Fantasies and Phobias: An Imaginary Day Downtown

Since my daughter, Andy, came home from the hospital 20 months ago, I have been truly, completely alone for a total of about 90 minutes. That was when we were moving to our current apartment, so while my husband got called into work and Andy was with my parents, I was scrubbing sinks and tubs and floors for an hour and a half. I loved every second of it. Andy spends every Saturday with my parents, and my husband and I spend that time running errands and enjoying our hobbies. It's time we like to spend together, even if we're engaged in separate things. But my daughter is never away from me at any other time, and so, I am never alone.

When we lived across the river, a bit closer to downtown, I had this fantasy day of solitude planned out in my head. It would require more money than we can reasonably spare on frivolities, but hey, it's a fantasy. A day of art and, more importantly, a day of food. I would start, mid-morning, by either walking or taking the free trolley into the market area downtown. This would be on a weekday, so there'd be less of a crowd.

Coffee mug from Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea.

Coffee mug from Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea.

My adventure would begin at Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea, where I would order a large cafe mocha (hot or iced, weather dependent) with a shot of raspberry. I would sip this delightfully bitter drink very slowly at a small table while sketching the view or the decor or other patrons. I would have a little travel kit of watercolors with me, so I could paint from life. The fantasy doesn't account for the fact that I don't own such a thing or that my actual supplies would be pretty cumbersome to travel with.

Next I would walk a block over to the Taubman Museum of Art. With no care at all for how long I wandered, I would move from gallery to gallery, stopping to sketch when a piece of artwork inspired me. Then I would walk to Nawab, my favorite restaurant in Roanoke, and eat at least two plates of the delicious lunch buffet. Probably sketching some more if they weren't too busy for me to linger. Waddling like a fat goose, I'd head down to chocolatepaper, where I would browse in the most leisurely manner, gathering ideas from their unique offerings and daydreaming about making gift baskets. I would buy one decadent truffle – my enormous buffet lunch keeping my appetite and budget in check.

From there I would go to Center in the Square, taking the elevator to the roof to sketch the buildings from above. I would peer into the butterfly garden windows, maybe sketching a few if they held still long enough. If I had a really crazy budget – again, it's a fantasy – I might even go to the Science Museum and sketch some of the fish and the horseshoe crabs. I would not go into the butterfly garden. Don't even get me started on butterflies. Ugh. Back on the ground floor I would go into The Candy Store, where I would subtly take a few photos for reference for sketching at home. I would browse and read labels and marvel at all the $9 chocolate bars and nostalgic candies. Unable to resist the pleasure of scooping into the big, glass jars, I would buy a very small bag of one candy, probably chocolate based.

Ideally there would be a nice cool breeze, and I would take my candy and sit at one of the outside tables in the market. I'd open my fancy truffle from chocolatepaper and do a quick painting of it before savoring it. A few more sketches of the goings on at the market, and then I would walk home. And nap! A lot of hours in this day, apparently.

Taubman Museum of Art

Taubman Museum of Art

If I had set aside a couple dollars here and there, we could have made this work. And we don't live as close to downtown now, but I could still catch a bus over, and it is still technically within walking distance. I'm also working on crafting a similar fantasy day in the Grandin neighborhood, since that's a closer walk from our new home. That one would also include fancy coffee and an Indian buffet lunch. So, what's the problem?

Cars make me nervous. Well, beyond nervous, really, if you consider that I am nearly 29 years old, have lived mostly in rural areas with little to no public transit, and I still don't have my driver's license. The reasons for that are complicated, and definitely their own story – and yes, I have heard every argument in the book for why I should get it. Again, I'm pushing 30 and I still don't have it – consider all arguments moot. But that's not my story, here. I am a nervous passenger. I make my husband crazy with my (unconscious!) phantom breaking while he drives. I swerve my head back and forth like a bobble-head at intersections. Merging onto a highway? I press myself as far back into the seat as I can, to "make myself scarce," close my eyes, and hope for the best.

I actually really like road trips and long car rides, and there are a handful of drivers in my life with whom I feel perfectly safe 99% of the time. But the statistics are pretty grim, other people drive like maniacs, traffic in Roanoke is frequently a mess, and cars are enormous boxes of metal being driven at very high speeds by incredibly flawed and, too often, inattentive organisms. Basically, if I'm in a car, I'm never not somewhat aware that imminent death is possible. As a passenger, I've been in two damage and injury free fender benders, one parking lot taillight crunch, one minor deer hit, one scary t-bone that resulted in nasty seat belt burn, and one terrifying and very, very nearly catastrophic run-in with the biggest plow truck I've ever seen in my life. I don't think any of those were the root of the problem, but they don't help.

But the fantasy day involves walking or taking the bus! No big deal. Well, here's the rub. Andy is 20 months old and she has never been in a car without me. Not once. Where she goes, I go. That is the rule. There is terror in my soul, and I haven't been able to send her somewhere without me. This has, of course, caused significant inconvenience on several occasions, with someone always having to bring me back to where I need to be if I'm not staying with her. It's a pain in everyone's ass, but I can't help myself. I couldn't stand it if something happened to her and I wasn't there with her. My macabre logic is, if there's a horrific accident and she dies, I better be right there dead with her. My mother assures me this isn't completely off-the-rails thinking, and that she feels the same way about airplane travel. But she's almost two years old. I trust my family to be safe drivers, and I haven't been alone in almost two years. And if I really want an entire day to myself, it's much fairer for them to be on their own turf with her, not fumbling their way around my disorganized apartment.

I think I'm nearly ready. We let her sleep overnight with my parents for the first time about two months ago, and again last week. Much to my surprise, I wasn't worried at all, either time. So I let my mom know the other day that I'm thinking about it. That I might be ready. She texted me back, "Wow!" I suspect she's been waiting for this, that she has places she would enjoy taking her. So maybe next week, we'll do a trial run. I will probably triple and quadruple check that I put the car seat in exactly perfectly. I'll probably be panicked waiting the 25 minutes or so the ride would take, staring at my phone for the confirmation text that they made it in one piece. I might cry. Yeah, I'll definitely cry. And then I'll probably deep clean the kitchen and deal with these laundry piles. Maybe watch a movie and work on a few paintings. And next time I go to the grocery store, I'll get two or three dollars cash back to put in a jar labeled "Day Downtown." And then in a few weeks, maybe a month or two, I will be alone. And I will feast.