This week’s book of the week is Minnie Driver’s raw and honest memoir, Managing Expectations. Read an extract from the brilliant essay Here, There and Everywhere below.
I woke up on New Year’s Day with the flu.
I lay in the bath and felt exhausted by another year of chasing some external idea of what I should be doing. The tireless ambition of my twenties had given way to a searing suspicion that there was something else I wanted, but I refused to interrogate it as I was sick of wanting stuff: another role, true love, acceptance, admiration. I lay pruning in the bath, looking out over the deep Somerset countryside, feeling overwhelmingly sad, and longing for the sham of resolutions (particularly having to tell people what mine were) to be outlawed.
Every year, my whole life, I had dutifully intoned my desires for the coming year on New Year’s Day – desire being the secular cousin, who doesn’t wear knickers to church, to resolution’s fire and brimstone – and they had always acted like a placeholder for the nirvana I would reach if I could just fulfil them. The heady, sacred paradise of “there” always dangling ahead of me, like a utopian carrot. All I had to do was scale the whole heap of shit of my own making, plus the wild card of circumstance, and I would arrive.
In the bath, there could have been a eureka moment of clarity, a soulful call to acknowledge the journey instead of fixating on the destination, but I only felt the existential dread I’d woken up with – that coquettish desire and Bible-thumping resolution were gone. I’d banished them in the ticking over from last year to this and finally burned through my long-held idea about success – that if I worked really hard and found ways through and around the obstacles, I’d arrive at the place I most wanted to be. I would know it when I got there. My fever dream then further incinerated all the tributary thoughts around this, until all that was left was the one hot truth, that beyond the horizon there’s just more horizon.
There is no THERE there.
My sister found me sobbing in a bathrobe staring out the win-dow at sheep and a group of naked men and women charging towards the lake and a New Year’s Day polar dip. They were shrieking their intentions with breasts cartwheeling wildly, singing their intentions like a song, the attending penises slapping along, completely out of time.
“I think it’s really positive. You’re not harassing yourself to reach some goal that you’ve hung all your happiness on when there isn’t any such goal. You make it all up in your head, Min. All the fears I’ve ever heard you be fearful of are things you made up in your head. Leave your head alone. Just come and have breakfast and start the year there. Then let’s see.”
I felt so nauseous and hot I told her I’d just stay in bed till the Advil kicked in. All I wanted was some direction, I loved taking direction. I wanted to know what I was supposed to want.
Later, lolling in a window seat, retching now and then into a wastepaper basket, my sister came back into my room and sat down in a chair next to me.
“Are you throwing up?”
“Do you have a temperature?”
“A small one.”
“Are you massively tired?”
“Do your boobs hurt a lot?”
I clutched them and they felt like giant bruises.
She smiled the way she did when we were children and knew we were both in trouble but whatever infraction we’d been part of had been totally worth it.
“I think you’re pregnant.”
“I think you are.”
“But I’ve got a difficult uterus, remember that horrible old doctor compared it to having a U-bend in a toilet and said I’d never get pregnant.”
“Fuck that guy. Let’s get a pregnancy test.”
She hustled me into my coat and gave me a lemon.
“Huff that in the car if you feel sick; totally worked when I was pregnant with Percy.”
My sister had two children who were the light of all our lives. She had a husband and a lovely house in Notting Hill. I didn’t even have a boyfriend; me and the chap I’d been dating having amicably broken up before Christmas, the fun having run its course.
“Where are we going?” I asked her as she tore up the driveway of the hotel where we were staying.
“Radstock. It’s just up the road. There’s a pharmacy.” “But it’s New Year’s Day. Everything will be shut.” “Sooooo negative, anyone would think you don’t want to know if you’re pregnant.”
Radstock was a ghost town and I didn’t think it was just a late night and hangovers that were keeping the people off the streets; no, everyone was home having their own existential Mexican standoff with the expectations of the new year, and them in it.
