This is an excerpt from Julie’s novel Hill of Greens. Copyright is held by the author.
JESSICA PULLED over at the side of the road because she was crying too hard to drive properly.
The group. Her damned climate action group!
It had been such a terrible meeting! Where had all the anger and shouting come from? One minute, she’d been sipping her mint tea, trying to calm down from her own life stressors and actually pay attention to this meeting . . . the next, an eruption of emotion! Accusations! Revelations! Anger! Grief!
Damien had dramatically shouted: “I quit!”
Denise had run out after him.
Was that it? Was it over? Was their activism over before it had hardly begun?
Why did it have to be so hard? It shouldn’t require so much strife!
If a group of well intentioned, self-aware adults couldn’t get their act together to save the world, then what hope was there?
What was the point, if even they couldn’t create a plan without fighting?
The climate was doomed, obviously. Nothing was ever going to change!
It was too much! On top of everything else, it was too much.
She sobbed into her hands, feeling overwhelmed. A person in their forties should be feeling more in control than this. She should be surveying her life with an air of satisfaction and competency.
But it was all proving to be too much.
She couldn’t save the world and at the same time keep herself sane enough to do everything else she needed to do: work, get groceries, and parent her daughter.
There was an unfinished conversation waiting for her at home.
She knew as soon as she got home, she would have to face her daughter’s accusations from earlier, barbs Hannah had hurled at Jessica over breakfast. From before her meeting.
Accusations she no doubt deserved.
Yes, Jessica knew she had ‘ruined all their lives’.
Because of the divorce, they were no longer living together in that suburban house on Applewood Street. It was Jessica’s ‘fault’ her daughter had given up her old school, her old friends, her favourite hideouts, biking to the convenience store, and kissing her dad good night, every night, all because of Jessica’s ‘selfishness’.
Now they were living in a converted garage in the country, near Jessica’s sister. Away from everything Hannah had loved before.
It was, according to her daughter: ‘so horrible’!
Her daughter’s ‘perfect life’ had changed because of Jessica’s decision to divorce.
And now her ex-husband, Hannah’s dad, had a new condo, a new car, and, they had found out last night, a new girlfriend.
Hannah had met her when she’d visited her dad on Saturday night.
This new girlfriend had taken them all by surprise. (Thanks for the heads up, jerk-face!). And it had not gone well. Hannah had been mouthy and obnoxious. Phil had dropped her off earlier than usual on Sunday morning, irritated and belligerent. He’d wanted Jessica to talk to her. Make her understand that things had to be different now. If Jessica was moving on now, then so was he, right?
Jessica hadn’t asked for details about this new woman but Phil had provided them anyway. She worked as a teller at a bank. She had a sixteen year old son. She was also divorced. They had met at some kind of over-thirties mixer/dance hosted by a local nightclub. She was a nice person. Things might get serious. They might.
So Jessica needed to prepare their daughter for that because, well, this was ultimately Jessica’s mess wasn’t it? The originator of discontent was apparently responsible for all the affiliated fall-out.
Jessica’s mess. Jessica’s clean up.
Your mess. Your clean-up.
How had she ever loved this man?
Of course, it was more complex than love. They had met at the right time, at a certain age, and with certain expectations of life bonding them together. She’s been different then, too. As had he. There had been a lot about him to appreciate, at the time.
But, right now, if he suddenly appeared on the road right in front of her she might not hesitate to run him over…
Her phone pinged in her purse. Through her tears, she picked it up and squinted at it. It was an email from Denise, one of her climate action group members.
Subject line: HELP!
She opened the email.
Apparently, things had gotten worse since Jessica had run out of the meeting ten minutes ago. Damien had locked himself in the bathroom of his apartment. He was, according to Denise, ‘an emotional mess’ and he wouldn’t come out.
Denise said she needed all the help she could get. She was talking to him through the bathroom door but nothing she said was working! Could someone else from the group come back to help her? She didn’t know what to do with him! Help!
Jessica was torn. Should she drive back to town? Or should she keep going home?
Who was she supposed to rescue first?
It was like that old question of ‘who do you take in the lifeboat with only five seats and twelve people drowning in the water’? My god, she hated that question. Why couldn’t everyone just get in the damned boat?
Or, there was the question: where did you start?
Did you save the elephants or save the whales? Did you tackle species extinction or fracking? Did you stop the burning of the Amazon or the cutting down of old growth forest? Did you appeal to businesses or politicians? Or to ‘the public’?
Where were you supposed to start when there were so many problems and they were all a tangled absolute mess?
And now there was this problem. This choice.
Did she go help Denise with Damien or did she go home to finish her discussion with her daughter?
She’d escaped her daughter’s distress that morning in order to attend the group meeting. But then the group meeting had resulted in its own distress!
Which distress was she supposed to address first?
She didn’t want to have to choose!
But you had to choose. You had to start somewhere . . . always prioritizing . . . you had to pick one or the other . . .
There was only one way to go here, obviously. She wanted to go home to her daughter and settle things in a better way.
Maybe someone else in the group would be able to help Denise with Damien.
She’d deal with her daughter first, and return to Damien’s problem later.
So many problems!
Jessica dried her eyes on an old napkin she found in the glove compartment. Using the rear-view mirror, she smoothed down her red-grey hair and tidied up her ponytail — as if that would make her look more in control somehow. She refused to look too closely at her red eyes and puffy face.
And then she started her car.
In time, it would all get sorted, right?
One problem at a time. One step at a time. One person at a time.
She took a deep breath and merged back onto the country road, heading for home.
She had to start somewhere and this was it.