Can I get a

I wrap the towel around my leg. I press. I hear you bouncing up the stairs. I hear you calling my name. You drown out the sound of the podcast I’m streaming. I do not respond. You did this the other night, tried to talk to me through the closed door. When we were children and we did this to our mother she would yell at us in response. It is not polite to talk to someone when they’re in the bathroom with the door closed. That is alone time.

You seem to realize I am preoccupied behind the bathroom door because I hear you bound down the stairs. You stop shouting my name.

When I finally make it down the stairs (I put away my things. I clip my nails. I clean the long black pubes out of the tub drain. I empty the bathroom trash.) you ask if I saw your text message. I expect you to ask if I heard you calling my name. This takes me aback.

In the kitchen I unload your dishes from the dishwasher. Your fourth? load in a week. I tell you you use a lot of dishes. The plates slam together. You say it is because you made dinner every night last week. Is that so? You talk at me and you watch me. I ask you not to put my Tupperware inside. You say you thought it was sturdy enough.

The dishwasher is not mounted to the countertop. Sometimes it slides back, underneath, inside. I squat down and begin to wrestle it forward. I’m squatting and pulling. Standing and switching. Corner to corner until the door of the dishwasher is even with the lip of the countertop. You are still talking at me. Now you are complaining about grading. But if you don’t grade, what else will you do? I finish and start to chop brussels sprouts. As they roast I decide to scrub the stovetop. I cannot remember the last meal I made on the stove. It is blackened. Charred crumbs surround the burners. I soak it and scrub it and scrub it some more. You laugh at me when I don’t let you insult a colleague. Why do men think women are funny? Why do they think we are joking?

You keep talking at me. You are talking to me about some worry you had, some stress. The scrubbing could have been therapeutic. I could have wondered away as my elbows and my wrists dug into the grit. But your voice keeps me tethered. Just out of reach of my own thoughts. My own silence. You notice I have unloaded the dishwasher. “But that’s my job.” I do not respond. You ask me what I’m roasting. “Brussels sprouts.” You leave the kitchen as I go over the stove for the third time. I am scrubbing so hard I can feel my tongue tasting the outside of my lip. You are still talking. You talk to me about the mindset of a mutual acquaintance. Someone who just gave birth. I frown at you. I do not understand why you are explaining the mindset of a postpartum woman to me. You like to talk about pregnancy like you know it. Like you get it. I move out of your line of sight and begin to put the dense cages back around the gas burners.

I have maneuvered around your coffee thermoses. You like to leave them in the sink for twelve hours, at least. Right under the spigot. I begin to clean out my lunchbox. Then I will wipe down the counters. You decide now is the time to wash your thermoses. You finish and finally leave the first floor. Going to call your wife. I begin to wipe down the sink. Stained with coffee. I can hear you laugh with your wife as I begin to sweep the floor. First the kitchen. Then the dining room. Bursts and splashes of your conversation dribble down the stairs as I go to the basement to get the swiffer. I scrub the salt and the dirt off the floor. We have two rugs and a drip pan for the boots but somehow there is salt across the hardwood floor. I scrub until my back burns.

I get up early and I work through lunch and I go to the gym to lift and then I come home and I shower and I unpack my gym clothes and I repack fresh clothes for the next workout and I clean up my room and I get everything ready for the next morning. I come downstairs and I clean and I make dinner for myself and then I have a couple hours to watch tv or read or write. Every morning and every night you sit and wait to talk at me. Are you a dog with vocal chords? You talk at me. Do you care if I care? I think it’s pretty apparent I do not care. You are smart enough to analyze the evidence and conclude I do not care. But you need me to care. Men always need women to care.

When you talk on the phone with your wife I hear you repeat the same stories to her you have just finished talking at me. I used to think that was somehow endearing. That you wanted to make sure she felt apart of your day. You had to make sure not to leave anything out. Now I wonder if it is something else. I try to remember the last time I repeated a story in the same day.

I bring my dinner to the couch. I turn on the tv. I hear you stumble around upstairs as you pack. Who knew clothes in suitcases could make so much noise.

In the morning, I will wait until you bound out the front door before I leave my room. One morning I forgot my plan and found you with every kitchen counter surface covered. In the morning, I will take out the recycling overflowing with your beer bottles. I will turn off the lights you leave on. Once you made fun of my chicken wing eating abilities. “Clearly you are not the child of immigrants.” What kind of child leaves lights on and runs the dishwasher multiple times a week? Whose parents don’t care about electricity and water bills?

