Jessica Hopper is a senior editor at Pitchfork, the Editor-in-Chief of Pitchfork Review, and the author of The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic.
6 am, bed, bedroom: A tiny finger is poking my eyelid trying to wake me up, trying to pry my limp arm from the covers to rapunzel up into the bed. I do not open my eyes. Maybe I whine stop I’m sleeping. “Out of here, back to your beds, guys” says my husband. “Mommy needs her sleep.” Saturday is usually “my” day to sleep in, but sleep in is tough once the boys are awake the house is alive with the racket of their activity, their truck-related fights, their complaints for food portion fairness, their songs, and tiny bodies racing up and down the stairs.
7am, bed, bedroom: I wake up smelling smoke but it’s actually bacon. I have been dreaming a dream where I am racing on a bike through a cartoon of a french village, past a table where Meredith Graves and John Joseph? are having tea, drinking from delicate little cups, I am racing to be at something, to make it through some big iron gate for the sake of my book. I turn and there is Tim Kinsella working in some little market stall. He has the book in his hands and says it will be okay, the thing we want to have happen is happening. I dream more dreams that are, again, stupidly literal–I am trying to stay afloat on a boat. I go back to sleep. Lately I dream about a big tsunami wave coming, and I am fearful it will drown me, but instead I am surfed to its towering crest and am surprised, relieved. I have another dream right before waking where I am jamming in some Berghain-grade fortress of a club, with Shannon Selberg of the Cows, and Craig Finn maybe and David Yow. I pick up the guitar but I cannot hear myself out of the amps, I can only hear them. I am afraid I have forgotten to play, but remember I know powerchords, octave chords, I play them, but I can only hear the boys. It sounds like Zuma but sloppier. My brain is obvious.
8 am, bed, bedroom: My husband comes and tells me he is taking the boys two stops on the train to the playground. We talk of a vague plan for the day. I will work on my closet situation while they are away, he must do a long training run this weekend, distinct possibility neither will happen. Maybe I will go try to shop for a couch today, with his mom, who is gifting us one. We have just moved into our first house maybe 6 weeks ago now. I have barely been here, been on tour for 2 of those weeks, had events for the book three times a week, gone every weekend. My suitcase from tour is still exploded in the corner of the room. This week was the first chance I have had to move in here some.
8:21 am, kitchen: I put on water for tea. I hear a scribbling sound, and go around the corner. William is drawing at the little art table. I put two earl grey tea bags in a mug that Matt’s parents got for pledging to the high school radio station where Matt was a teen age DJ. Matt is my husband. My littler son, Jude, shows up from the basement playroom and wraps himself around my leg and announces he is a baby turtle. “And your name is Soffy.”
8:30 am, kitchen: I pick up my phone off the charger and see what’s going on in the world, check notifications. Have vowed to have weekends be minimal screentime, phonetime, internetting, no working for the sake of being present and analog-paced. Someone I do not know on the west coast tweeted to me that they heard the BBC piece on my book at 4 am. I look on the WBEZ schedule to see when it will air here. It aired at 1 am. I imagine cab drivers and night owls have a new awareness of my book. I turn on the radio and half listen to Weekend Edition for about a minute before spending a half hour trying to help Matt get the boys out the door for the playground.
9:15 am, bedroom/bathroom: I put on my go to pair of jeans and a loose black t-shirt. Brush teeth, brush face. I plug in my laptop and start it up, search for a hair tie. I have long-long hair again for the first time in a decade. I manage to lose a whole valuepack of hairties every month. I find the extant one on my nightstand underneath Saeed Jones Prelude to Bruise, which I bought last week. I am only maybe 8 poems in. Since becoming a parent, my capacity to witness children suffering, violence of any sort has diminished greatly. This will be a slow read for me.
9:20 am, bedroom, my closet: The gift of this home of ours is that whomever lived in it before was as much of a clothespig as I am. The closet it 16’ x 6’. Right now, it is a disaster and has been since five days after we moved in, when I left for book tour. It’s a coiterie of boxes, piles, suitcases, shoes, cotton chaos, and now smells weird due to me airdrying a pair of leather pants I machine washed in here. It smells like a tannery. I cannot walk in because there is so much shit in my way. I prop my laptop open inside a suitcase and pull up my podcasts, and take a second to decide between catching up on the NY Times Popcast and Bookworm. Maggie Nelson is on Bookworm, I will save that for later, as a treat. I listen to the Popcast episodes discussing Jason DeRulo and A$AP Rocky, make a mental note to give the new Rocky album a dedicated listen. I manage to clear the path, rearrange and hang things in order by season. I go to my husbands closet to steal hangers and find that he has a poster of me in there, which makes me laugh.
