In the Gray Void

In the Gray Void February 13, 2024

a lake on a gray foggy morning
image via Pixabay

February is a dull, gray, colorless month.

February is a trip to purgatory  every year.

My readers know by now that I get terrible insomnia, and anxiety to go with it, in February.

There’s never any money in January and February, so there’s nothing to do for adventures.  I had to cancel my monthly museum membership for a bit. I can’t get a Starbucks and stim around the Robinson mall, peoplewatching and pretending I go to the mall all the time. I can’t buy a big bag of snacks at the Sheetz and go sit on the landing at Wellsburg, watching the fish. I stay home and have eggs for dinner.

When it’s snowy I like to take a winter hike, but I don’t like winter hikes in this wet insipid weather: the gray of February, the warm sogginess I associate with March, but no March shoots to be seen. I don’t want to remember that climate change is altering the face of the earth. I want to pretend it’s an ordinary year, that the snow is thick on the ground, that the farmers will tap the maples next week and the snow will slowly recede the week after that. So I stay inside.

I dread when Adrienne wakes me up to give her a ride to school, once in awhile if she misses the bus. I’ve explained about my insomnia and that I usually can’t sleep before three or five in the morning in winter. I’ve explained that Jimmy the mechanic takes his daughter to the exact same school at seven-thirty and has offered a ride in the jeep. But she wants me to do it. I get up and scrape Serendipity’s windshield at the first light of dawn, on an hour’s sleep, and drive her the mile and a half with my eyes propped open.

Sometimes I can get back to sleep when I get home, and sometimes I can’t. When I can’t, I spend the morning in a state of exhaustion, a gray void in my brain the same as the gray void outside.

The other day, while exhausted, I was in a protected turn lane trying to go into the grocery store parking lot. I didn’t dare turn in front of an oncoming van, and the car behind me got impatient. They honked the horn. I panicked. My heart raced in my ears. My brain decided that they were going to rear end me just to be nasty.

I found myself yelling at nobody: “no, no, no, I won’t turn now, I won’t get into a crash, I won’t get into a crash, I’m so embarrassed when I get in a crash, I don’t want my mother to find out about it somehow and laugh that I can’t drive! I want my mother to be proud of me!”

I haven’t seen my mother since Adrienne was a baby, but somehow just then I could envision her shaking her head and snatching my driver’s license away.

“Of all the children I ever had, you hurt me the most,” she would intone, just as she always did.

As I made the left turn, flawlessly, I couldn’t stop envisioning my mother there with me. I felt that I had to defend myself from her. I wished, so badly, that I could take her for a drive and talk to her about autism and how it isn’t a disease, just a brain specializing in different things. I wished I could tell her that autism is why my grandmother always rocks back and forth when she sits and why she is so meticulous about her religious practice; that autism is why my mother can’t stand the sound of people chewing and why she has struggles with insomnia like I do. I wished I could map out our family history all the way back to Great Aunt Vossie’s farm and further, and tell her all the things that I learned, that I’m not a burden and I’m not a hopeless mental patient, I’m a high-masking autistic adult and so is she. My crying jags were called meltdowns. My sensory issues were not pickiness. My introversion and lack of social skills that humiliated her weren’t my fault. I didn’t ruin her life, it’s just that neither of us ever got the support we needed, and we broke. My grandparents didn’t know what to make of me. My tyrant aunts thought I need toughening up and taking down a peg. She thought I was the cause of everything that went wrong in the family. I tried and tried and tried to make it up to her for hurting her most of all her children by being autistic, but all she ever did was remind me of the debt I couldn’t pay and what a burden I always was, how fat and ugly and embarrassing she found me, and finally I never spoke to her again.

And then I parked in the parking lot and just sat for a very long time, until the image of my mother disappeared back into the gray void.

I bought my eggs, and a big cup of coffee I couldn’t afford, and didn’t go home until my head cleared a little.

It won’t clear very much until mid-March, of course. This is my February brain.

Still, soon it will be springtime and the gray void, and all the ghosts that come with it, will disappear.

It can’t get here soon enough.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.


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