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.
“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.
“So you got another guinea pig?” I asked the children. They were eating applesauce and whispering amongst themselves. “You know what happened to the other guinea pig,” Lexie told me, eyes widening like we were sharing a secret. Yes, I knew. “Hopefully this guinea pig won’t leave,” Clary said, nodding for emphasis. “I love Red.”
“His name isn’t ‘Red’ Clary it’s Baxter!” hissed Lexie. “Don’t lie to Miss Lola!”
“I wasn’t lying! I changed my mind and now his name is Red.”
“He isn’t your guinea pig. You don’t get to name him. We had a, a . . . ”
“Vote?” I supplied. All such school decisions are settled by vote. She nodded. “A vote. His name is Baxter.”
“Just because you can reach the light bulbs with ease doesn’t make you into some sort of superior human,” I told him. He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Just leave them alone, Paco,” I wondered which tone of petulance was the right one to use, which one would remind him of his mother –
Right, I reminded myself. He never had one. Mostly.
“Your light,” he started, looking up at the ceiling fixture, “it wants to smash me in the head, and also I think it is dying.” I sighed. He thought everything was after him once he started drinking. My cheap light fixture? Murderous. His wife? Homicidal. The cows on the side of the road? Obviously plotting his doom.
“Come here!” he yelled suddenly, grasping the light bulb, then recoiling and sitting on the ground immediately. “Did you – did you burn yourself?” I asked, my mind jumping between Serves you right – I hope he’s okay! – What are the repercussions to a burned dad? quickly and repetitively. He wiggled his fingers. “Good thing I have this ice-cold beer!” he was cheerful again. I could relax. Mostly.
“Like I told you, Lola,” his grandiloquence – or imitation of it – was returning, “cold beer cures a multitude of sivels.”
“I just love bunnies,” Trixie cooed, squinting at the cage from across the room. She’d mistaken the guinea pig for a rabbit. “It’s, ah, mm,” I didn’t really know how to inform her it was a guinea pig. “I love them when they’re little, so little, so soft, so sweet . . . and then they grow up,” she said with a frown. Running her fingers through her long straight hair, she sighed and continued. “It’s so saaaad . . . they become these useless lumps of furry flesh, you know? Might as well just kill them then you know.” She laughed. I pressed my lips together. This was a joke, right? Or – a test?
“Oh Lola you’re right, I’m being too practical, aren’t I?” She laughed again (it’s a deep laugh, enough so to engender idle talk of perhaps-Trixie-is-a-transvestite).
“You have to do something about Clary,” Skeletor told me, brows furrowed. She’d just walked in, neglected to shut the door behind her, and was slapping her hair frantically into a ponytail. “You – just – have – to do something about him!” she continued between tugs on the rubber band. Once her hair was up she took several deep breaths to calm herself. I noticed her hands were shaking, and I looked down at Clary. He was watching her, biting his nails and looking worried.
“What’s wrong,” I said, drawing out the words and choosing the tone of voice I keep filed under “soothing.” She looked at me. “There will be no more naps for Clary at school.” I considered. He’s too little for no naps, you know, so I countered with “What makes you say that?” She shot him a stern look, he stopped fidgeting. “When we get home, he’s awake for several more hours. And not only is he awake, he expects to eat and play. I can’t stand it. If you don’t give him a nap then he’ll go home and fall asleep immediately. That is what I need: we go home, he goes to sleep. So no more naps at school, ok?”
“What are you talking about?” I countered before I could stop myself. “He can’t come from school so exhausted that he immediately falls asleep! He gets sleepy in the middle of the day and he needs a nap – all the children do. All children his age do, too.”
“Well that’s not what I need!” she was beginning to get flushed. “I’m going to have to talk to the director herself about this because it is simply unacceptable that I, a parent, make a request of you, a teacher, and you refuse to comply. That is just – I mean, it is just unacceptable.” She turned around, and strode out angrily though the still open door – this time slamming it shut behind her.
Clary was still chewing his nails. I dropped down quickly and hugged him. I felt his head resting on my shoulder, his little fingers pressing into my back with a worrisome amount of pressure. Gradually his breathing slowed. Someday, I thought, your parents will wonder why you have gone out into the world needing so much affection and approval, why, when you were raised with everything.
I love my bed. It isn’t a big deal and can’t bear the weight of description but it is a bed and quite useful, chiefly for sleep but also for hiding. When I am in bed I inhabit a different state, like a principality inside a country – like the Vatican. My phone and laptop are turned off and there is quiet inside my own house even if the neighbors make an ungodly amount of noise.
But mostly it comes back to hiding, to the meaning of Easter break always including a parent who will show up at my doorstep with a frightened and confused child because the school, amazingly, was closed for the holidays that were announced a year in advance so obviously the next quite logical step was to hunt down any and all teachers at their private residences and assume one of them will care of a kid or two.
I can’t speak as to the exact circumstances of Havana’s youth, but she hides excellently. As if the entire species of cat were being hunted.