daughter was off to school, where I too should have been, except I had stayed up doing calculus until 3:00 a.m., and then overslept. I didn’t have a chance to take a shower, and on my way out the door, I slipped on a yellow jellybean. With my backpack full of heavy books, I desperately tried to find a way to fall to the floor so as not to break my back. I got to my feet, took a deep breath and opened the door.
The phone rang and I knew I shouldn’t answer it, but I did. The woman on the other end was from a collection agency. She told me I owed $200.00 to this particular optometrist and that it was her business to see that he got paid.
I was confused and tried to explain the arrangements I had made with him. I listened to her on the phone telling me to pay up, or else. It seemed at that moment that she was saying, “if you think your life is bad now, just try fighting against me!” “Mwwahh ha ha ha ha ha!” I stood looking at the calamity around me, only able to interject into her tirade, the same word over again, “…but…but…but…”
Through my shock, it dawned on me that she thought she had me pegged. To her, I was lazy and selfish. I was stupid but thought I was being crafty by not paying my bills. She was thinking that everything I told her was going to be a lie and that she had heard it all before. She was thinking that all she had to do was bully me and treat me like a very spoilt child to make me pay my bill.
She was wrong and she didn’t know me very well. It was a grave tactical error on her part. I don’t do well with bullying and coercion. I never have, call it a knee jerk reaction. I was instantly alert and all sense of weakness dissipated. I may fall apart after this was over, but not now. If my daughter had seen the expression on my face, she would have called it the “stoneface.” Since being rational and professional did not seem to be the way she handled her business, I was going to beat her at her own bullying game.
I became very calm and started explaining the situation. She interrupted. I interrupted her. She raised her voice and interrupted me. I increased the decibel level and interrupted her. Soon we were shouting at each other. It didn’t really matter what we said to each other as long as we kept it clean, free of insults and could outtalk the other. I knew I was winning.
She said, “If you keep yelling at me, I’ll hang up!”
I said, “That’s the point!”
She hung up.
The silence in the room was palpable. The fight or flight adrenaline rush I experienced in the heat of the argument was draining away, now leaving room for doubt and bleak frustration. Eventually I would find out that the whole thing was a complete misunderstanding and the doctor would call the collection agency to cancel the claim.
Standing with my hand still resting on the phone, I looked around at the still dreary conditions and now I wasn’t sure whether I had made the right decision. I thought of the Kodak picture again.
“No,” I thought, “You wouldn’t want a picture of this.”
It would be quite a sight though. Maybe you could freeze frame this moment in time. Yes, it was a difficult time and at this particular moment I was not very happy, but I knew I had learned some very valuable lessons about trusting one’s instincts and not allowing people to walk over me. I also learned that even though this was another pithy qliche “this too shall pass, ” had some truth to it.
Maybe, whenever I had another day or another event like this, I could put a mental picture frame around it again. It could help me to put the situation into a different perspective, to emotionally separate enough from the event to allow me the opportunity to better analyze it and to keep myself from going totally nuts. Prozac would help too.
Better yet, maybe I could start my own company. You know, take pictures of moments in a person’s life that aren’t perfect or when they felt they were on the edge of going crazy. Maybe I could sell them as motivational cards to encourage people to get through those times or at least embrace their insanity. “Hello insanity, I love you!”
Now it was my turn to sound like a mad scientist as I started to laugh. I could see it all now. I could pay for my student loans with all the money I made, or pay for a shrink who would teach me how to cope. People would call me and thank me for my wisdom and my insight. They would write me letters and tell me they kept one of my cards at their desk because it reminded them of a certain situation that they went through.
I smiled as I closed the door behind me. I was going to be fine, but maybe a little Prozac would help too.