How a surprise skunk made me feel better about my life
I went to the movies and saw “La La Land”, by myself. I’m pretty much always alone these days. I just moved to a new city, in a new country, on a new continent, for the first time in my life. I don’t know anyone here. I don’t have a job. I moved away from friends, family, network and career. I moved away from my apartment, with all my things in it. I moved away from everything familiar and safe.
The move took its toll, physically. After a few whirlwind days of checking boxes and crossing things off lists, I went down for the count with a bad case of the flu. Stuck in my bed, in my room, coughing and wheezing and sneezing, wrapped in IKEA sheets so box fresh I could still smell the factory chemicals. Or I would have, if my olfactory organ weren’t otherwise occupied.
I was on sick leave from nothing. Is a sick leave a sick leave if no one misses you, or expects you to be someplace? No one expects anything of me, because no one knows I’m here.
What am I doing with my life? Why did I come here? Is this a mistake?
So far I’ve turned out to be unemployable, too old and overqualified for the easiest jobs, too inexperienced and foreign for the “real” jobs. I’ve got bills to pay in two countries now, and an income in none.
Having recovered slightly from the vicious flu, and completed an online certification that might help me claw my way into some form of employment, I decided to venture outside for a small celebration. After being bedridden for a week and a half, this was a small victory in itself.
Consulting the showtimes, I picked an afternoon showing of “La La Land”. The popcorn came in a surprisingly heaping portion, but was buttery and delicious. The colours were bright, the actors beautiful, and the songs moving. Especially one song. “Fools Who Dream”.
The lyrics hit me hard, they captured so perfectly my current situation and my worries.
Exiting the theatre, I immediately looked the song up on Spotify. The streets were dark, but occasionally lit up by what might be leftover Christmas decorations in trees. The buildings were unfamiliarly tall, the sidewalks were made from concrete, and it was raining. The music was flowing into my ears on repeat, and I was crying. Block after block. Music and crying and rain.
It wasn’t a bad kind of crying really. More the relieved kind of crying you get when you feel that somebody recognizes what you’re going through. Or more specifically, the kind of crying you get when you find a song that perfectly embodies your feelings, just like when you were a teenager.
Only this time, it’s not Backstreet Boys telling people to quit playing games with my heart (although they still should stop that, seriously). This time it’s Emma Stone as Mia, celebrating people with crazy impulses and messy lives. And when you’re at a point where your life is weirder and messier than it’s ever been, that’s exactly what you need to hear. It was relief, it was loneliness, it was heartbreak and it was confusion, all mixed up. So I cried.
Until suddenly, there right in front of me on the sidewalk, was a skunk.
I’ve never seen a skunk before!
The surprise made me forget all about the emotional pit I was digging for myself. The skunk lumbered along, not seemingly in a hurry. Its comically lumpy shape made me burst out laughing, as I fumbled with my phone to stop the music and open the camera app. I managed to capture all of three seconds of shaky darkness, but by that time the skunk had made its exit into a nearby bush and was out of sight.
Edging warily past the bush that was now the skunk’s refuge, still dazed from the encounter, the world suddenly seemed a brighter place. The effect was comparable to the pleasantly lobotomized feeling you get from watching cat videos on YouTube. That fuzzy “I might not know what I’m doing with my life and it’s all in shambles, but it will be okay somehow” feeling.
Yeah, I might be lonely, I'm not on top of my situation right now, and I don't have a plan - but at least I'm on an adventure.
Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make
And may you all happen upon a figurative skunk when you’re feeling blue.