It’s been just over a month since we sold our longest running restaurant business. For more than a month, my husband and I have been in a somewhat strange state of very early retirement, sitting on our couch in the sunny side of the house, dreaming up dreams of a future doing anything-but-restaurant things.
Anyone who has ever dabbled in the restaurant trade will understand the sheer exhaustion that comes with it: The constant worry and long working hours, the needing eyes, nose and ears in every single corner of the establishment, the permanent smiling throughout the whole thing, day in day out, every morning noon and night, 365 days a year can be, quite frankly, soul destroying. It is one of the toughest jobs in the world, I tell you. Don’t fall for those tv series about fulfilling restaurant dreams; you wake up on day two, some time in the haze of the morning, having gone to sleep just a few hours before that, realizing you didn’t order this or that, or your head chef hasn’t bothered to come back in, or whatever other nightmare you can possibly imagine that is bound to burst your fresh restaurateur bubble.
Restaurateurs are thick skinned people. Usually alcoholics or cocaine heads, beer bellied, sporting equal amounts of frown and smile lines. Weathered with the haggardness of never having time off.
Don’t get me wrong though, it can also be very glamorous. At any given point, you can open the fridge and help yourself to 3 bottles of champagne. You have your own personal chefs to make you whatever you like. Your dinner parties are always well attended by friends because you host them at your restaurant with professional chefs and waiting staff. You are never thirsty or hungry. Strutting around your place, saying ‘hi’ to all your devoted regulars, you are truly, da man!
But it breaks you. It chips away at you, gnaws on your soul, until eventually, it drags you into its murky depths. We have a long standing joke among us in the trade that goes: How do you make money from a restaurant? Sell it or conspire to burn it down! We all laugh sarcastically at this and pat each other on the back, sympathetically.
Back to me and hubby on the couch post apocalypse. What have we been up to? I wish I could tell you we finally went on that honeymoon 14 years delayed, or on that family holiday to Bali with the kids, or sold all of the restaurant junk gathering dust in the garage, or took couple dancing lessons or learned how to play golf. Nope, we’ve just been resting. Sleeping, eating, musing. In that order and nothing much else. We are floating in mid air, not sure where to land next. After about three days of this monotonous exercise, we started feeling rather useless, unfulfilled and well, fat. Alarmingly we realized we were hopelessly and utterly, stuck in limbo.
The concept of being in ‘limbo,’ a space where you’re neither here nor there: waiting at the border, the edge, the hem of the skirt of life, is not a new one by any means. Roman Catholics used the word to describe a place between heaven and hell where souls are neither condemned to hell, nor suitable for heaven. Well they had to find a way to explain what happened to unbaptized infants who died untimely deaths and all the virtuous people with good morals from history before Christianity, now didn’t they?
This religious concept of a place in the afterlife called ‘Limbo’ was dealt with perfectly by Dante Alighieri in his Inferno, a philosophical odyssey centering around the Christian quest for God. Dante’s Limbo is in the vicinity of the first circle of hell (take a right after crossing the Acheron.) Here, if you’re in the ‘in’ crowd, you’ll find yourself living in a castle in a lovely meadow with a brook running through it. Here you will spend eternity arguing with great philosophers and virtuosos like Homer, Socrates, Cicero and Julius Caesar, to name a few. You’ll talk yourself to death and then talk some more and then some more. And then some more. And that’s it. Forever. In a never ending, nightmarish, extra Philosophy 101 class during an eternal summer semester. Fun.
Of course there’s also the oh-so-excitingly-ridiculous Limbo dance: a simple yet practically impossible dance move where you have to contort yourself backwards whilst shuffling your feet forwards to pass under a low lying bar or stick without touching it, knocking it down, or falling over. A word of caution for the ladies: if you find yourself a-limbo on a beach in Trinidad, don’t wear a buttoned body suit whilst having your friend video you as you’re limbering under the pole. Trust me, sister. Disaster!
According to psychologists, being ‘in limbo’ is the state between depression and a bad mood. I personally wouldn’t call what I am experiencing as somewhere between these two rather somber states. I’d say I’m more in transit. Kinda like in that Tom Hanks movie when his character’s native country ceases to exist and he spends the entire film stuck in the transit lounge at JFK. But with hope and a good sense of humour, he gets out eventually. Iris Murdoch said in her novel A Severed Head: “There is a time limit to how long a spirited person can be kept in cold storage.”
So we sit, my husband and I, sipping Rooibos and watching the world go by from our couch on the sunny side of the house. When we’re being really honest about what we’re doing, and when we really want to be frank about the truth of where we’re really going next, we’re mostly talking about opening up another restaurant…
Sandra Buckingham 2019