AS THE LATE NOVEMBER AFTERNOON DARKENS, I exit my client’s office building onto 17th Street NW, into the gray rain. It is that misty kind of rain that is enough to instantly unstraighten my hair, regardless of whether I use an umbrella.
I pull my wheeled bag down the street, past the back entrance to the Mayflower Hotel, and I’m immediately stricken with a fantasy. In my head, instead of continuing down the street, I enter the hotel, nodding friendly greetings to the familiar bellhops as I board the elevator to an upper floor. I slide the card-key into the card slot and hear the electronic tweets as I enter my warm, welcoming suite. I kick off my heels (I’m wearing heels in the fantasy, not sensible commuter shoes, and they don’t hurt!), and notice that a bottle of expensive red wine and two glasses are waiting. Wait - is it wine, or champagne? Or is it an icy cold, extra dry, three-olive vodka martini? And are those… cheese straws? And cashews??
And isn’t that just like me to become mired in the ridiculous details? Because it doesn’t matter; whatever consumables are in my fantasy room, the point is that I have conjured myself into a place that is the polar opposite of where I’m headed tonight in real life: A semi-clean ranch home in the outer suburbs, full of dog-hair tumbleweeds and rogue dirty socks and laundry that needs folding and sheets that really ought to be changed and three growing boys who need things NOW. Milk, for starters.
Said destination is a world away in my head at this moment, yet it’s only a one-hour commute from this fantasy spot. That’s assuming Metro is running on schedule. Add time if it isn’t. Also, add 15 extra minutes if you include picking up the kid from extended care, and another 15 minutes if you must choreograph a mad dash through the grocery store on the way home because the boys are killing a gallon of milk every other day lately.
I and my wheelie bag descend into the Farragut North Station. All the escalators are running tonight, which bodes well, and indeed I am rewarded with a mere two-minute wait for a train that is destined for the very end of the line, where my large gas-guzzling, holds-a-family-of-five-plus-a-large-dog vehicle is parked. I grab a sideways seat near the center doors of the car and resign myself to 30 mildly motion-sick minutes on the train.
The thing about Downtown DC is that evokes in me strong memories and emotions. DC was where I began my career, over 20 years ago, two blocks north of the Mayflower at the corner of Connecticut and N. I was fresh out of college and had spent every minute of my 22 years living in Pennsylvania, and I was so ready for a change. DC ended up being perfect for me; I took to city life like a duck to water. I loved it. I thrived.
I sometimes long for those relatively carefree days. I lived alone, I was responsible for only myself. I paid my bills on time, and no one else depended on me. If needed, I could stay at the office for a few extra minutes to wrap up some work without the pressure of having to leave RIGHT NOW in order to pick up a child from daycare or cook dinner for a hungry family. No one would wake me up in the middle of the night but me. My commute was a mere two stops on the Metro, but on nice days I would sometimes walk the 45 minutes between uptown and the southern part of Dupont Circle.
Not long after I moved to DC, I met the man with whom I now share our 0.87-acre slice of suburban heaven. Curt and I had such fun back in the day! We were two country kids from central PA, ramming around the city, discovering our new selves, soaking in the energy, taking advantage of all the city had to offer. Three years later we were married. That was 18 years, three kids, eight vehicles, and three mortgages (not counting the refis) ago.
And that’s what’s funny about my little fantasy: it almost always includes this man with whom I have shared everything for more than two decades. Except that in my fantasy, we are us NOW, not us THEN. We have nowhere to be but in the present. Don’t misunderstand: I love everything we have. I have the man, the kids, the large automobile, the home in the suburbs in a Very Good School District. And I am happy; I wouldn’t change a thing! It’s just that sometimes, the weight of all the responsibilities in our life overwhelms me. And then this fantasy that I have, the one about just walking away from it, tugs at that part of my brain that won’t let me utter these thoughts aloud…
...and before you know it, I have changed into a chic ensemble that includes sexy high heels that don’t hurt my bunions OR my hammertoe, and I’m skinny and my hair is fashionably sassy and has been professionally highlighted, and I am carrying a really expensive handbag – without guilt over the cost! (or maybe it was a gift!) – and I am sipping a sophisticated, $14 cocktail in a trendy downtown establishment and I’m out late and I’m not tired! I’m having witty repartee with Very Smart DC types, who may or may not include my husband (wait, where’s Curt?), because while he is without a doubt my better half, I am me, after all, I’m an individual, and…
Well, it goes on and on, but eventually it ends, because I have to come home sometime, right? I mean, these three human beings that my husband and I have created? They really do need me. They need US, here, together. And really, they’ll be grown and gone in the blink of an eye, won’t they? This is what I’m told: Don’t wish these days away. Enjoy every single moment!
This picture came from here)
So, I’ve come to regard my fantasy as therapeutic (without the copay). It’s a necessary mental break. A reboot. A pushing of the reset button in my addled brain. Because this fantasy reminds me that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I mean, it would be fun for a day or two, but after that? Wouldn’t it become boring? Might I not start longing for the husband and the children and our cozy home on our quiet street?
I’ve learned from observing others around me that the grass mostly isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. And when you look at it all, the metaphorical grass where I live is the most vibrant shade of green! (The real grass where I live is another story entirely.) I’m truly blessed; I couldn’t - wouldn’t! - ask for anything other than what I have.
…But that doesn’t mean I can’t fantasize every so often that my life was carefree and my commute was but a short walk to a funky establishment in a happening ‘hood. As long as I always remember where I am meant to be, where I truly belong.