Twenty-Four Hours

On Sunday there’s a minute where I think I’ve lost one of my boys. We’re at the pub and he comes for a cuddle and then I watch him toddle off back to the kids room with the others. I don’t remember seeing him come back out, but when I go to check he isn’t there. I count heads and count heads and keep coming up short. I look under the furniture, behind the door and something rises up from my throat and I can’t breathe and I don’t know what to do or how to voice the sentence that is forming on the tip of my tongue. It’s a minute, maybe two, and then I walk around to tell my husband at the other end of the table — tell him what, I don’t know — and spot a little blonde head playing on the floor in the corner behind him, and it’s all over and I exhale and forget all about it.

Until the middle of the night, when that minute replays itself, over and over again, and each time the eventual outcome is forgotten and all I can think of is the fear, the guilt, the impossibility, and then there are tears and I can’t stop them.

And that’s how yesterday starts. I feel useless. I’m doing some baking for a friend and everything is burning and ugly and taking more time than I have. My inbox is conspicuously empty. The house is a mess. We get a bill I hadn’t expected for a boat we own now, and people keep saying that owning a boat is cool but it’s a huge responsibility and really we’d all rather my kids still had two grandfathers instead.

And in between it all that minute, over and over again.

In the afternoon I go dress shopping, because what better time is there to spend a lot of time looking at your butt in the mirror than when you feel your most useless? The dresses are mostly big pretty 50s swing dresses that hide a multitude of cinnamon buns, so it’s okay at first. I keep angling towards the cheapest ones, because I feel guilty spending money on myself, and the ones with the biggest skirts, because of the aforementioned cinnamon buns, but then I’m convinced to try on this very expensive, very tight thing with a pencil skirt. It shows every bump but it’s kind of cool and between the saleswoman and my husband and my two-year-old, I’m convinced that I can pull it off — a shiny conviction that lasts long enough for me to buy it and get home, before wearing off and revealing my usual grubby insecurity.

The dress is for a wedding and I guess buying it means I’m going to the wedding and not to the Ash show that’s on the same night. The people getting married are lovely and very close friends and I’m thrilled but I’ve been imagining all sorts of impractical, fantastical ways to attend the wedding and see The Band That Defined My Youth. Hanging the dress in my wardrobe, I make peace with this not happening. Ash’ll be back, and even if they’re not I’ve seen them a bunch of times and met them twice and I have my memories and really I’m probably too old for this shit anyway.

After dinner I go for a run. I take my little iPod shuffle, as I always do. As if it knows the afternoon I’ve had, it plays four Ash songs in a row. I try to work out the odds of this happening, given the number of songs on my iPod and the number of them that are by Ash, and I determine only that it’s very, very unlikely.

I have the sads.

I’m worried about the dress.

But the music is good; it makes me run faster.

As I hit the thirty-minute mark, I run up a hill and out of the park, onto the footpath alongside a main road. A white ute goes past me and a voice yells ‘run, fatty, run!’ and I don’t see who yelled it but the arm hanging out of the ute as it drives off looks like a christmas ham, so I have uncharitable thoughts about who has the right to be calling who a fatty here.

I’m flagging, but I’m nothing if not obedient, so I keep running.

The irony, I think, clocking thirty-five minutes, conquering yet another hill — because the entire back half of my run is a series of stupid hills through a suburb with ‘hill’ in it’s name — is that I can run further now than I ever could when I was a size eight. When I was a size eight, even a fit size eight, and not just a too-many-cigarettes size eight, I couldn’t even run for ten minutes, never mind thirty. I may be a fatty, I think, but I’m a fatty who can do this.

I’m heading for home when some terrible-but-great Avril Lavigne song starts up. I pick up speed and when the chorus kicks in I may or may not belt out a line — it’s a breathless belt, but the best belt I can do, given the circumstances. The sun is low in the sky and the breeze is lovely and for the first time in weeks the humidity is almost manageable.

When I think about that minute twenty-four hours ago, my heart thumps, but the tears don’t come. When I think about the guy in the ute, I think I’m supposed to feel shame, but I feel nothing. In the forty-fifth minute of my run, everything seems possible and maybe I’m still useless but for sixty seconds it doesn’t matter.

At the end of that forty-fifth minute, I’ve run just on six kilometres. It’s slow, but it’s a personal best. I want to fall over, but I don’t. Instead, I take one breath, then another and another, and I walk the rest of the way home as the sun sets behind me.

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