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Ennui

She was thinking about the parrot in The Awakening saying if only you knew. Ah! si tu savais, or something like that. She read that story when she was younger, in her twenties, and at the time it seemed artistic. There was suicide at the end, that weird inexplicable thing that seems to happen in all these stories of ennui; the artistry is in the juxtaposition of beauty and death, the incongruency. The horror at the method, the meaning of it, or what is beautiful about life isn't a part of the story. Maybe it's meant to be artistic, but more likely it's just a recounting of fact. Virginia Woolf walking into a river, the Chopin character swimming out to sea, Anna Karenina and the train; no pathology, just the end. "I'm tired of this now, it bores me, I think I'm done here." It's not really artistic, it's just realistic.

She is driving down the road in a car, a large, expensive conglomeration of many resource consuming parts on a large expanse of material. A street, blacktop surrounded by concrete, metal poles, wires, building with countless tons of around her. One huge long street that represents who knows how many tons of rock, tar, and labor hours. All for the sake of moving big metal, plastic and glass things around with one or two people in them. Some days she just can't bear the sight of the waste. There's nothing to do, nothing that can be done, no matter how she might feel or thinks she should feel about it all. She can't really feel. All that is left is that mind numbing boredom that acts as a blackhole, sucking in all feeling, the despair, the joy, the sadness, the anger. There's nothing but a sense of futility at it all. Maybe she is done too. Is there really any point to it all, she wonders. Maybe you can just decide you are done and give up. Maybe the people who experience the longest lives are the ones who don't want to.

Some days she is filled with awe at the joy and beauty in life, but not right now. Right now she is just driving down a city street on a gray December day to go to Toys R Us to buy a Christmas present that she doesn't have to pay for, but that she doesn't really want to buy even though it was her idea in the first place. What is the point of it all. She is feeling like every stereotyped middle aged female character ever written about. All the Anne Tyler novels make perfect sense now; she is the yellow wall paper. This is how you feel middle-aged, she decides. One minute you feel as young as you ever were laughing at 20 year olds who just don't get that. The next minute you see the edge of something. Something shiny and hopeful, bright and meaningful is fleeing away and you realize you have to decide to keep on going, or you decide you've had enough. Life really isn't going to be what you thought or hoped it could be. It might be even better than the youthful life you led. In point of fact, you know it is. And that is what is so damn wrong about it all. This may well be the pinnacle, and that is downright depressing.

So she drives to the Toys R Us to push a big blue plastic and metal cart around a huge space filled with toys, so she can buy yet one more. One toy to take home and stick in her house so we can put those mines and oil derricks to good use, getting more metal and petroleum to make more crap that may eventually end up back in the ground, just not quite in the same way. And she is doing this because, really, she doesn't have any choice. She can't decide what else to do. Even if there was a clear cut of right and wrong, she feels like she is predetermined to walk down this path. She doesn't have it in her to say no.

But when she gets to the store and takes her toddler out of the carseat, things start to make a bit more sense. Her toddler is laughing, wanting to walk on her own. "Mommy's cute, Mommy's big." Her toddler makes comments about things that seem to need responses, so she smiles and acknowledges that. They get into the store and her toddler is happy at the sight of all the toys, which depresses her. Surely, she thinks, we will all burn in hell or suffer some sort of karmic retribution for living this kind of life. Even that gruesome thought does not deter her from her errand, and once she is at the place where the spring horses are kept, she is able to get back into her normal mode of thinking. She has to decide between a Radio Flyer spring horse, or a Flexible Flyer brand.

She takes her chore seriously at this point, moving the boxes around and climbing on a pallet to pull forward the Cinnamon horse. There are a lot more Radio Flyer Liberty models, but she can't decide between that and the largest Flexible Flyer horse. She reads the information on the boxes and considers the photos carefully while her toddler gleefully climbs into every Power Wheels vehicle on the shelf. The Radio Flyer Liberty model seems a little nicer, and is more expensive. The Flexible Flyer Cinnamon model, however, is the tallest. She contemplates whether this extra height will give the spring horse more utility in the long run, and whether she is leaning towards the Liberty only because of the price. She's not paying for it, so why not have her father-in-law pay the extra $40? In the end she checks the manufacturing labels. Cinnamon declares it is made in the USA in large letters, while the Fabrique in Chine tag is small on the Liberty box. Deciding to save her husband's father some money and give the workers in Mississippi a chance, she takes the Chestnut.

As she walks around, barely able to see past the big box in the cart, she notices signs above her head. One features a little girl playing with a doll, and the other is a little girl in makeup. The made up girl looks horrible, like a 50 year old woman with the fake eyelashes and lipstick she is wearing. The picture is downright ugly to see, so she can't keep her eyes away from it. It annoys her to the core to see the girl in make up. Why in the world would a store actually wanting to sell this stuff think that people would find it cute? She can't figure this. But she walks over to the Bratz aisle and buys a Bratz doll nonetheless, because she doesn't feel like she can escape the immorality of her life anyway, and she doesn't want to do a half-assed job of it. Bratz, no Bratz, who cares? Does it matter? Pick up the stuff from the shelves, wheel it to the cashier and slide the card through.

Her toddler has been happily looking at toy after toy, and she feels badly about exposing her so non-chalantly to something as horrible as a Toys R Us. She's already normalizing it. She clears that thought from her head and buys her girl some candy before heading out the door. Her toddler wants to walk, but she's not quite keeping up, so finally she decides to carry the little girl to the car. The cart starts to roll away, and an older woman grabs it and insists on pushing it to her car for her. She thanks the woman, who smiles and continues on to her own car.

Getting the box into the car proves to be a big task, and she wonders at the wisdom of this purchase. The sales clerk just let her go out the door, too. He didn't seem to think there was anything odd about it. He probably assumed that she has an SUV like most people, but she doesn't. Her husband wanted her to keep the SUV instead of the sedan, but she balked at that, insisting on the better gas mileage car. So she shoves her big bulk into the side of the carton, crushing it enough to get it in the back seat. She's done with boredom, just concentrating on fulfilling one task after another. The Toys R Us is in the same shopping center as the Trader Joe's, so she decides to go and do some shopping. She's put off shopping for food as long as possible. No matter how she tries not to spend money, it feels like they are always hemmorhaging cash. Her husband got a flat tire on the way to work just that day.

She digs around in the trunk for her cloth grocery sacks, carries her toddler over to a cart and heads in.
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November 2010

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