Cries and grunts from little Abigail fill the room. She hasn’t pooped in three days. Poor little thing. Two months old is too young to have so many problems. My wife and I have enough to worry about. With bills piling up, her inability to cope with an increasingly colicky baby, and my inability to find steady work, it’s looking more and more like there will be no Christmas to celebrate this year.
It’s hard to understand the world these days. I work two jobs and can’t find enough work to make ends meet. All you want as a father is to provide a happy life for your family. Happy wife. Happy daughter. We didn’t even put up a tree this year; there was no time. That’s the worst feeling. I’m increasingly running out of time.
“If she doesn’t poop soon,” my wife says. “We’re going to have to take her to the doctor.”
Great, more bills. Abigail fusses and fights with her boob. She’s so angry. All she can do is intake, without any output. We’ve tried everything. No amount of massage techniques, youtube videos, literal poop chutes, can unclog her plumbing. Babies literally have to learn how to digest food. They don’t tell you that. No one tells you anything about how to be a parent.
My wife tries to allay her suffering. She is constantly feeling inadequate, struggling to supply our daughter with enough milk. Sometimes the body does what it is supposed to do, and sometimes it doesn’t.
“I haven’t slept at all this week. I think I might die,” she says. “I don’t understand what’s wrong. My milk supply just isn’t enough for her.” She wipes the crust from her eyes, doing her best to knock loose the knots of a relentless headache. “Was there any formula at the store? We may need to supplement. I just can’t do this.”
“None,” I say. “Not since they ran out on Monday. I’ve checked everywhere.”
I zip up my jacket and put on a beanie to brace the cold Colorado wind coming off the shark-backed mountains. The Front Range is nothing but gloom this season.
“I have to go.” I kiss my wife on the forehead. “Robert has been a real jerk about showing up early all week.”
“Ok, good luck.” Her exasperation hums on every word, eyes glazed over in surrender. She can’t remember her last quiescent moment. The levy of her lids break and tears fall onto Abigail’s milk-stained onesie.
“It’s going to be okay,” I say, with little conviction. I am an optimistic person, but the human spirit has its limits. We both know there is no savior on the way. In the real world, no one is looking out for anyone but themselves — you dig yourself out of whatever hole you’re in. It’s your hole, not theirs.
My first job is a kill-what-you-eat “advisor” position selling underwritten health insurance over the phone. The promise is a six-figure income in perpetuity, built off passive income of the policies you sell. The reality is I’m in hell, cold-calling dead numbers people changed long ago to get away from the rat race this company is running.
Unfortunately the Venn-daigaram of people who are healthy, wealthy, and dumb, isn’t just small, it’s imaginary. At best you can find two out of three, which might be good enough to make a sale if you can get over your own moral hangups, which unfortunately, is the easiest part of the job. Twenty dials in and I get a “hello.”
“Hello, this is Thomas, and I’m-”
Most of the time it goes straight to voicemail, but every once in a while I leave an actual message, instead of the automated one, just so I can avoid my supervisor checking in and asking the same stupid questions over and over every hour. But most of the time, I am selling to no one.
“Hello, this is-”
I oscillate between professional greetings and “please don’t hang up on me,” desperation at least once an hour.
Take a walk.
I’m expected to get at least five hundred dials a day, minimum. Anything less and the perception is I’m not trying hard enough.
“Hey-y Thomas…” Robert stands over my shoulder, talking into the one uncovered ear of my headset. He’s a sneaky bastard. “I saw you didn’t start dialing until eight.”
“Yeah, got here on time, started dialing immediately.”
“Last week we went over how important those early hours are. Gotta go above and beyond. Early bird catches the worm.”
“Yes,” I say. “I just didn’t have time this morning.”
“Like Grant Cardone says, ‘“I don’t have time,” is the biggest lie you tell yourself.’”
“I remember. Thanks, Robert.”
I can get through most of the day listening to audiobooks. The 10x Rule was mandatory. But today, all I can think about is my baby girl, and the stress of another day without a sale looming. Selling this kind of insurance is like fishing in a pond with no fish, while the shore is overflowing with hungry fishermen.
To make matters worse, I can’t get over the feeling of obligation to do right by the fish, which in this case are usually poor old ladies. I’m constantly doing what is best for the fish, instead of what’s best for me… for my daughter.
“You aren’t selling Obamacare plans,” Robert says.
“But if they have preexisting conditions-”
“Cut ‘em loose. Time is money.”
Why do I have to choose between helping others, and helping myself? Why should feeding my family mean I must exploit the poor and ignorant? They don’t know what they don’t know.
