Today I stayed home from work because I’m sick.
I don’t have the flu, a stomach bug, a sore throat, a headache, or even a hangnail for that matter. In fact, I’m feeling pretty physically sound. But when I woke up around 7:15 to the dull gray curtain of winter creeping open to reveal an overcast daylight, I took one turn in the sheets and said, “Today, this ain’t gonna happen.”
About five minutes later, I got on the email train and alerted my colleagues at the office that I was “not feeling well and wouldn’t be in today.” I wasn’t lying. I didn’t feel well in a way that most people would call “A case of the Mondays.” Most people would have enough gumption to get themselves out of the damn sheets and face the day like only consumerist, capitalist middle Americans can. But the last thing on my mind this morning was how I could work harder so I could spend more. What was on my mind, however, is how I could do less and feel less guilt. Because of course, the minute I emailed my boss, a cloud of guilt moved its way over my soul, similar to that feeling you get when you have to say no to your mother when she asks you to go shopping with her.
Kevin was up making his morning smoothie when I came downstairs and told him: “I’m not doing today. I’m going back to bed.” He turned around silently and threw an empty bag of frozen peaches in the garbage, which I noticed was nearing full. In a futile attempt to make myself useful (because isn’t that all we ever want in life – to feel useful?), I began to pull the swelling garbage out of the bin. Just at that moment, however, Kevin approached me in a halting yet gentle manner, grabbed the garbage and said, “If you’re going to take the day off, you’re going to take the day off.” Was he being sarcastic? Ironic? Or was he just being insensitive?
“Fine then, I won’t bother you,” I stammered away in my UGG slippers and made my way up the stairs and back to bed.
Surely it’s a coincidence that my existential flu hit on a dreary Monday morning. I’m no less prone to feeling this way on a rather insignificant day of the week, say Tuesday, but one thing’s for sure: I gave into my need to stay away from people. From work. I didn’t get out of my pajamas. I read “The Subtle Knife,” the second book in Philip Pullman’s fantastical His Dark Materials trilogy. I made toast and spread it lavishly with real butter, then ate it. I took a nap. I knit the second in a set of legwarmers for my niece. I read three issues of The New Yorker that I’d been neglecting for weeks. I balanced my checkbook. Snuggled with the cats. Pondered my existence.
It was healing.
Later today, I realized that when Kevin refused my assistance at the garbage can earlier in the day, he wasn’t being sarcastic, ironic or insensitive. He was merely stating the obvious: If I’m going to go through the effort of essentially paying myself to stay home (salary. PTO.) then I might as well do absolutely nothing I would normally do on a Monday, which is work, stress out, work some more, go to the gym, come home and prepare to do it all again the next day. I broke the pattern of my work life, and it feels great.
Am I super excited to get back to work tomorrow? Not really. Am I glad I just said no to today? Yes. Am I still feeling guilty on the meetings I missed and the assistance I could have given had I been present in the office? Of course. Once a consumerist capitalist, always a consumerist capitalist.
Today and the days like this I am surely to experience in the future, they are a dilemma of existence. They remind me that I am wholeheartedly a contradiction in character and action. I work hard like I have since I was 11 years old. But I want you to stay away from me every once in a while. I love writing as a job, but don’t tell me it’s wrong to just hate it sometimes, too.
Tomorrow will be my Monday on a Tuesday. People at work will ask me if I’m feeling better, and I promise myself not to lie. Instead of feigning a cough or hoarse voice, I’m just going to tell them the truth. That I hated even the idea of facing them, but now I’m over it. I’m ready for the work week. I’m ready to work more so I can spend more. So I can do it all over again next Monday. And so I can do it all over again on the hundreds of other work Mondays I’m certain to face in the future.