2018 Wore Me The Hell Out
I am usually energized by arguing, by getting aggressive, by putting a name or a face to an enemy, online or otherwise. Not this year.
Has any year been more tiring than 2018? Probably, yes (remember 2016 when seemingly everyone just up and...died?), but the trick of a truly exhausting year is that it makes you forget all other years, along with the big moments that almost broke you and even the little ones that arrived to slowly chip away at whatever resolve you had left. Last week, the New York Times unveiled an interactive year in review formatted like a video game. The “game” is sitting through a rotation of the year’s news stories until you just can’t take it anymore. “We dare you to live through the year again,” it tells you at the start. “How long can you endure?” (If you try to click away, the Times asks you if you want to continue or stop because you “can no longer experience this terrifying dissonance.”)
Was there something specific that broke me this year? Was it every accusation that came to the surface about an always-famous, always-rich, often-beloved man that usually turned out to be very true? The ensuing conversation about when and how we might be able to forgive these men? Maybe it was Michael Cohen or the parade of people who walked in and then out, of the White House, making it impossible to keep up with the particular way our world feels like it’s melting. Maybe it was the midterms (I’m not even American and I feel like I went through six separate elections this calendar year alone). Was it that Lena Dunham profile? Was it Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh screaming about how much he loved beer? Brexit?!!?? The more than 300 mass shootings that occurred in the US thus far? Or maybe the recent news that the Trump administration wants to deport Vietnam War refugees. I remain personally unaffected by most of the daily horrors we’ve sat through this year, and yet I am so, so tired.
I have long thought that I was immune to cosmic exhaustion. (Apparently the cure is just going to bed at a completely obscene 8:45 p.m.) I’m usually energized by arguing, by getting aggressive, by engaging in a fight, by putting a name or a face to an enemy, online or otherwise. I’ve always welcomed a daily scrap.
But this year, fighting didn’t feel very fun anymore, maybe because I was having too many battles to actually keep up. 2018 was the year I got married, but on top of that, it was the culmination of a years-long fight I have been having with my dad over dating someone who had the audacity to be both older than me and white. (I love my dad a lot; he’s warm and funny when he wants to be, but he can also be stubborn and ruthless. When a recent nemesis of mine crossed me yet again, my father emailed me the comforting notion that the “unwashed need to be acknowledged as you need to climb over their backs to the top of the mountain.” He was right!)
So we got married, and we loved it, and each other, and basked in it, but it was never lost on me that a partial reason for this marriage was to end a fight. I don’t know if it’s the wedding I wanted because I’ve never thought about it that much, but I’m sure it wasn’t the wedding my husband wanted.
The wedding itself was an exercise in excess: four days long, every inch of my fingers and arms and head covered in Indian gold, my mother quietly fainting during day three of the ceremonies which no one in my family considered out of the ordinary, and my brother using his wedding toast as an opportunity to ask me, publicly, to stop writing about my vagina. (I have, characteristically, refused his request.) Our pandit, who officiated the wedding, scolded me for kissing my now-husband during our ceremony, which only made me want to do it twice and then finger-jab the pandit in his throat.
In our wedding photos, our first kiss as a married couple is marred by his hand on my shoulder, trying to pry us apart.
People told me to stay off the internet, to paint my nails, to read books, to take long walks, to eat luxuriously, to unplug in every manner and let my brain flush itself clean.
But we won. We got to be together, to be married (it’s fun to say the word hussssssband, when you first get to use it you start dropping it all the time in casual conversation like, My hussssssband is an idiot, can’t recommend it enough), and we got my dad to return to homeostasis. But two weeks after our wedding, my husband got a job in New York, and so our lives became entangled in a whole new fight. I had to go on leave for a month, unable to work because my visa paperwork was complicated, lengthy, and a cruel joke on my poor boss.
My inner and extended circles are filled with tired people — tired of politics, of social discourse, of the internet, of job insecurity, of trying to convince an unwilling audience to take their medicine — and so my friends and colleagues saw my leave as a kind of forced vacation. Ooooh, how lucky, people told me. “A break,” one of my friends said. “That’s what we all need. A fucking break.” People told me to stay off the internet, to paint my nails, to read books, to take long walks, to eat luxuriously, to unplug in every manner and let my brain flush itself clean.
But like most advice easier given than taken, I wasn’t able to do any of this. Instead, I hunkered down alone while my husband went to work, feeling like a housewife whose only obligation was to make sure we had something to eat by 7 p.m. (This usually ended up being crackers.) Our apartment, a temporary rental for the month, had two televisions equipped with 400 channels, half cable news, half reruns of Law & Order: SVU episodes. So instead of trying to be a tourist in my new city or making new friends or experiencing whatever fresh hell the New York subway might have in store, I sat in bed and watched a rotating horror show on television for a month.
I watched coverage of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and horrifying reports about how we’re in too deep when it comes to global warming. I watched police transport a pipe bomb away from CNN’s offices. I watched Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed for the Supreme Court, and tried to keep up with whatever was going on with Paul Manafort while also watching reports about the Tree of Life synagogue shooting that killed 11 people and the Tallahassee shooting. Both were so heartbreaking that it was hard to think about just how evil Facebook is. Watching the news on a near-constant loop made me feel smaller than I’ve ever felt, a nagging reminder that nothing I do really matters, my good deeds will go ignored, and we’re all collectively floating in a sea of harm.
When I wasn’t watching the news, I watched SVU reruns, and talked to my husband about the characters as if they were real people. (“Elliot’s in the hospital!” or “Elliot’s wife just left him, oh it’s bad, honey” or “I think there might be something going on with Elliot and that Olivia, there.”) And despite my big plans for strolling through a park and catching up on fiction, the only book I managed to read was Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. It’s about a woman in such deep throes of depression that she medicates recklessly with prescription drugs in the hopes that she can sleep through an entire year. I thought it was an inspiring comedy.
After my leave ended, I returned to Toronto so that I could resume working while I waited out the visa process. Take it from me, a woman who’s been married for three months and has been separated from her husband for two of those months: A great way to test your relationship is through governmental red tape. (Tip: When the stress of being apart manifests into being upset that he didn’t respond to the meme you sent him on Instagram, make it a fight about how he regrets marrying you. Then decline his FaceTime calls for 24 hours.)
I wish I had a real solution for the kind of tired that sinks into your bones because it’s not just about your life — in fact, my life is extremely decent, considering how privileged and fortunate and not deported (fingers crossed) I am, so if I’m complaining, I have to guess a lot of other people are complaining too. This feeling is bigger than burnout; it’s an almost cosmic kind of hopelessness. It feels impossible to keep fighting, even if you win from time to time. The only real antidote I’ve found for this is to commiserate with people who feel it too. Find someone who’s tired like you, who will take care of you when you’re too exhausted to do it yourself, and who will fight the fight when you can’t lift your arms anymore.
After our pandit scolded me during our ceremony — one of a few times he did, actually, why did we hire this asshole? — my husband and I walked back down the aisle to a flurry of rose petals. We walked out of the venue, barefoot and together, struggling under pounds of fabric and necklaces and garlands.
My first words out as a married person were frustration; there was so much about the wedding that went wrong, I felt so exhausted, so weary, completely overwhelmed. But he gripped my hand and led me down the street while people stared, two lunatics in gold and red and white, crying and shedding flowers. “We’re married,” he said. “We did it.” For the first time in our seven-year relationship, he had kissed me in front of my dad. I remembered the pandit trying to pull us apart; he remembered that my dad just clapped.
We won, this one thing, small and mostly insignificant. But we finally won. It feels like enough to keep going. ●