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I was supposed to cry. I tried, even, and managed to sniffle a few times - the fresh faces, the promises and hope for the future, all up on the stage. So appropriate hearing 'pomp and circumstance' as they parade up, the cynic in me thinks of the grandiose composition that signifies all the ways we pretty up others and make them more important so they can pass laws and pass judgment and pass before our eyes, heads held high, having accomplished the first of many goals. Now they do it on their own, for real, no parents pushing.
What am I doing here, behind a counter, wearing a polyester uniform, a hair net and a badge that tells the world my name and that I know nothing about such simple things as making coffee and bagging doughnuts. Life does toss some curve balls. No matter how much I tell myself it is the person inside that counts, that the important thing is to do the job well, not the job itself but the voice, the internal mocker, internal reality check tells me this isn't where I'm supposed to be. Not that there is anything wrong with it.
Family dinner. The moment of truth, surviving the judgments of others. Jabs, digs, quiet one liners all meant in good fun, of course but still little cuts. But it isn't as bad as expected, mostly sincere questions, a bit of laughing at the jokes I make first to defuse or deflect any attacks. Of course there is one, he makes a quiet approach and, sotto voce, places a traditional order for hot tea with sugar and milk in the vernacular. I ignore it and the others that follow. He just broke up with his girlfriend, we call a truce.
More tired than I thought possible. This body isn't adapting as quickly. I try to stay awake to turn my body clock around and it goes well until the time I should be sleeping - just a bit, mind you, just enough to stop the stucco fairies dancing across the ceiling - but the phone rings and other things happen and next thing I know I'm sitting in the church trying to keep from nodding while a children's choir sings about their lives as struggling, starving children in a land that no longer exists. Not that they'd go there.
The house isn't burning, no need to jump awake at the sound of a voice. All he wants is his coffee and breakfast. My pillow is covered in drool. Thanks to a mouthguard the snoring is down to a dull roar and no molars are cracking from the grinding pressure but drool, my god, like being transformed into a Newfoundland dog during the night and then back to human form again, magically, with the dawn, leaving only snot and spittle and puddles of drool where-ever my great shaggy head lolled about during the night. Drowned in my own spit.
Today I didn't care, didn't dress up as someone I'm not and clack around in shoes a wee bit too tight. The typing tests and excell tests and word tests weren't anywhere near as intimidating, the receptionist was geniunely pleasant and helpful. The placement interviewer was also warm and more interested in talking about finding a home for her mother's dog - a dog I'd love to have but saner mind prevailed when presented to the male of the house. Hope saying no to the dog won't mean a negatory on getting a job - a daytime office job.
two cars. A reason to dislike someone, thinking them rich enough to have two cars. I defend my apparent affluence - it's only because my father died. It was a trade, father for a car. The sour look of contempt is eased slightly and I become less a snob and more an orphan in her appraisal. Those with wealth have no less a form of snobbery than those with no money at all. Both rich and poor are realistic when it comes to money. No illusions about romantic consumption or philosopher whores. Those without are tired of being mythologized.
Red eyes, stammering, a bit of a glaze as she looks over the trays of doughnuts. They keep stumbling in through the night and others gather in the corner, coming over every 5 minutes asking for a cup of water. One asks for a larger glass so he won't keep having to come over so often. Hasn't figured out I really want to make it as inconvenient as possible. The other staffer says they have every right to be there but I have old fashioned ideas people are supposed to pay for something before they hang out all night.
After so many years I am still invisible to people who've seen me for years. Okay, maybe not years as there are always new faces, younger people, new techies, lab rats and geeks. Only a few have been around for many years I'm invisible to them without my husband. He is the one who actually works there and they only see me two or three times a year but after 15 years that's almost a month's worth of seeing my face. It hasn't changed that much over the years that it looks different from one month to the next.
Wake up go to sleep wake up go to sleep a day spent in two hour segments and the worst part of a nap is waking up so now I spend entire days doing just that - falling asleep long enough to start enjoying it only to wake up again. Why do I do this? Why did I sign up to do this? To work, just to hear someone say they wanted me to work, take a chance on a worthless old fart. Oh dry up Amelia, stop drinking and stop whining about all the stuff you didn't do.
Quiet, no one around, a car goes by now and then. Floors washed, shelves stocked. The haunted steam table rattles now and then but doesn't talk to me about the future. The night ladies take off everything, uniforms, black shoes, leaving only the hair nets we dance around the restaurant, up onto the tables, waltzing with the mop into and out of the bathrooms, streamers of toilet tissues flung up to the fluorescent lights and fluttering down around us. A mythological moment - maenads dancing in a Formica forest, a casual observer risking the fate of Orpheus, caffeinated vengeance.
Hands hurt, ankle hurts. Feet balancing on shards of bricks but even that is not enough to cut through the fog of sleep. It takes hours more to wake up, days to put the damage into a tolerable state of existence. This isn't the way my life is supposed to go. Continual addition to the list of resentments for moments of stolen pleasure but there wasn't even any pleasure in black on the tally sheet. It is the latest irony that the cumulative pain comes not from aching in the places we used to play but in merely waking.
