“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.
The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Vincent woke up.
It was always like this. Waking with a restless, uneasy repetition during the night. Repeatedly checking the clock. Calculating the time remaining until the alarm would pounce.
Trying to squeeze himself asleep. But only succeeding in falling more and more awake. Until eventually, much later, the sheer fatigue of it all would finally seep in and submerge him in nothingness.
Before the alarm rang its third repeat, Vincent’s hand had slapped it dead. Deliciously furled in some deep dreamscape the clock had snatched it all away.
For a long moment Vincent did nothing, before slowly stretching his leg out across the bed and a rapid gradient to the cold absence of Grace.
She was working night shift and would, Vincent knew, also be struggling. He, trying to get awake, and she, trying to stay awake. That sleep-sticky night shift fatigue amidst the endless cognitive demands of the Emergency Department.
Vincent squinted at the clock through still blurry eyes. The numbers swam, but he knew it was 5 AM. Time to get up and shower.
Time to get up Vincent.
His leg moved back to a more comfortable position.
It was always like this.
But that’s the thing about always, you think its innately reliable. You think always is always.
So you never quite see the moment it snaps over to never.
If Vincent had seen it, it would have been the exact moment the green LED numbers on his clock radio flipped to: 8851
The shower was delicious, the hot water a liquid blanket. And so after washing himself Vincent lingered, motionless, hands up on the tiles, breathing slow. Almost falling asleep again. Until the hot water began to run cool, leaving few other options, than to step out into the frigid air.
He pulled his fresh scrubs off the hanger. They were cold and scratchy and tight.
Flopped on the edge of the low bed he fumbled with his socks. Looking up to see how much time he had, he noticed the bedside clock was not working properly.
Just great. He thought.
It’s got to be nearly six.
But still just enough time to make some toast and coffee.
It was obvious that something was very wrong the moment he opened the pantry door. The little overhead light flicked on illuminating the bread, and the jar of peanut butter, and the neatly lined plastic containers of rice and brown sugar and all the other foods that Grace had meticulously hand labeled one rainy weekend after they had fought way too long about house cleaning, both of them unpacking a million unrelated supporting arguments.
But now the labels made no sense.
The sticker on the brown rice read: Drovn Viwa.
A jar containing sugar: Orgqe
The plain flour: Pwiqm Hopqrx
Vincent blinked hard. He grabbed the jar of peanut butter and pulled it up close to better see it under the light: Senor’a Leqbte Leggxi.
It was the same on all the containers, and boxes, and scrunched up packets of instant this and that. The print was all completely nonsensical.
Vincent’s stomach went into free fall. And he felt a sudden sense of unreality rush up to waterboard his face.
Looking over the shelves of neatly stacked cook books it was the same. The letters were all mixed up.
Jamie Oliver’s photo beamed out from the cover of the front book: KJENE JDIRE 8-MIMDER ELEKRJE.
Nothing made sense.
The first thing Vincent thought was that he was having a stroke.