I’ve learned how to argue with nervous parents over rules. All it involved was a trick: saying the same thing over and over again in a soothing tone of voice. Sometimes I slide the bar further from ‘soothing’ and closer to ‘calmly authoritative,’ but it’s all pretty close.
Somehow around the fifth or twelfth iteration it suddenly clicks for him or her – whether it’s the actual reception of information or just the knowledge that there are certain things that no amount of wheedling – or threatening – will change.
I’m sorry, I know it’s difficult, but the director has asked me to ask you for a note from your doctor specifically stating that your child has an allergy. I know, I understand that the first note was from your child and he has very strong feelings, very angry feelings about gluten but we can’t accept a gift card from Target with crayon on it as a valid substitute for a doctor’s note. Well of course I think Taylor has promise as an artist. Of course he’ll grow out of wanting to be a garbage collector/dentist. You’re right, that isn’t a profession.
I was glad to be back to steady work. Steady work is steady money, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean the feeling of loathing that washed over me – here I am again, everything looks the same, everyone is the same, even if they’re not.
I know that’s not really clear, not the way I mean it to be, at least.
There’s a chance to find yourself in work, especially in work that you dislike. There’s a framework imposed upon you, and you’re forced to create yourself inside it. Now of course I’m not advocating that everyone go out and find soul-crushing employment. Nor am I saying that people who are really really happy with their jobs are missing out on something. I guess what I’m saying – what I’m trying to say, rather – is that there’s a certain unpleasantness inherent in life, like chores. Like wiping runny noses or poopy butts, like bleaching the toilet bowl or cleaning out the bits of half-chewed food at the bottom of the sink. There are those things, then there’s getting terrible news – a teacher is quitting! A parent has decided to find his/herself and has abandoned the rest of the family! The latest guinea pig has gone to heaven and the pet store is going to close in ten minutes! The inspectors are here!
And in those moments, the terrible as well as the mundane, I learn more about myself (and sometimes those around me) that I ever did meditating, as good and head-clearing as that was, or traveling, as amazing and eye-opening as that was.
So I walked in the door, hung up my car keys and old bag on the same hook, put on the same old name tag, and thought I hate working. Isn’t it great?
Sometimes I think the only moments I have of joy are caused by utilitarian objects. Sharp scissors that cut construction paper and are where I last left them? Googly eyes with auto-adhesive backs? A hardback version of a classic book with wipe-down pages? The dopamine spike is sharp and immediate.
I read my gratitude journal and ask myself when it was exactly that I became a school marm? Am I unquestionably one? I must be, if I know the word.
I know how to pronounce Nietzsche too, but no one asks.
He crouched to look at the guinea pig. “So that’s Baxter, huh?” I tried to conceal the quick look of shock, but he saw it anyway. “Yes, Lola, some dads can actually still squat,” he smiled. “No, not that, I’m just surprised you know his name,” I said, feeling the colour creeping into my face, starting at my cheekbones. He noticed the blush, motioned towards the cage. “You have a tiny wooden sign with ‘Baxter’ written on it right next to the cage, Lola. I’d have to be much more tired, stressed and old than I actually am to not see it.” I nodded, in the usual way, where more of my head than my face is visual.
The director rubbed her temples, looked off into the distance. The middle distance? I don’t know. She stopped rubbing her temples and looked at her hands. “You’re only young for a moment, Lola,” she said quietly. “You should make the most of your life.”
I nodded. It isn’t anything anyone doesn’t tell me all the time.
Sometimes I stay up too late, writing. I tell myself at least it’s not Facebook and that gives me a righteous few minutes but it is late at night and my face will bear testimony to it tomorrow. And what can I tell my co-workers? “Yeah, stayed up real late. Writing and shit, you know. Real cool stuff.” No, I mean – no.
Ever stay up way too late and look like a panda the next day? I texted Elsa.
I sighed, looked at and in my change purse again. How much change can I use before I look poor? I wondered. Who cares? It’s not like I’ll return to this or any other Starbuck’s for the remainder of the summer. Maybe I have more money in the fall or maybe the falling leaves just kick my brain into some heightened level of excitement –
And suddenly my thoughts stopped, because I felt hot breath on the back of my neck. “Guess who?” a voice was asking, and I was pulling in my shoulders and jumping forward before I actually understood someone had been hugging me from behind. “Lola!” laughed Aviva, behind me, all teeth on display again, “Why are you so uptight?” I rubbed my shoulders, shivered a little. “Oh, hi, Aviva, hi,” I said, not knowing what to say – whatever the right thing to say was, it probably wasn’t ‘hi’.
“She’s my child’s teacher,” she waved at the barista, who was looking at both of us with extreme apprehension.
This was supposed to be the highlight of my day, I thought, and now all I want is to run screaming from this place.
“That’s one tall drink of water,” she said under her breath. I looked up from the toothbrushes I was labeling. The director’s accountant looked as she always had; sort of school marm-y, eyes always on the page. I’d heard her voice but she gave no indication of having spoken. “Excuse me?” I whispered, assuring myself if she doesn’t seem to know what you’re referring to you can just say did you hear something? and then that will be it.
“You must not know the expression,” she answered, adding figures in some dark corner of her brain, pen moving continuously, eyes still down. “I’m saying that’s a damn good-looking man, Lola.” Her eyes met mine, narrowed slightly. “Haven’t you noticed?”
I shrugged a little. “He’s a dad, Darla, a dad . . . ”
“A hot dad,” she muttered, resuming her additions.
Everything he says sounds like the right thing, I thought, up to my elbows in sudsy water. I thought of his face. He looks earnest when he’s talking to me. I guess he just looks earnest all the time. I guess . . . I need more coffee. It’s the afternoon, I don’t need coffee. I’ll just be up until 4 again.
I don’t know why it’s 4 – the magic hour when I suddenly fall asleep no matter what.
Late night/early morning is the loneliest time imaginable to be awake. Sometimes I feel like the last person alive, and I wonder how many other people are feeling like that, like me, just like me, and are only a few yards away.