How To Wait

The time in between things is waiting. I spend most of my day waiting. I work fast, and then I push my work away, as I’d shove a piece of driftwood back into the current, and watch it wallow for a moment until a wave catches it and rolls it, turns it back into something marine, almost animal. Maybe it will get spit out again. I stand on the beach to find out what happens next with this thing I’ve done.

I’m the one hitting refresh, refresh on my email, because there’s nothing in my inbox from you. Why didn’t you write to me? I’m waiting.

Waiting for the mail. Waiting to be paid. Waiting for spring to start, or summer. Waiting to get called back. Waiting for some peace and quiet. The tasks I need to complete punctuate my waiting. I’m not getting better at it, though I have plenty of time to practice.

Gisele Bundchen got noticed in a McDonald’s in Brazil, all legs and long hair—super, even at that age. Some of my favorite stories are the ones where things work out: star potential is detected and its source is shoved into the spotlight, where they perform brilliantly to great acclaim. The time I am waiting has accumulated to a degree that I feel like I must be waiting for something. I can sense its shape in the water, massive as a whale, and smooth. Muscular. My fate. There are no spare parts on a whale, just like with time. Nothing is wasted. So, all this waiting must not be for nothing.

Waiting is about faith, of some kind. It’s the conviction that something is coming. Maybe we can predict where we’re going, or what’s coming, or maybe not, but it’s definitely a something. If you wait, things change. The advice I got, when I started learning about waiting, was: “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.”

Which means I’m talking myself off the ledge every five minutes and reasoning, like a crazy person, that surely, at any moment, the letter will come and the deposit will clear and the rain will stop and the phone will ring, and, as I’m lifting a cup of tea to my mouth, I will finally be discovered. Really, I’m just waiting for you to hurry up and love me.

Maybe I’m just waiting because it’s a habit now. One day, I’m sure, it will be my turn: the morning will come when the whole world knows my name.

I waited to get engaged, and now I’m waiting to get married.

I waited for the acceptance letter, waited to see my piece in print, and now I’m waiting to be paid.

I waited to get pregnant, and then the baby was overdue, and now I’m waiting to see who he will be when he grows up.

There’s always something new to wait for.

After enough time in solitary, I think everyone gives up and starts talking to themselves. Waiting gets to a person. It’s lonely. Imagine that you are on a ship, with an uncertain destination. You are prepared with drinking water, food, and supplies for three months. But how do you sustain your imagination? Do you have to wake up every morning and chart your course again, to make sure you haven’t lost your bearings? Or can you just work without thought? Let’s say that three months passes, and you still have some water and canned tomatoes, but there is no land in sight. Some people would panic. I think I would give up and get bored. Three months is not a long time to wait, if you believe for sure that in three months things will be different. Three months and a day, though—that’s not what I signed up for. Three months and a week. The days when your arrival is overdue are when the real waiting begins. You waited three months to find out how bad you are at being patient.

If I’m successful, it’s because I’ve learned how to pass the time. I’m not patient. But I’m good at keeping busy, distracting myself. I used to smoke a lot for this reason: it gives you something to do. But then I realized cigarettes meant basically waiting for cancer, so I stopped. Now, I go on long walks outside and wait to forget what I’m worried about. This works, but it takes hours and the relief is momentary, really just a few minutes of reprieve.

It’s funny, I used to be so afraid of change. What are you waiting for? Teachers told me I had potential, friends wondered why I worked so small. I think that’s the danger in beginning to enlarge your world, to want more, and to be willing to change. Suddenly, you have something to wait for. It’s easier to see the things your heart desires, suspended right over your head, tantalizingly out of reach.

But I would take waiting, over satisfaction. When all my desires are fulfilled, when I’m there, in the zone, wherever that is, what is left? It’s all over. I would rather watch the tide take leisurely bites of the coast. Watch the glass bottle turn over in its invisible, powerful jaws. Patience. That’s what the waves say. If only I’d hurry to learn it.

Claire Rudy Foster’s critically recognized short fiction appears in various respected journals, including McSweeney’sVestal Review,> and SmokeLong Quarterly. She has been honored by several small presses, including a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She is afraid of sharks, zombies, and other imaginary monsters. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The EstablishmentXOJane, and The Rumpus. My short story collection will be published by Since Right Now this fall.
Image: Mr. Nobody, 2009.

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