A writing exercise. Prompt: the self-help books we don’t read.

The tarot deck Delaney had ordered still wasn’t in. She tapped the “end call” icon on her phone, a frown plastered to her face. Choosing a tarot deck had required several hours of research and comparison. She wanted a deck that conveyed elegance and a modern interpretation of tarot, a deck that said, I just do this for fun, but also if it resonates, that’s cool. The one she’d decided on, Linestrider, featured gentle yet evocative images that danced on the edge between magic and logic.

At least, that’s how the Amazon summary described it. Turning to Amazon instead of waiting for the local herb-slash-witchcraft store to replenish their stock sent guilt twinging through Delaney’s heart, but then again, her heart was used to guilt. She had children.

Linestrider Tarot

The first self-help book she’d bought, she hadn’t thought of it as a self-help book at the time, was “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” Despite the flaws and omissions she’d come to see in time, 19-year-old Delaney found comfort in the instructional format. Some would say she’d been addicted to self-help ever since, forever trying to find the key, the system, the habits, the mindset that would at last enable her to be her best self, the one without flaws, without failures, the one who didn’t polish off an entire box of Newman-Os or drink most of a bottle of bourbon. Instead she’d be the one practicing proper sleep hygiene, complete every day of the yoga calendar, discover the trick to maximize work productivity.

In short, Delaney would be absolutely optimized.

Except, the shit never worked. It was, Delaney thought, as if she’d asked someone for directions, and they’d given her the simplest route to get there, told her to fill her tank before leaving, but hadn’t noticed that she didn’t have enough money – had they even seen the price of gas? – didn’t account for the fact that her old four-cylinder VW Beetle could barely climb a steep hill nor account for the children wailing in the backseat or Delaney’s own need for stretching and sleep, and so no wonder she found herself on the side of the road, sobbing over the steering wheel time and time again, map wet with her tears. 

She thought about those days right now while sitting through the “your health matters” employee workshop her company held every Friday. Sometimes they’d be offered yoga classes or massages, but today’s topic was “How to develop the routine that’s right for you!” Delaney had landed the job a year ago, amazed by her luck at ending up at a place that paid the bills and then some. Every time she slid behind the wheel of her Audi Q3, she thought, yes, this is good. And then the health expert said something about the importance of sleep and Delaney thought about how she’d like to punch the guy hard in the gut. 

Here is everything Delaney had tried in her battle for sleep:

Tylenol PM – too groggy-making.

Melatonin – induced vivid nightmares.

CBD – useless.

Edibles – sent her brain speeding like when the brakes in the VW used to go out.

Xanax – perfect, but the doctor proved stingy with prescriptions.

Bourbon plus Xanax – even better, but not sustainable and also the hangover canceled out the benefits of sleeping, and also the guilt induced by spending the night passed out crushed her. What if her children needed something? Sure, they were grown now, but the worry had yet to disappear. What to expect when you’re expecting? No one mentioned this part, the way a mother’s heart had to absorb blow after blow, somehow staying strong and soft, somehow remaining the rock of the family without becoming stone. 

After one of the Xanax plus bourbon nights, Delaney woke up to the sunrise streaming orange and gold through her bedroom window as though the Goddess herself had gilded the dawn. Three “getting-sober” memoirs, ordered in a fit of drunken guilt, sat untouched on the shelf by her bed. She’d ordered worse things while drunk – an overpriced mattress, tickets to Barbados. As she stretched herself up and out of bed, Delaney’s phone dinged with a notification. Her Amazon order had been delivered. Delaney smiled, imagining a life with all the answers.