by Krissy Dieruf
I’m stuffing my feelings—all of them, every day.
I am a clinical therapist, so I know better. But quarantine during COVID-19 has created an abundance of confusion, too many emotions waging war in my mind to allow room to breathe. My feelings are like my house, bursting from the inside out, bloated, and stacked from bottom to top. My family has always been a group of rebels. Now we’re wild, caged animals who need to run. There are landmines everywhere.
My husband stepped on one the other day when he texted me a link for Online classes from the best colleges in the US. He sat there, in his office two feet away from my eternal perch at the kitchen island where I eat, serve, clean, empty the dishwasher, check my emails, trade GIF’s with my friends of women drinking tequila and bowls of wine, and then eat some more, thinking he was doing something super sweet.
He said, Here, honey, you like to learn. Take a class!
So when he walked out a few minutes later and I said, “Haha. That text about the classes! Who has time for that?” and he said, “I do. I already signed up,” I could tell by the look on his face he saw the explosion he had inadvertently triggered reflected in my eyes. The room went red. Fragments of once whole objects danced and burned before me.
My husband grew pale, his mind working, wondering what the hell just happened and what should be his next move. He said, “I’ll make some free time. I can do it after the kids go to bed if I have to. You can, too!”
I felt like I was suffocating. My feelings strangled me. I tried thinking positive thoughts, such as My husband is a great person. Our children need him in their lives. I love him so much when he’s not working from home in the glass-doored office in our front hallway, and I’m not quarantined to my house, unable to see my friends or take my kids anywhere. But it didn’t work. I was a dam about to break.
The entire range of feelings a human being can know came spewing out of me in one sharp arrow aimed right at my husband’s forehead. I didn’t yell, but a low whisper when you’re angry is scarier.
“I am struggling. Our children are struggling. We are drowning, and you are taking a fucking class from Harvard.”
I might have been so crazed I even said Harvard in a Brooklyn accent.
“Congratulations! Enjoy your class, in your little office, with your closed door, and your free time!” I yelled that last sentence, my voice rising with each word like an elevator going up up up, right off a cliff.
I could tell he was falling through a myriad of reactions now, and he didn’t know which one to land on. He didn’t truly understand yet. Yes, I was drowning because, as I said, I was stuffing a million emotions into every fiber of my being. I was like a lead weight in the ocean, but I had never told him that before. To him, I roamed around the house doing laundry, vacuuming, and letting our kids play on their screens for way too long. I drag my three children on walks and circle the kitchen like a lost and starving lunatic most days. I could see how he would think I had time to sit down for two hours a week and get some good old learning done.
But what can look like a mom standing there not doing much is really a woman standing there holding everything for everyone.
My arms are outstretched, aching from the strain, my most important job to keep it all together. I am trying to move, to do all the things without dropping the load like a million eggs on the hardwood floor. It is heavy. And to keep holding on, being the heartbeat, the pulse, the peace, the enforcer, the temperature, the brevity, the breakfast lunch and dinner, the shoes and coats, the clean rooms, the laundry, the clean floor, the wiping down of everything, the tooth brusher, the bath giver, the school work helper, the talker-through-er, the tiebreaker, the fight breaker upper, the maker-upper, the cookies and milk, the go to your room, the come here you need a hugger, day after day with no reprieve, and still sneak in a shower, no.
No, I don’t have time to take a class. I cracked, letting the eggs fall. Rather, I started chucking them at his head.
Graciously, he let me throw it all at him, dumping the weight I had been carrying all over. When the shell fragments of my feelings lay strewn at our feet, my anger dissipated, I finally cried.
“I think I am really sad,” I confessed. “I hate this so much.”
And there, at my island, where I thought I was alone, he pulled me into a hug, my feelings and tears oozing like yolk all over his bare feet. We stood together, acknowledging the messy, confusing, uncertain, upside-down world we are living and all the emotions evoked by it.
Life in quarantine, I realized, is my classroom. It’s not Harvard, but I have a lot to learn here.
When the smoke cleared, my husband and I promised to keep talking, to keep listening to each other. He went back to work five steps away, and I went back to the twentieth email about a zoom meeting for one of my kids. But I felt a little lighter, a lot less suffocated. And hungry.
Krissy Dieruf is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children, loves to sing and dance around the house, and has a soft spot for rebels and crazy hair. You can find her on Facebook at Krissy Dieruf, Writer.