Soon this will all be a distant memory.

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MIA

This is me not writing. This is me not reading. This is me trying to avoid anything that brings me too much joy because he will not be here to tell about it.

This is ridiculous.

They call it missing because it’s a lack. Where you used to feel, now you don’t. But you remember the feel. You are reminded constantly that you feel differently now. You don’t have a way to that feel any longer. No route. It sits with you. It’s not a negative, a nothing. It’s as tangible as the original feeling. A place where something should be. A lack that turns into a hunger. A want to replace what was. When missing was knowing. You used to know. Now you’re not so sure. Couldn’t say for sure.

For a long time, I did not think my father’s absence defined me. I did not think it was That Big of Deal. I knew that wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear. But I recognize this feeling now because I realize how much my missing has defined me. How much it has shaped me. How much it has brought me. I have always known what it is to miss. I didn’t realize how well I knew it until now. Now that I have been reacquainted. I was raised by this missing.

My best friend left when I was four and that missing was like waking up one morning without oxygen, without sunshine, without. It was like waking up and never falling asleep again.

I had to carry on with that missing, but joy is hard to recapture once it escapes. It’s why I was so productive. Why I was so bored. Why I tried to be everywhere but where I should be. I spent all my time trying to get it back: I wanted to remember to forget my aching.

It wasn’t like grief. Grief takes no prisoners. Missing is a life sentence. Missing leaves you with just enough to keep you from fully feeling undone. How do you commit to that?

I try to pull back into myself. Try to remember what that was like, when it was just the world and me. How we did it before. How we do it again. It’s egregious having to be reminded. It’s a release finally recognizing it for what it is. To have a name for the thing.

A loop world

It’s the first morning of another year. What worth is 365 days? What does it mean to circle the sun? Today is not different from yesterday. Just as sunny, just as cold. Yet my mind can almost feel that bend in the calendar. Up and around. Another loop.

I am trying to soak up as much heat as possible. In front of the fireplace, near the vent the heat seeps out of. Immersed in layers. Ben is somewhere above me, being so quiet it feels like I am home alone. A wonderful, unique feeling. He has been wonderful, incomparable, since I’ve returned from Arizona. He had chicken stew ready and waiting for me. I arrived– freezing, tired, and out of sorts after the flight and the short drive home. A bowl of chicken stew with a red wine base. He encouraged me out of the house–to get me in the sun and moving. To remind me why I live here. Once I was done with the outside world, we shared a coffee cake. At home again, he let me eat as much as I wanted of the meal he had made for the both of us. He left me alone for a couple of hours when I started to run out of patience. When the midnight bedtime and the 4am wake-up time and the crossing of time zones started to overtake me. I watched a true crime documentary in the dark until I succumbed to sleep. By the time he returned, I was showered and invigorated.

Gratitude is longitude.

He made me ramen with spinach and leftover chicken. He paid for my New Year’s Eve courses and bourbon. He cures my hangover with frozen yogurt. He cranks up the heat. He leaves me alone. For lunch he will feed me cabbage soup (my favorite in winter) with fried rice. He will use up as much of the food as he can before he leaves the country tomorrow. He will leave me with enough leftovers to last me the week. I am feeling vulnerable, weak and cold. He fills me in with nourishment and peace of mind. He feeds me and forgets me.

I am reading The rules do not apply by Ariel Levy. Another of these memoirs written by a woman. Written with the same message of so many of the books I have read this year: you are a woman; you are explained the rules; you grow up; everything implodes; you move on. This message, which can be summarized in Levy’s words, “It did not cross my mind that this might not be all about me.” Women in a world. Women who have been told to protect themselves, take care of themselves, make the most of themselves. Us in the world, and if it’s not about us, who else can it be about? You put on your blinders to get somewhere, so as not to spook, like a horse. But then you get somewhere, and where are you?

And the world becomes frighteningly small and poisonous. How do you escape a world of your own creation? What if there isn’t another world out there?

I’m learning to let go of my world, to try and see what other worlds exist, have always existed. To learn to travel amongst the worlds and between the worlds. I don’t know what good it will do me, but it can’t hurt.