10:30 am, closet, still: Matt calls saying they are getting on the train home, which takes approximately 4 minutes. I am picking them up, and we are going to the the boys summer camp orientation at the park.
10:35 am, car, driveway: I turn on 99.5 the mainstream country station and open the moonroof.
10:36 am, trainstation: I pick up my passengers, who complain immediately about the lack of provisions. We drive the two blocks home to get juiceboxes.
10:50 am, car: Matt and I have barely seen each other in a week, and try for a minute to catch up by running down the things we have to catch up about eventually. We just had a 10th anniversary of togetherness and 4th of marriage, and for most of that, we either both worked at home or were marginally employed or he was in school and we spent hours a day talking sometimes. Now we both have 50 hour a week jobs at offices, and so time merely is a wish. This is a year with no time, a year where I am gone every weekend this fall. Wife-ghost 2015.
11ish. Camp classroom. We are hanging out, meeting the teenage shepherdesses that will hang with the boys this summer; they are tanned, annoyed–as teenagers are. We are sitting at a children’s low table filling out forms about allergies and sunscreen and talking to counselors, and a call comes on Matt’s phone from my step mom. This is unusual, but we figure she is following up on an email about what size pajamas the boys wear and I make a note to call her back when I leave. I get up to go meet Matt’s mom in the parking lot for a trip to the couch store. I pull out my phone to text her to say I am headed outside now, and notice my stepmom has also called my phone. I feel a little panicked as I dial her back. She picks up on the first ring and I can tell something is very wrong from her voice when she says my name. “I don’t mean to worry you, but your dad is missing. There is an official search and rescue out looking for him.” I try to listen but I am sobbing and am sinking to the floor. She is telling me what has happened, about how the other guys, they got rescued at one in the morning but they did not realize dad was not back and the weather is bad and they had to wait until morning and there is a plane coming, Mounties are out looking. It’s not making sense. I am hysterical, and people are passing with their children and maybe they are saying something to me. Someone with a name tag, maybe two people, and ask if they can move me to some place private, can they get someone for me. I tell them my husband and where he is, but he is already walking down the long hallway, and the boys can see something is going on. I tell him to give the boys to his parents and come back. I am in a conference room alone and I just start screaming at the top of my lungs. Maybe three times? I am punching my leg? I am punching the piano bench I am on? My sadness is usually fury. This cannot happen. This cannot happen. Matt comes in and I tell him what I know but I can hardly talk. I ask him to call my step mom. He is calm, the good person for emergencies, facts only. He tells me “it’s going to be ok.” and I tell him do not say that to me right now. I try to breathe so I can call my sister to tell her. She doesn’t answer. I call again and again until she does. I tell her. Matt is across the room getting the whole story from my step mom. My sister is asking questions, and I relay them to Matt. We two sit in silence, waiting for details from him. Matt does not want to interrupt for specifics. In the waiting, I tell my sister remember how safe dad always is, how much disdain he has for people who take risks when boating. Dad would get safe before a storm. He is strong and in good shape, he would have a life jacket on, he knows what to do. All of this is true. What Matt finds out does not alleviate any of my fears.
I pull myself together and we leave to go home. The boys are in some waiting room with their other grandpa. We talk around things, but the kids are asking what is wrong. We tell them I got some news that has made me worry. That I will tell them later, but right now I am sad. We ride home and the boys ask again. I ride with the phone resting on my bare thigh, so if it buzzes I will know it immediately, I will not mistake it. I think about awful calls I have gotten in my life, missed calls, the news of my best friends death languishing in my voicemail for a week. I text my dad that I love him. I send another clarifying: we all love him. I pray foxhole prayers, graceless pleading. I feel like I could kick the entire car apart. Matt takes my hand.
Maybe noon? As we pull up into the driveway, a text comes. My dad has been found, and “he is oj”, which is followed by “OKAY”. I get out of the car and sit on the lawn and pull the boys into my arms tight. When I was younger, I was really matter of fact about not being terrorized by the what ifs of my life, but children negate that. We lay down. They fight over who gets to wear my sunglasses. I explain to them, in three sentences, a child safe version of what happened and that I am okay now. I do not feel okay. I am elated but it does not feel like that. The topography of life just went into high relief for an hour. After Jude goes inside for lunch, William and I just hang out in the grass. I am prone, making a meuse in our suburban lawn. He tells me to sit up. A robin comes and starts taking a bath in a pan of rainwater in the front yard. Two mourning doves come and watch. After a few minutes, William disappears for a moment, and then returns. He just peed on the hostas on the side of the house. Of our front yard. He asks me some questions about emergencies, about what we would do if our house caught on fire. I ask him if he is thinking about this because of what I told him about and he says that his brain forgets stuff so fast he never really worries much. He goes inside. I stay out laying in the yard for a while. I feel as if I have just run a marathon.