12 Rules for Life doesn’t prepare you for this. Neither does the Tao Te Ching. Which of the 48 Laws of Power applies to this situation? The Bible says pray. But we all know, there is no Savior.
All my bosses are Christian. “Really, you’re helping them, by making sure they have insurance,” They say.
For a month at least. The one saving grace being, it’s not a limited benefit plan. One gets to feel what it’s like to have real healthcare for one month, and all you have to do is be perfectly healthy, and hand over access to your bank account.
I text my wife, “Any good news yet?”
“No… not yet. She’s cried nonstop since you left. I tried a Windi, but it didn’t help. Just clogged up like thick peanut butter.”
We can’t afford a doctor’s visit right now.
“She’s not a happy camper. I don’t know what to do.”
I head to the bathroom and hide in a stall for a five-minute breather, inhaling the fetid fumes of the ghost shits of Christmas past. I check instagram for a momentary reprieve. The first image is a quote:
“Enlightenment is when the wave realizes it is the ocean.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
On TikTok there is a video of someone putting a praying mantis into a glass of water, emptying its thorax of a stringy parasite ten times longer than its body.
If only someone could do that with the Cardonian worm in my brain.
On facebook there are 15 links to videos about how no one wants to work in this country anymore. And yet, somehow my linkedin account can’t get a reply.
On twitter there are five hashtags about hate. How much people hate this community or that community and how hating the hate is the only way to combat the hate.
I hate twitter.
I text my wife again.
“At least she won’t remember her first Christmas.”
“Lol,” the most somber of delights. It’s the little things that get us through it all. Dark humor. The miserable need to laugh the most.
Last Christmas we forewent gift-giving to pay for IVF, which was its own arduous journey. We were given less than a 1-percent chance with all of our “issues;” our age, our health problems, our lack of finances. We had one shot. We bet it all on hope.
With the child-resenting world against us, down to our last and only chance, she was born in spite of it all. We were happy. Happy to invite new problems, the unforeseen, the anxiety. We welcomed it all. We had won. And now, all we want is to have a happy, healthy baby — though presently she is neither.
Five o’clock comes and goes and I am, again, without a sale. There’s always some excuse. “It’s the holidays,” or “there aren’t any new leads,” or “open enrollment… blah blah blah.”
I head to my second job — grocery shopping for other people. While selling underwritten insurance is a “long game,” as Robert puts it, instacart is for immediate needs. I’ve got three dollars and change in my bank account and less than a quarter-tank of gas. It’s just not enough. Contract labor for less than minimum wage. The gas alone is…
What good does complaining do? I have no choice.
It’s the holidays. Perhaps the tips will reflect the giving spirit.
Sure enough, just as I open the app on my phone, up pops a huge order. Nearly $60. That’s enough to buy diapers, formula, and some gas.
King Soopers is lousy with people wearing weathered faces, still hidden behind scarves wiping runny red noses from the brutal wind outside. The sun drops and the temperature with it. In an instant, what was once a tolerable windy winter day transforms into a Dickensian nightmare, rough enough to rattle even the burliest ice road trucker.
The shopping list is long and complicated, filled with specific instruction notes on the desired freshness and quality of produce, coupled with the customer of all customers — Karen.
I fly through the store, gathering as many items as I can, many of which are out of stock. No frozen gluten-free fish sticks, no seven grain bread, no artisanal apricot jelly… I try to substitute, but immediately am met with protests that I am not checking with her beforehand. This is going to take forever. I quickly realize this will be the only order I can do tonight. Better make it worth it.
“What did you substitute the thin-sliced Boar’s Head Honey Smoked Ham off the bone with? I will only take certain brands of ham.”
“The deli counter is closed. No one working. Had to sub with Kroeger brand.”
There’s never anyone working the deli counter these days, but that’s not something Karen wants to hear. I’m expected to get back there and slice it myself.
“Send me a picture, I don’t believe you.”
Oh boy. I send her a picture.
“Ew, just cancel.”
The second issue is the extirpated garlic. Not a single clove, diced jar, puree, in the entire store. They don’t even have garlic powder.
“I need garlic. It’s for spaghetti.”
Yeah, you and every other person in this city, lady.
“I can’t do without garlic.”
I ask if there’s any in the back. There isn’t. Not that the mouth-breathing, milksop teenager craning over the tower of pita chips in the otherwise barren bakery section would know. All the employees of substance are off this close to Christmas. He pulls out his Zebra and slowly checks his app, which isn’t working because the wifi in here never works. I tell him not to worry about it as delicately as I can.
The rest of the order goes surprisingly well. Nearly perfect. The checkout line is even quick. A $345 order usually means a big tip. This might actually work out alright.