The last jedi

Found my grad school journal (the first time). There she is, 23 year old me. Writing her experience, little feeling.

reference 3/2/11 Student wanted to find 1990 News-Gazette. I checked online in three or four places to see if it was digitized. Also looked online at library–catalog and ORR. Found in catalog, wasn’t sure what years HPNL had. Called and gave patrons directions after getting the affirmative.

Student working on dissertation–oil workers international union, strike of 1945. She had primary sources–needed more secondary sources. She wanted to brainstorm ideas/tips for finding secondary sources. We found some articles in ASP (America History and Life) and she used these articles to brainstorm keywords. I also directed her to subject libraries/librarians-ESSL, BIL (labor/employment relations) and HPNL–since she wasn’t sure which direction she would pursue. 

Who was I then? She seems robotic to me. So focused on the external. The product of my work. So focused on my duties. Did I like it? Did I think the topics were interesting? I only seemed to make note of my feelings when they somehow informed my work:

instruction-TA wasn’t invested. I was nervous had not practiced enough…Realized turning point was different than expected. Student told me after, “I liked it.” Also, several students waved and smiled at me when leaving 😀

That’s it, I drew myself a smiley face of reassurance, and then resumed my note taking for reference. I remember being told to do this, to write down the questions we got and the process we followed. To start ranking our interactions with patrons. Our feelings in classrooms. We had to track our time, effort, and engagement. Ever iterative, working at the library. It fit so well with my head. It fit so well with my thinking. If only I could have stayed that way. Invisible. A robot.

I have to stop fighting the bad in me. I expect that I can’t be loved, that I can’t move on, until I am perfect. No, stop. I have to accept myself the way I am. I have to save what I love. I have to save the bits I love. I have to save. If I keep on this way, fighting myself with all of myself, I will never be satisfied and I will only be exhausted. I will never let myself be, let myself feel and hear and react. I will never let myself out if I keep this up.

 

Things burn

How do you write about people you know? Your grown-ass slob roommates? Your shallow, superficial coworkers? Do you make them up? Make them up into caricatures, shells of people, vessels for the truths you can’t tell when they’re around. The truths they don’t know about themselves. The truths only you can see.

I had a meltdown the other day. I spend a little bit of every weekend trying to manage this house. Always noticing the dust in the corners, the crumbs on the counter, the muck in the tub. I don’t mind doing a little here and there. Now and then. Something to clear my head, something to pass the time, something to give me that feeling that I’m a little bit in control of my environment. But this day, I didn’t feel like the master of my world; instead, I felt overwhelmed. Always categorizing and measuring the surfaces to clean. Weighing myself down. I need to go somewhere where I am unreachable. I need to sink into myself and get quiet. I can get so quiet. Underwater. Below the surface of me.

I feel myself rage. Hear that demon side of me. Know that while I think I am starving it, it is actually always being nurtured just out of sight. These seeds, these pop rocks of rage, that were planted so subtly by my mother and my grandmother. Some survival instinct that kicks in whenever I start to feel like someone’s maid, someone’s punching bag, someone’s cheerleader, someone’s life coach, someone’s mother. I am no one’s mother. I am not your mother. Hear me rage. Watch me melt.

A professional stance

I don’t always have to be accommodating. I don’t ever have to make an exception. I know it’s that time of year. “You get tired. That is the nature of things.” I am tired.

Because of work, I am tired of the people. I feel defeated. I feel I have bent to breaking. Bent over backwards so often to smile, to help, to do anything other than scare someone off, and now I am worn. Weathered. Ready to detach and unplug and step away.

I am still learning how to find that delicate balance between giving and maintaining. Between trying and expending. Expiring.

I once had a supervisor review me with, “[she] has a gracious way of being an advisor who holds the student’s hand and holds each of them responsible at the same time.”

She meant it as a dig. She hated the way I worked with my advisees. She hated the way I tried to shelter them from what I could. How I held out my wing to them. I allow my empathy too much room in my work.

Students take advantage. The students I work with now seem to have plenty of empathy in their lives. They need someone to challenge them. They need tough love. Old habits die hard. I keep holding out a hand, just in case I get that student for whom the structures aren’t built. The student who rarely encounters empathy. That is where my mind goes. What if

But then I flip, unsure if I am teaching them anything. Unsure if I am modeling anything. Unsure if I am going anywhere. Unsure if anything, anything matters anymore. If anything is resonating. If anything is sticking.

Don’t fuck with me: you will learn something. Can that be an advising philosophy? A teaching statement?