Time? I grab an ice tea and bagel from the fridge and try to eat lunch with the boys but I feel so restless and strange. Matt suggests I just go pick out the couch, he will put the boys down for naps. I smell horrible, having sweat through my shirt in a panic. In lieu of changing I spray Genie De Bois EDP up my fetid t shirt and put on my jean jacket, which smells even worse as I have not washed since getting home from tour. I return to the driveway and pull up the navigation on my phone. I am going to the mall.
1:50 pm, car: My step dad calls from a satellite phone. He is sorry we had such a scare. He was never in danger. The boat goat swamped by waves, when they were headed in, so stuff got wet, but thats it. He is in a cabin, they have no reception. I lose the call. Bon Jovi “Dead or Alive” is playing on the radio. I switch it to the soft rock station. The other one.
2pm, parking lot, Old Orchard mall: I have never been to a mall on the weekend in a decade. I have never been to this mall. I have snagged a spot near an entrance, the loading zone for Cheesecake Factory pick up. I all but march to the Crate and Barrel. My mom replies to my text explaining, post facto, the story of the non-misadventure. Her reply “holy shit”. I call her while I flounce on the assorted couches. They are all slate grey. They are all bullshit.
2:15 center of the mall: I am walking to see, perhaps there is some option at the Pottery Barn which is like two miles due south here in the massive mall. It is an outdoor space, the waft of trad mall smells: pretzel dough, the stevia-fruit stank of Teavana, that high school/strip club scent memory of Bath & Body Works body spray, sillage clouds of Angel™ wafting off young women. I am half way to Pottery Barn when I realize I do not want a couch from there even if someone else is paying. I duck into the Sephora, sterilize the tester tube of the second darkest high pigment red Nars shade and put it on. My hands are shaking, but I do not realize until I try to apply it. It’s an inexpert application, I fix it with my finger. My face is tearstained and I am somehow out of the house without sunglasses, I feel like I have been walking for 18 hours. But now at least I look like a more potent strain of fucked up.
2:40 Room & Board, Skokie, IL location: I am trying every couch. I am practically whipping myself onto them. A showroom speedtrial. If I like it, I lay down. Slip my nurse shoes off and get prone. I look like such a dirtbag, no one on the sales floor even looks at me. I am the only woman here without a facelift. Most of these couches are too squishy. They feel like a dogbed. I find the one I like. I lay there for a while. I make some calls, send some texts. I want to ask someone if I can have the OOP Keith Haring book artfully askewed on the glass coffee table, because maybe they might go for it.
3:30 Antique Mall near to my house: Maybe there is a couch here? There is not. There is a full size taxidermied peacock that is half off though. $400 is a bargain for that crusty thing.
4:15 pm, home, bedroom: I go home, walk inside and lay facedown on the floor and lay there until my husband finds me. “I’m tired” I say. This is the longest day in years. When I walked in, I saw the picture William had drawn this morning: two boats, one with a man overboard attached to a line. I wake the boys from nap, we sit in the windowsill and have hot chocolate for snack, watch the fog roll in as their dad mows the lawn; they follow him from window to window, like magnets. I give them offbrand hippie pop tarts as a treat. They have no idea what they are and refuse them intially. First pop tarts.
Later: I try to eat dinner but I cannot manage, apologize and go lay on the couch. Jude follows me. He asks me to explain to him what everything is in the Anthropologie catalog he has found nearby. We lay there, his little body in the crook of mine, and go page by page. “Lemons” “A hammock” “Plates with an octopus drawing on them”. He asks for me to tell him a story about Tito our cat. I fall asleep doing this, but still keep talking (lifelong habit) and when I wake, I am telling him, apparently, about Tito writing a review of my book, and feel strangely embarrassed and wonder what Jude thinks a review might be. Jude tells me a story of Tito that is basically just the one I told him, and then of his grandpa, who was “lost in the distance” and was then found by a rescue helicopter. I ask what he thinks about it. He tells me “You were very worried. You had bad news. You were very upset and crying.” I half sleep some more, with Jude snuggling, talking to me. Maybe it has been an hour. Matt comes in and builds blanket forts for the boys. It is past their bedtime. He puts them to bed, I drag myself to ours. I am too awake to sleep. I debate whether to keep reading the Sally Mann memoir, but instead I look at couches on Craiglist, which turns into looking up wooden chairs. It has been raining for hours.
10:20, bed: watch current episode of Veep via HBOgo purloined from friend. Lay in bed and talk to Matt, tell him about the pattern in the new bedspread/textile I thrifted, which is embroidered with people and animals– it looks like the lady is either making a hang-loose with her hand, or is about to plunge an icepick into the man she is perhaps dancing with. Every picture-blanket tells a story, don’t it?
11?, bed: consummated my marriage