I load the back of my car full of flimsy bags, and head toward my delivery destination. It’s nearly twenty minutes away, which actually works to my advantage, as I pass another grocery store and have a bright idea. Maybe they have some garlic. It’s a big tip, and worth it to go the extra mile. I text Karen about the unscheduled stop.
“Might be a little late, stopping at another store to pick up some garlic for you.”
I sprint into the store and find one final jar of diced garlic staring at me from across the produce section. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Surely this is worth maybe even more of a tip. I pay at self-checkout with the last few dollars in my bank account and sprint out the door, but as I am running I slip on some black ice and the jar flies out of my hand and rolls into a nearby storm drain.
“No! No, no, no…”
Remarkably, the tiny glass jar doesn’t break. It just sits there on a ledge an arm’s length inside the grate. I finger the wobbling jar like Indiana Jones at the end of The Last Crusade, just forcibly enough to cause the jar to roll off the edge and smash onto the frigid sewage below.
“NO.” I let out a sigh and stare down at the oozing particulates wafting an effluvium pungent enough to wake up a concussed running back. Now she’ll be expecting garlic I don’t have, and there’s no time left, all the stores are closing.
I deliver the order sans garlic. What else am I to do, but finish the job? I barely make it to the nearest gas station and sit in angst awaiting my payout, listening to The Hard Thing About Hard Things — “Life is struggle,” he says. “Embrace the struggle,” he says.
I shut off the engine, zone out, periodically checking my phone to see if I’ve been paid. the total comes in, and it plummets from $60 to $21. Just barely enough for gas. It happens more often than instacart will ever admit. Whether it was tip-baiting or just plain ole cosmic injustice doesn’t matter at this point. I withdraw my $21 dollars, which immediately falls again in my bank account to five dollars when I am hit with an overdraft fee for the garlic. Enough to buy a single gallon of gas, cleaning out my bank account… again.
Five minutes from home, my car begins to wobble and the steering wheel kicks, grating and grinding over the pavement. It’s a flat tire; I’d know that sound from anywhere. I pull over to the side of the road, and it takes all the strength I have just to pull myself out of the car, headlights and horns whizzing by, inconsiderate of my dilemma. The wobbly jack gives me no confidence; they call it a widowmaker for a reason. But somehow, iron in hand, narrowly avoiding death on both sides, I change the tire successfully and head for home.
Immediately through the door of our cold apartment, I am met with hostility.
“Where have you been?”
“I had a flat.” I say, washing my hands in the sink. “It’s been a day, can we just… not do this?”
“How much did you make?”
“Not enough. Twenty bucks, which I spent on gas.”
“So nothing?” she says. I guess we are doing this. “What on earth have you been doing all day? Are you smoking again?”
“Absolutely not. I’m doing everything I can. Okay?”
Abigail cries in her arms, and I look into my wife and daughter’s exasperated faces.
“Go lay down, it’s late. I’ll take her.”
“I think we need to call the doctor. I’m out of ideas on what to do. She still hasn’t-”
“They probably can’t see us tonight. We’ll have to take her to the emergency room if we want someone to see her.”
I take Abigail into the nursery, as my wife goes into the bedroom, pondering whether or not to put on boots and a coat. Abigail looks up at me, red-faced, pouting with waterlogged eyes, quivering in pain. I hush her quietly, cheek-to-cheek, repeating words she doesn’t understand, “It’s going to be okay. it’s going to be okay.”
Sitting down into the rocker, her face grows bright red as she holds her breath, and then it happens… the sound, like the howling tires of a funny car, of her evacuating bowels right there in my lap.
“Is that…” The acrid scent of poopie fills the nursery like roasted chestnuts, orange and cloves, cinnamon and burnt turkey. She bares down, triple-chinned, and lets out another load. “Honey! It’s happening!”
I take her over to the changing station, unwrap my present from this little rosy cheeked santa. It’s a blowout of overflowing pudding in a pouch. As I wipe her folds, down and out, I realize she isn’t done, but all-too late. Emerging from her tiny body is a crowning head, like Klaus himself pushing through the narrowest chimney, before giving way to a torrent of shit, booming sounds like Tchaikovsky’s cannon, firing in enfilade, hitting my chest with the tactics of a Berlioz orchestration.
Fireworks of feces fly through the air. I am covered in the mud of war, smiling through it with a joyous grin. My wife bursts through the door in half a winter coat.
“She did it! She did it!” I cry out in happiness.
“Oh my God, there’s shit everywhere!”
“Santa has come early.” I say, sighing in relief. “She’s going to be okay. That’s all that matters.”
Abigail looks up at the two of us with a toothless grin, and giggles.