I’m talking disappointment that’s not the end of the world, one that’s somewhere between a blow and an inconvenience, yet, when it hits, it feels like the end of the world to you. In it goes to your body to be registered in your bones and muscles, nothing as violent as the proverbial punch in the stomach, maybe you feel it as churning low down, akin to the beginnings of food poisoning, a dryness at the sides of your tongue before you throw up, a constriction of the throat dizzy. You realise you are holding your breath. You sit down, stay quiet, hang your head. Disappointment is a horrible thing, it’s just so… disappointing.
To this day I can’t hear glockenspiel music without feeling slightly gutted, reminds me of the title music from the seventies and eighties children’s TV programme, Take Hart, which used to crush my heart weekly as I sent in drawings that were never selected for Tony Hart’s gallery. The soundtrack for the gallery section was classical guitar music, now also ruined for me. The disappointment of never being chosen will forever be associated with the melody of Cavatina.
Liberally scattered through life, no one is immune to the slingshot of little let-downs. We expect children to take it bad, but if we’re honest, coping with disappointment doesn’t get much easier as we age. Maybe with age we brace ourselves for disappointment, we stumble but keep walking. Mostly, though, they shove a leg out and trip us blind, leave us bruised. Stepping into the new house you’ve just taken possession of to find the seller has removed the curtain poles, towel rail, kitchen island, and dug up two acers and a camellia from the garden. Turning up at the check-in desk for the holiday you’ve been looking forward to for eight months and you’re told at the gate (you’re last in line to board) that your passport expires in less than three months and you cannot fly. Receiving a last-minute text to cancel the much-anticipated date because… he gives no reason. Opening the envelope and the first thing you see as you slide out the letter are the words, “We regret to inform you”, and you slide it back in without reading any further, go back to bed and curl up in a ball.
In that moment, nobody wants their disappointment fixed. Right now, it is not fixable, and the last thing you want to hear is, “What’s for you won’t go by you”. Go away, you and your homespun wisdom; I am certain that this was for me, and it’s all ruined! I want to be alone to nurse my disappointment. I want to examine its recesses, go deep into the darkness. I need to burrow beneath the anger, shame, embarrassment, rejection, and sit with this pure feeling of disappointment. Sure, someday it will make me stronger and bigger and braver because I’ve borne it, but right now I want to be weak and small and pathetic. I want to retreat and bawl. I want to feel sorry for myself.
Momentarily you might try to put it into context – war, famine, death, and those worse off – but it stinks all the same. That day you got a brand-new mobile phone in the morning, and it was stolen by the afternoon. That time you spent a small fortune on tulip bulbs in Dobbies, spent hours planting them in formations that were going to look stunning come spring, only to have them eaten – every last one – by marauding squirrels. That weekend break you’d been living for only to find the four-star hotel room was small, poky, hot, dark, and had not seen a lick of paint since 1983. That bar of Lindt dark chocolate (with a touch of sea salt) that you had been saving (tucked behind the pickles in the fridge) to eat with that movie, then someone got there before you (and rubbed that sea sale in your wounds by leaving an empty packet).
Heart sink, little cut, arrows piercing flesh. Sit down and feel it.
When you open the bottom drawer in October to pull out a cashmere knit and discover that the moths have been feasting through the summer, then go through the others and find small holes in them all. When you fail the driving test, again. When you never hear back from your novel submission. When the funding bid is rejected. When you smash the last crystal wine glass in the set that had been a wedding present. When the orchid you have been tending dies. When you take the cake out of the oven and it falls in the middle. When your seats at the theatre are behind a pole. When you go to a party and the boy you fancy isn’t there. When the Airbnb smells like cat, socks, and cabbage. When the Christmas present from your significant other is an ironing board. When inflight meal is inedible (more fool you for thinking it would be anything other). When you get to the end of the book and find that someone has torn out the last ten pages (who does that!?). When you’re cheerful about the fact it’s raining on your camping trip but then realise it’s not going to stop all week. When you go to book your easyJet flights and realise your vouchers have expired. When you fall in love with a house and get gazumped. When the expensive bottle of wine you’ve bought tastes rotten.
You’d think we’d get used to life’s little disappointments; that we don’t is a good thing, it shows we live in hope.