I wonder if it’s possible to change so much that you awake one day, or evening, sometime, as an entirely different person.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes I remember it and there’s a quick ball in my stomach that bounces up to the back of my throat. That was really horrible, and not as long ago as I’d like to imagine, I think.
And suddenly I feel inconsolable, and stop myself from picking up the phone.
I never want to ask the unhappy couples if they’re okay. Sometimes I can’t help myself, the words come out and I feel like a fool but they’re out already and there’s no stopping the response. “We’re fine!” they tell me, us, whomever. “Never better!” “Great!” “Happy!”
And then one morning you see pink around their eyes, or the sunglasses never come off, but the wedding ring is off, and they’re too busy to say good morning.
Invariably the children’s clothing is rumpled, his or her hair isn’t brushed – and no one is happy I said this.
Teachers aren’t supposed to notice.
“Do you remember when you were successful?” she asked me, turning her face to look at my hair separately out of each eye. I looked at the ceiling. Sometimes it’s easier to disappear with my eyes open, I thought. “Of course I do,” I whispered back, eternally obligated to answer even when I felt like turning over, wrapping myself in my fluffy cotton blanket and kicking her off the bed with my legs.
They’re strong enough to do it, too, even if I never could make them.
Why does anyone feel the need to advise me, anyway? Is it because I’m polite? Because they know I’m never going to tell them to get lost, just grit my jaw and look bored and hope that the body language conveys my point.
“Why do you let people burden you with their baggage?” Isolde asked me with a snort. I frowned. “Don’t oink at me – its not something I want happening to me. I’m actually like, kind of torn up about it. Really.” I looked at her feet, propped up on my bench. She looks like a vagabond but the soles of her feet are always clean. “Do you get unsolicited advice?”
“What do you do about it?”
She sat up and looked at me, annoyed. “I tell them to go fuck themselves.”
“No, not really.” She sighed. “I try to cut them off before they get to the advice part, and if that doesn’t work I try to politely like, hand it off, you know? Like ‘oh that’s nice look at those strawberries’. And if it stilllll doesn’t work I say ‘Well we all have our lives to live, don’t we? And nobody can learn from anyone’s mistakes but her own.’ ”
It actually sounded good to me. “Think I could use that at work?”
“Sure . . . when you want to get super-fired.” She mimed a giant explosion.