While speeding off to a doctor’s appointment this morning, I tried to reassure myself that a level of anxiety about an ultrasound is acceptable. The doctor ordered it because she felt something. But why think about what has happened inside my body when the results might show nothing at all. Why worry about what’s to come? I told myself that the next step can only be the one right in front of me. I breathed in and used jedi mind tricks to psych myself to calm. I still felt anxious. A hospital is still a hospital and hospitals just aren’t my favorite places. So rather than look at frightening possibilities, I focused on what was around me. It’s a trick I read for dealing with rising panic. “What do you fingers touch? What can your eyes see?
That’s when I saw it. Sailing through the last light before my turn, I saw a man’s black dress shoe on the side of the road.
I can’t be the only one to wonder about single shoes. Does anyone else wonder where the other might be? Perfectly good things stranded on the roadside bring out a little mind wandering. The time I saw a glove on the median spy plots swirled in my mind. With a shoe, the stories are a little more grounded. (No pun intended.) I imagine the owner of said shoe, arriving at his destination and reaching for his shoes that he could have sworn he put in the car, only to find one on the roof of his car. “Son of a … “ He hits the car. He looks at the shoe that survived and knows he’s missed something, retraces his steps in his mind, but comes up empty. Now what?
It’s all nonsense the way our minds fill in details, right?
But once I get started, I find it easy to continue. What if there’s a mother whose son left his shoes on top of the trunk. They were on their way from his graduation to the restaurant to celebrate. Don’t ask why a teen does silly things? The family is astounded that her son has made it to graduation, considering all the crap he’s pulled. The homework drama. The girlfriend chaos. The poor choices for friends that leave him upset and the house upended in the wake of his confused pain. His mother remembers the sleepless nights she waited up for him, no phone call to assure her. The yelling and arguing. Addictions along the way. She’s tried to understand how to take care of this adult-child/child-adult who been diagnosed with . . . , what did the doc call it? A mental disorder? Borderline something or other? Her beautiful son? Is it her fault? Should she have been tougher on him? Shouldn’t she have seen the signs? What did she miss? She tries to retrace the steps of her life, but the shoes, the shoes. Aren’t they just another sign that she can’t parent? Turning back isn’t a viable option.
Then there’s the fed up girlfriend. I imagine that she’s tired and feeling powerless. While on the way to her boyfriend’s house to pick him up, because he says her house is out of his way, she knows she should stop and get a snack before she loses it. She’s tried to block out the last time it happened. She skipped lunch that time, too. Her stomach growls. But she doesn’t stop. She looks at the stuff he’s left carelessly in her car. It hits her that if she doesn’t act now, she’ll lose her nerve. “I’m done with you!” she yells as she tosses out his crap. One by one. Out goes the tie. A shoe. A pair of sunglasses. Another shoe. She knows it feels edgy and over dramatic, but it also feels insanely powerful. She makes a u-turn at the next light and heads toward her dad who will remind her, didn’t I tell you about that guy? She cringes. He saw signs. What were they? What did she miss?
Or maybe the shoe belonged to a man who arrives angry. He’s our man. He’s calling himself an idiot and feeling like his life is out of control. He’s too old to be a grandfather of five, he tells himself, feeling old and forgetful. And now this? He hates his job, but he’s worried about the kind of job a man could get at his age. The missed opportunities. He closes the car door and thinks what if this is as good as it gets? What if this is all there is?
What if this is all there is? No headline accomplishments. No fiery romance. No magic circus tricks. Kind of feels disappointing, doesn’t it? It’s that the way it is supposed to be? Is that all there is?
He begins to sing “Is that all there is?” Soon he thinks about his wife and the way she used to sing Peggy Lee’s song imitating the singer’s throaty voice. He laughs at himself. Just the way his wife would have, kindly and lovingly, at his worry, at his forgetfulness, at his fear.
A young woman pulls into the lot and sees the man smiling. Walking over to give her grandfather a hug, she feels better than she’s felt in a long while. She tells him she’s famished. His daughter drives up with his remarkable grandson who has finally graduated. Wasn’t sure he would do it, he thinks to himself as he grabs the grandson close and with his eyes shut gives away all of his wishes for the young man’s future.
And as the mom presses the car lock on her key chain, she sees her son in his stocking feet, hugging her dad, holding her niece’s hand. That’s when she remembers so many years ago when her son refused to wear shoes and her dad told her, Hell I never wore shoes til I was seven and that’s only because the teachers made me. Her family is here and she knows if that’s all there is, then it’ll have to do for now. If that’s all there is, then it’s time for a glass of good wine to celebrate all there is.
The stories I tell myself sometimes are silly. It’s all just in my head. But so is the acceptance of things as they are or will be and have been. Every day that has passed is all there is. If that’s the case, then we can either hide in worry or we can put one foot in front of the other, with or without a shoe, and celebrate each step.
Final note: after I wrote this, the doc called. Nothing to worry about. Today I’m definitely celebrating.
One last thing: My mom loved Lee’s song.
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is
then let’s keep dancing
break out the booze
and have a ball
if that’s all there is.