We parked and walked up the main street, Kate shouting “Here it is!” as we came upon a small pharmacy that was decidedly shut. She peered through the leaded glass windows and caught a glimpse of someone exiting through a door behind the cash register in the back.
“There’s someone there!” she bellowed, banging on the glass, then moving to the door, where she weaponized the knocker.
“HELLO, HELLLOOOOO, EMERGENCY!!!”
I felt the familiar horror and delight at seeing my sister in undeterred mode. Honestly, I felt for the pharmacist, and he hadn’t even shown up yet. A few minutes of uninterrupted knocking later, and a sash window above the shop opened sharply and a very cross man stuck his head out.
“Oi! IT IS NEW YEAR’S DAY. WE ARE CLOSED. STOP BANGING ON MY DOOR. I HAVE A TERRIBLE
HEADACHE AND IT’S A HOLIDAY.” My sister moved seamlessly from barbarian at the door to charming sylph.
“Oh, gosh, SORRY! I know, I know, it’s New Year’s Day and you’re closed but honestly, we have a real emergency if you could possibly help us, it would be your first good deed of the new year and would mean so much to our family, I can’t even tell you.”
She smiled her radiant smile, the smile I’d seen men and women alike be felled by for as long as I could remember. Looking up at the gorgon pharmacist, scowling, nursing his hangover, and pissed off at what was probably an interrupted Bond movie viewing, I thought she might have finally met the unmeltable.
She added a final entreaty that often triggers something in men who feel powerless and underappreciated.
“Please, sir, PLEASE?”
Bull’s-eye. He smiled and rolled his eyes.
“Oh, go on then, I must be mad. I’ll be right down.”
My sister stared evenly at me. She didn’t gloat when she got her way, as it was her norm, and nobody had to feel like a loser just because she won. Unless, of course, she wanted them to.
The pharmacist came towards us in his Christmas pyjamas, rather endearingly having thrown his white pharmacist’s coat over them.
“Come in, come in,” he said. “Now, what’s this emergency?”
“It’s my sister. I think she’s pregnant.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No, but I have two children,” said Kate, bettering the credentials. “Could we possibly get a couple of pregnancy tests?”
With only mild irritation, as he clearly still wanted to bathe a little longer in the wattage of her smile, the pharmacist said, “And how is this an emergency?”
“Well, we have to find out NOW to rule out it being any of the number of other diseases my sister has.”
“Diseases?” I yelped.
“Conditions,” she smoothly countered. “We just want to be sure before we rush her to the emergency room.”
“I don’t have any diseases,” I whispered at her.
“Look, do you or do you not want to know if you’re pregnant?”
“I do not.”
“She really does, she’s just nervous,” said Kate, smiling with compassion at the pharmacist.
“Oh,” said the pharmacist,“well, I’ll just grab them for you.” “Bless you,” said Kate.
“Have I seen you on TV?” the pharmacist asked me as we were leaving.
“How does that work when you’re pregnant, do they shoot you from the neck up?”
“I don’t—” A merciful wave of sickness rose and I had to run from the shop to throw up in the street. Oh, my God, I thought, how will I work if I’m pregnant? How will I take care of a baby, how will I—. The thoughts were banished by another wave. Soon we were back in the car and heading to the hotel.
“Just do this one thing at a time, Min. Just go and find out.”
Even through the profound fear of what this might mean, a keen wonder was also present as I peed on the two sticks. I then sat on the edge of the bath and waved the sticks like Polaroids. My mind was now blank, it was clear, it was unmoving; my whole life, past and present, had come to a gliding halt as one of two potential futures prepared to join the caravan. I looked down at the sticks, and the two sets of parallel lines that told me I wasn’t alone in the bathroom. I stood up and looked at my face in the mirror, and I smiled. That was the very first acknowledgement of my baby, an instant human reaction to joy, our first salutation.
Managing Expectations by Minnie Driver (£14.99, Manilla Press) is out on 12 May.