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Today Will Be Different
Author:Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different

Maria Semple

For George and Poppy and, to a lesser extent, Ralphy

Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different.

The Trick

Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed. The grinding it out was a disgrace, an affront to the honor and long shot of being alive at all. The ghost-walking, the short-tempered distraction, the hurried fog. (All of this I’m just assuming, because I have no idea how I come across, my consciousness is that underground, like a toad in winter.) The leaving the world a worse place just by being in it. The blindness to the destruction in my wake. The Mr. Magoo.

If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week: worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same. Not an inventory to make one swell with pride. I don’t necessarily need to make the world a better place, mind you. Today, I will live by the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm.

How hard can it be? Dropping off Timby, having my poetry lesson (my favorite part of life!), taking a yoga class, eating lunch with Sydney Madsen, whom I can’t stand but at least I can check her off the list (more on that later), picking up Timby, and giving back to Joe, the underwriter of all this mad abundance.

You’re trying to figure out, why the agita surrounding one normal day of white-people problems? Because there’s me and there’s the beast in me. It would be kind of brilliant if the beast in me played out on a giant canvas, shocking and awe-ing, causing fabulous destruction, talked about forever. If I could swing that, I just might: self-immolate gloriously for the performance-art spectacle. The sad truth? The beast in me plays out on a painfully small scale: regrettable micro-transactions usually involving Timby, my friends, or Joe. I’m irritable and consumed by anxiety when I’m with them; maudlin and shit-talking when I’m not. Ha! Aren’t you glad you’re at a safe distance, doors locked, windows rolled up? Aw, come on. I’m nice. I’m exaggerating for effect. It’s not really like that.

And so the day began, the minute I whipped off my sheets. The click-click-click of Yo-Yo’s nails across the hardwood, stopping outside the bedroom. Why, when Joe whips off his sheets, doesn’t Yo-Yo trot-trot-trot and wait in abject hope? How can Yo-Yo, on the other side of a closed door, tell it’s me and not Joe? It was once depressingly explained by a dog trainer: it’s my smell Yo-Yo’s caught whiff of. That his idea of nirvana is a dead seal washed up on the beach leaves me asking, Is it time for bed yet? Nope, I’m not doing that. Not today.

I didn’t mean to be coy about Sydney Madsen.

When Joe and I arrived in Seattle from New York ten years ago, we were ready to start a family. I’d just wrapped five wearying years at Looper Wash. Everywhere you looked it was Looper Wash T-shirts, bumper stickers, mouse pads. I’m a Vivian. I’m a Dot. You remember. If not, check your nearest dollar store, the two-for-one bin, it’s been a while.

Joe, a hand surgeon, had become a legend of sorts for reconstructing the hand of that quarterback whose thumb bent back and nobody thought he’d ever play again but the next year he went on to win the Super Bowl. (I can’t remember his name, but even if I did, I couldn’t say, due to doctor/patient/nosy-wife confidentiality.)

Joe had job offers everywhere. Why pick Seattle? Joe, a nice Catholic boy from outside Buffalo, couldn’t see raising kids in Manhattan, my first choice. We struck a deal. We’d move anywhere he wanted for ten years, and back to New York for ten; his city for ten, my city for ten, back and forth, unto death. (A deal he’s conveniently forgotten his end of, I might add, seeing as we’re coming up on year ten and not a peep on packing up.)