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?
Amy does not now nor has ever been employed at any of our child storage facilities (child storage being an inside joke I feel certain you are all clever enough to comprehend).
She does, however, work in the industry, which means she is a teacher. We met at a workshop where the host dispensed such gems as “Don’t even pretend to yourself that you know all the names of your kids. Count them. You got a fire drill? Count their heads. Tornado busy destroying the town? Count their heads in the basement.”
“I hate you,” I said, before I could stop myself. “Do you, Lola?” he asked me. “Of course I do! I hate you so much I feel my pulse rise when I look at you and my stomach tightens and – ” I looked down at my arm “and the hairs on my arms stand up, and – ” I bit my lip. He came over to me and looked at my arm, turning it slightly in the light. I don’t have much arm hair and what I do have is thin and blonde and not really visible. But it felt like it stood up, visible or no. He sat down and smiled faintly, and I noticed for the first time that he’s beginning to get lines around his eyes, not smile creases or crinkles but fine little lines. Wrinkles.
And suddenly he looked old, and tired, and lonely.
He came in and directly lay down on the floor. I didn’t see it – I was making pancakes in the cafeteria, when Amelia came running to get me, mouth open but no sound coming out, and I immediately turned off the stove. “He’s on – lying on the ground,” she stammered, eyes wild. And then I was running, because I didn’t know who ‘he’ was and I assumed that ‘ground’ meant outside the school, and that someone had fallen ill.
Then I saw him, Paco, lying on the floor, arms folded behind his head. “That’s a new rug,” I said, eyes narrowing and feeling a wave of nausea, and relief. “Amish,” he said, eyes closed behind his sunglasses.Why are you such a douchebag? I thought. Why the hell does this fall to me? Why are you on the ground? What will anyone say if anyone were to walk in the door right now, you stupid long-legged spider? What will the director do – “
Suddenly I noticed the rest of the staff behind me, watching. “He’s hungover,” said Amelia, impressed. “Get back to work,” I snapped, realizing with horror that the children were unattended. “The kids are alone if you’re all here! What the hell is wrong with you?!” I heard my voice sound harsh and hollow. That’s better than showing the panic I feel.
“I don’t know why everyone talks about your hair,” Marina’s new assistant told me. “It isn’t really that thick.” I nodded, fascinated by the salon’s backlog of Japanese magazines. “Sure. Lots of hairs are thicker.” She pulled it taut. “Like, all my cousins have thicker hair than this,”
“Okay,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say. “It isn’t really that shiny, is it?” She asked, frowning behind her glasses. I shrugged. “Maybe, um, not?”
“No it isn’t shiny. And it isn’t thick. Or long. Like everyone in this salon was all ‘Oh look at Lola’s hair,’ and I was all ‘You think that’s good? You haven’t seen much hair.’ ”
I wish I could say that I said something to her, that I didn’t just stare with widened eyes for a second, shocked, thinking I am not misinterpreting this, am I? I am pretty sure that I am not misinterpreting this and that there are a limited number of interpretations and I think I’m getting the point. But all I did was look down at the magazine, while my mind turned itself on its tail, and everyone I told the story to scolded me and told me what I should have said, should have done. Didn’t do.
Sometimes I don’t want to go to sleep because it just means I’ll have to wake up what feels like immediately afterwards. As if staying awake for five minutes more of hazy night is somehow better than hearing the dreaded alarm.
But then it’s night and sense-making has been done away with and my apprehension of the next day keeps me from falling asleep.
Or delays it, I guess. I’m not ruling insomnia out as a lifestyle choice but I’m too young – sleep still hijacks my body when it wants to, black bag over the head and hello Siberia.
“Amelia is such a great teacher,” Mary told the director. “Her idea for the paper-bag costumes was really cute. I loved it! I would never have thought that it worked but it did! You can really tell the difference when you have a real teacher with a proper education and training, right?”
The director smiled. “Actually, that was Lola’s idea. Wasn’t it great though?” Mary looked at me. “You? You thought of that?” I nodded. “Yep, I just thought that – ”
“Well when you are young you have all kinds of crazy ideas and sometimes they work out.” She said, then turning to Carl announced “Mommy is so tired! I bet Carl is tired too and wants to go home right away. Let’s go home and see daddy!” She left with a quick wave.
“What was that?” asked the director. I sighed. “I don’t know.”
“I think she doesn’t like you.” I looked around. The room was empty and the stacks of paper fluttered in intervals from the ceiling fan. Maybe nobody does – not as a teacher.
I’m so tired of being a teacher. I’m on break and I never want break to end. I shouldn’t have to dread going back to work, not in a deeply my-soul-is-cringing type of way.
Oh I know – the work itself. The young minds. Trust me – I know. I’m explaining in shorthand and I know that too but I feel the visceral ebb of time and my break is almost over and I can’t stand it being over.
I guess I’m tired of humiliation, but maybe everyone feels that way.