The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
Maybe we are all monsters.
I wonder what kind I am.
I like to be alone. Even when I’m alone, I sometimes feel like I’m too many people. I socialize when invited, but I often dread the idea of leaving my house and being around people. This includes my own family.
Last year, I stood in my kid’s classroom and the room began to fill with other parents. There were suddenly too many people jockeying for a front seat. Too many bodies close to me. I must have had a panicked look on my face.
The teacher approached me and said, “Would you feel better by the door?”
I would. I did. I moved away from the crowd to a place where I felt more comfortable. Now I instinctively position myself at the entrance just in case I need to escape. I like the idea of people, but not the actuality of people. They are selfish and fatiguing and racing to unknown finish lines.
They are monsters. Like me.
I accept invitations when I’m invited. I need to prove to the world that I am normal. I can be social when I try. They don’t have to know that I am messed up and mean and sad and angry. I am a monster. Then my special gift appears. Some call it optimism. I call it survival. These are the skills I have.
I am a person of low expectations. This means I’m almost always satisfied.
I take care of other people without expecting anything in return. I don’t need thanks or love or happiness as a result of something I do for someone else.
I take care of myself. I’m an employee who does not define myself by my job. I’m a mom who doesn’t like kids. I’m writer who thinks books should be free and writing should be taught to people who have nothing but words in their head.
I trust people who have hobbies. Running, quilting, book clubs, street art, whatever. These are important.
Happiness is not something that happens. Happiness is a thing created. I am messed up and mean and sad and angry. I am also profoundly happy. I make happiness each day. A magician makes magic out of nothing. A prayer is an invisible thing. Each morning I reach into the air and begin to make happiness.
I stand on the sidelines in the rain. This could be terrible, but I try to find joy. There are geese on the field next to us, and my umbrella makes a kaleidoscope of colors when I spin it.
I create my own expectations for motherhood. I set my own standards for what is correct and good and just. I find people who replicate joy. I work at happiness like it’s my job.
I don’t like it when people say, “Be happy.” You can’t just be happy. There isn’t a happiness switch. Happiness has a crank. Happiness is in the water at the bottom of a deep well. It may take days or weeks or years to bring it to the surface. You have to work at it.
I bought a bottle of water in the airport. The cashier said, “Did you ever spend all day outside in the summer? You didn’t want to go inside until the end of the day. This bottle of water tastes like that.”
There are poets working in the airport.
“Like hose water?” I asked.
“Yes! Like that. Delicious.”
She was finding happiness and giving it to me. I know the taste of hose water. It is probably not the best water in the world. But when you are happy in the summer, the water tastes happy. That’s the truth.
People try to warn me of dangerous parenting times ahead. I have entered the teenage years of motherhood. I don’t know why I’m so excited about this. But I’m very happy. Thirteen is a great age. When she was still a beautiful mystery inside my belly, we called her Lucky. I will have to trust her to care for me one day.
I look at motherhood and some days I look far, far into the future. I hope I’m lucky enough to get there.
This week, my hairdresser asked me if we should do something about my gray hair.
“Leave it,” I said. I looked in the mirror and saw something beautiful because I was looking for it. Call it gray or white or silver if you want, now I call them survival lines. I love them.
Each morning I look at the monster. I find the sad places, the moments of feeling overwhelmed, and all the regrets that fester as I sleep. I look at the gray hairs. I look for happiness. I reach into the air and begin to make happiness. It is my magic. It is my prayer.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the backroads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories will appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.