Everything in my house is broken.
I have an AC that hasn’t worked since the end of April. Last week the vacuum cleaner broke. On Sunday it was the toilet’s turn. I dropped my phone and it stopped working. Then I fixed it and it started working. Then I got a new one and now neither work. After three hours of trying to deal with this with customer service, sweaty and in tears, the strap on my flip flip broke. Now in the grand scheme that flip flop is really small potatoes, however, they’re also kind of my only shoes. It’s 85-90 degrees in the house (See AC, above) so I’m not going to wear closed toed shoes and my only other summer options are heels. Am I going to become that person who wears high heel peep-toed mules as slippers and drinks martinis at 10am? I mean we knew it was headed this way; I just didn’t think it was going to get here this soon.
With every person I talk to- and I have logged tens of hours of customers service calls over the last 4 plus months- I have made an enormous effort to be patient and kind. I have repeated over and over and over, “I know this isn’t your fault. I’m sorry for my frustration.” I have even added, appropriate for our times, questions about their well-being. “Are you able to work from home? I’m glad. Please stay safe.” In one exchange, a woman told me about how her sister, a nurse, had contracted COVID by going on vacation and how she wasn’t taking any chances and what a challenge it was for her and her kids. I would marvel at the way we’re able to connect despite the most isolating of circumstances if ONLY MY SHIT WORKED.
I just want something to work.
I’ve also been placed on holds that no one ever returned for- once for an hour and once for an hour and half. I spent an hour being transferred between 3 people who couldn’t help me, promising that the next person would, only to be disconnected by the person who said she could help, necessitating that I start the process over, telling the whole story to another group of people who couldn’t help. I’ve been given conflicting information, wrong information, promised calls back that never came. By Wednesday of this week I was dissolving into tears after every call ended. By Thursday I was holding back tears during the calls and by Friday morning, I was just crying before breakfast. At one point I tried to take a break and do something positive- a small win- and switch out the old drawer pulls with the new ones I bought, only to find that when I got to the last two, they were chipped and crushed. I emailed the seller. I’ll let you know when I hear back*.
Because I’m a sentient person, capable of telling the difference between the Democratic party and the Hitler Fan Fiction that the Republicans have become, I can also recognize that my experience with various appliances and call centers is only mirroring the larger one we’ve been having with our own government. That this feeling that everything is broken and no one can help is how we’ve been waking up feeling for four years and that with COVID, election fraud and state sanctioned hate crimes like the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the paralyzing of Jacob Blake, it’s all just intensifying.
It doesn’t help that because of the pandemic we’re going through this largely alone. Or that we’re not, and some people are choosing to move about the world like a virus never happened. And that dichotomy really sums up the real conundrum: Those who want to help can’t and those who can won’t. I’ve seen this rub play out in my own personal and professional life over the years and it appears true on the grander scale. We wouldn’t feel helpless if help were possible. But the people who want to help us don’t control the Senate or the Oval or the media. The people who do control those things could actually help us, but they don’t want to. And so we sit there and watch as they violate the laws of this land with impunity and lie to the American people as they leave them to die- all while sitting alone in a house we haven’t left that may or may not have working plumbing and air conditioning.
I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from friends that everything is just busting in their own homes, creating a despair spiral. A service call for the fridge takes on a whole new level of aggravation when you don’t know if your industry has a future and why were you such a dummy that you didn’t go into a business that had a future, like crimein’ with the Trumps. That’s apparently a growth industry. Our cries for help have become like our calls for service: There’s a backlog and no one is around to take our call. And so we have to try to fix it ourselves or just live with our own brokenness right now.
Like many people, I do really well with the former. When the vacuum cleaner broke, I turned it over and started triaging the problem. When I alleviated one problem, but it still didn’t work, I looked for another cause. Being analytical can be calming. There’s order to it and the promise of resolution. And that resolution can give you a sense of accomplishment, a win. And a win has been very hard to come by lately when most of us are either out of work or working in challenging situations; abandoning much-needed self-care because the current normal makes it difficult if not outright prohibits it; and there’s no end in sight to any of it and every day the political party in charge tells you that you don’t count, you don’t matter.
But on the other side of finding a solution are the situations that have none. With my phone there is a glitch that shouldn’t be happening and it is costing me money despite the fact that I did nothing wrong. It is not my fault, and yet not only can no one fix it, no one is willing to compensate me for it. With my AC, the amount of wrong and conflicting information I am being given continues to be staggering. I talk to a representative one day who calls a department for me and the next day when I ask another rep to follow up with said department, she tells they’re not allowed to call that department at all. It doesn’t make any sense. There are rules that I’m supposed to work within, but they change day to day and so I can never win.
And then this morning it hit: This is our government. This is gaslighting. However well-intentioned the various customer service reps I have spoken with may or may not be, one thing is being said, another one is being done, and when I ask about it, I’m being told none of it ever happened. There’s no order to this and no apparent resolution. And we desperately need a win. So the only recourse is to keep doing the same frustrating things we’ve been doing that haven’t been working. In my home it’s to keep calling customer service and hope that that call is finally the one that makes something happen. In our politics it’s to hope that if we keep phone banking, or text banking, or donating money or writing postcards, and yes, of course, vote, that Joe Biden will get elected. But we’ve been voting. And they keep cheating. And far too many people like their message of hate and bigotry and so they keep letting them. Can we win? I don’t know. There’s no order. We’ve tried fixing the broken parts, but the damn thing still won’t run right.
And so, we’re left with the second option: Living with the brokenness. This is what’s hard for most of us. Some days it can be easy to let it all go and other days we rail against the injustice of something that should work and doesn’t, like we’re Braveheart painting our face blue and crying, “Freedom!” I know I’m having a hard time living with the physical broken things because I’m feeling emotionally broken myself, because I need a win, or to at least feel like I have some control. I’m having a hard time because I am so distractingly frightened that our government is broken beyond repair and the overwhelming scope of what that means for all of us in the coming weeks and months. And to live in all of this brokenness feels like a failure: I didn’t do enough to fix it; what I did wasn’t good enough.
But maybe the only trick to living with brokenness is to remind yourself of what is working and do those things. Does watching 8 hours of British Baking Show work for you right now? Can you create some order by vacuuming or feel a win if you wash a load of laundry? Can you escape in a vintage movie, a mystery novel, or feel like you’re solving a problem if you do a puzzle? Would you rather channel your anger by writing postcards or calling reps?
Sometimes we don’t know the answer, which only makes it harder, and sometimes the things that usually work for us stop. And so we’re just left in this spiral of discomfort. But I know distraction helps. The trick is allowing our brains to be tricked, being willing to tear our focus away from what’s broken to something mindless. Start small: A five minute project like loading the dishwasher. Putting on a comedy that you’ve seen a million times but love. The attraction of self-abuse for some who do it, is that the physicality of it puts you in your body and stops the incessant thoughts in your mind. It’s like your body’s director yelled, “Cut,” in the middle of a high intensity dance number and you can catch your breath and reset back to one. What we need is to find a way to yell, “Cut,” that’s not actually cutting. And some days it’s really not easy: We’re our own customer service rep without the answers, but we’re the only one picking up the call.
*The seller of the cabinet knobs got back to me within a few hours and is sending out replacements. So there’s something that worked this week.