When I was small, time flowed like golden syrup. Leaves hung in their buds for ages, full to bursting, seams dripping with the sugars of life. A summer breeze lingered, its sweat beading on your skin under a dark sun, heavy in the sheltered sky. I dreamed in my backyard, underneath the slyly growing birch tree, my initials carved with Joey’s with bottlecaps dredged from the gravel drive beside my dirty white house, low slung porch on the rear. I dreamed of my future, of my singular answer to the question everyone asked with that terrible smirk on their face.
“What will you be when you grow up little girl?”
I had as many answers as pebbles in that driveway. On Tuesday, under the maple hiding from the rain, I would be an artist, my fingers catching minutes and transferring them, chastised to the page. On Saturday, digging earthworms from beneath the wild strawberries, I would be a paleontologist, my world rooted in one millions of years old, pale scratchings against the earth, dusty with hope. Maybe an inventor, standing on my front porch on gray April morning, trying to invent wipers for my glasses, or a removable film. Perhaps a teacher as I stood in front of my cuddle friends, Papa Smurf, Lion, Garfield, Holy Hobbie, my ragged chalkboard stapled to the wall behind my door.
My world was a flower spiraling open then, a multitude of paths leading outward, into a glorious center, a future I couldn’t see but could stand warm in, the reflected moments shining back at me. I would be something-I would be the person I could best be, and nothing would stop me.
Life it seems, has different ideas.
I never finished school. I never settled on any one thing that I wanted to do. I didn’t have the perseverance to write every day. I’m not that good an artist. I couldn’t sit through the biology, the sciences, the math (oy the math) to do anything remotely like digging up a dinosaur. I surfed through my life on charm, wit and a perverse lust for knowledge-so long as you’re enraptured with learning, you’ll never look stupid and useless.
But knowing the rhythm of someone’s life in the 14th Century or that Ron Jeremy is a trained pianist or having pity for Catherine of Aragon-these aren’t skills you can transfer to the real world. These are bits of useless knowledge, gathered up like oregano just a little short for the pot. A love of learning doesn’t translate to much.
I had a talk with my boss today, who was frank and said she couldn’t trust my work. She’s right. She can’t. My attention to detail, a monkey on my back since, shit, when did they start judging school work? it has been worse since August. Something died on that gurney in the ER 3 months ago, someone died. Since that day, I haven’t been who I was, and my ability to really focus in on my work has been sparse at best. So she put it to me-is the job, as it stands now, too much for me?
I couldn’t respond at first. Nothing in my life has prepared me to have to say “Yes, I can’t do this. Yes, I am weak and lazy and unfit.” I’ve never had to ask someone to take work away, generally being the yes girl. But I haven’t been her since August, maybe even before that. I’ve been overwhelmed, and stressed and terribly unhappy.
She was blunt-the job is only going to get bigger, and what parts do I want, do I really want to do. The answer I didn’t give was “None-I want a new job.” but I know what things I’d like to keep, and what I’d like to be rid of. But what got me was that I heard, for the first time, what was really being said.
“You are too ill to do this job.”
It wasn’t implied to be mean, or to belittle. It was more to let me know that it was ok to back down. It was ok to be tired and stressed and sick of it. That it was ok to acknowledge my illness and handle it, instead of ramping myself up to such a state that someone would have to send King Kong up after me. While she was saying it with her ass in mind, I heard a message for me-to take this chance, and slow down, sit back.
I had such dreams for my life as a child-but they never included an illness that seems to worsen each year, and attempt to destroy me. In my world, you never get fired, you never quit because something is hard. You stick it out. You make the best of it. You deal with it, suck it up princess.
This has not served me well. Sure, 8 years employment for a bipolar is great. But I’m tired of sucking it up, of working twice as hard just to look like I’m doing the minimum. I’m tired of fucking around to avoid tasks I can’t stand. I’m tired of being pressured to be someone I’m not. I’m quite done with doing a job I’ve never planned for, never daydreamed about under maples.
I’m pondering now, what will work. I know she’s right-I’m not suitable for most of the job, not now. But other parts of it? I am.
Sometimes, riding the bus home, I see a new baby, a nervous new mother, shielding the child in a sling or carrier, her hand behind a head. I begin to dream about being the woman standing there to catch that baby, handing that slippery package to hands and a breast, the blood of new life running between my fingers as tears of joy run ragged edges down faces around me. I dream of guiding the bereft through their loss, holding still fingers in mine. I dream of the babies I’ll bring into this world, how they’ll turn to children, to women and men, to mothers and fathers, the circle turning and turning.
I still dream. Of life.