I've been there, in those shoes, sitting in that chair watching and resenting and being a teenager. It's the same but different, of course. Being seen through different eyes, more confident eyes, thank god, than mine were or probably will be but a lot the same. The more things change, etc. etc. A few other things are different, the chance to travel somewhere beyond the northern reaches of the province - a different geek, band geek instead of debating geek - and we were a lot geekier - Europe is further than Athabasca or Missoula, Montana. A lot further.
That's where I lost my memory, temporarily. Over there a shadow of my oldest, 6 years old and taking the first steps away, on her own. She's afraid, see, but excited. Now she's older, wiser and glad to be away from my domineering prescence. One day she'll come back to me. Grateful for the little things, a few little things of her own in arm and I'll be in line, first i line t carry, clean and savour those precious moments before the self-awareness and desire to be cool spoils the little things and they stretch towards wretched adulthood.
And we're back. Back to normal, back to the routine. Being the parents, both of us, a team again. Until the next trip when he goes away and the rest of us relax, do our own thing and watch the tv shows we want to watch. No rushing to get dinner ready, keeping everything tidy. It seems a bit of apain but there is structure when he's around. Restrictions, boundaries or a sense of security. I've always been a creature of comfort, but now even more reluctant to adjust, to change from the expected after life with Mr. Dependable.
This really is it. My timing is still off. Should have given notice way before so this would be the last shift. Damn. Leaving is supposed to be a sad, poignant backwards look: feeling its not so bad after all. Right. My feet aren't nostalgic, my hands are crippled after just a month. This is why I don't do food service gigs anymore. At least I remember now and I'll be way too old on the next cycle to do any work at all let along back to the counter intelligence slavery. Feeling stupid, slow, out of my depth.
Not resentful or comparing what I get with what they get to confirm they don't love me as much as they love everyone else. The teenager, the pouty, sullen creature that has been my shadow for so many years - including when I actually was one - is finally retreating to whatever cave these dark beasties find to hide in. Cave dwellers, black dogs and smoldering discontent. Some kind of wraiths that live within some of us, that have put on the appearance of flesh, the pink health of a real person. Tonight that pink was me, was real.
A slow witted old woman, flustered and trying to stay out of the way of the agile, the deft, the experienced racing smoothly all around. The coffee machine is spewing scalding hot water and grounds everywhere, an attempt to salvage the situation only manages to spray near boiling water across the back of my hand and I feel even more worthless. The customers line up out the door, looking at their watches, at the distance to the till and at the hopeless gnome in a hairnet screwing up their morning ritual. In training after all these years. A metaphor.
Like night and day. Literally. A place of light and understanding. No one is threatened by age, by mental acheivement, their own feelings of inferiority. Here are people I can talk to and they with me. We talk with each other. What a difference. A manager who has the revolutionary idea treating people like adults means they will behave like adults and keep up their responsibilities. Training is not a pressure time but something to be done carefully and with support. An old building but not decrepit. Even the dark corridors at the back aren't frightening. No ghosts here.
The tour. Seeing the place from all around, meeting everyone who will become familiar faces, hopefully. Will it last? Living between two worlds right now, so many jobs started and then dropped after a few months, a few years - will this be one that sees me through to the end, to the gold watch day, to the banquet. But there are no gold watches for clericals, no keys to the city or other forms of elevated recognition for clerks or mothers; for clerks and mothers who've bounced from job to job all life long. No career moves here.
All day in motion, in the air. Watch the movie and for 10 minutes out of 3 hours forget there is a droning and rumbling and a world being pulled along underneath. The last leg of the flight the clouds rise up in a cliche wall of biblical illustrations, a cream cheese ad with a tornado trolling below. I look for the flashes of light that are supposed to play through the carpet but there are only more billows that beggar description. And the little plane banks slowly, waiting for a chance to pierce through to the land below.
Happy Birthday. Something I'd just as soon forget except for the annual victory dance. It isn't so bad, is it? especially being in a different place and looking forward to this geek fest of podcasters. A different kind of meeting, must say, but the first time in a long time I've been at a real conference with real adults. Even if it does bear a strong resemblance to an international assembly of Audio-Visual clubs from High schools across the land...It's like being back in high school. Not knowing anyone, feeling awkward, struggling to fit in. Welcome to 52.
And the thin smile, brittle, I've seen it so often, who the hell are you it says and the handshake goes a little limp. The eyes start to wander around the room looking for someone real to talk to or any other excuse to disengage if they're even remotely polite. Some just walk away. No see ya, no excuse me, just gone. This is being no one: the hippo at the ballet class. Fat kid, nerd kid but just a minute, they were hippos and nerd kids all their lives. My tag should read 'Newest nerd on the block'.
It's winding down. More people are talking easily. Meeting more and friendly with some. Still one or two that keep their best cold fish/please drop dead look just for me. That looking over my shoulder for anyone else to talk to. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. Seems the nose is in the air whether talking to me or not. Imperious gestures for his dearest friends. Not exactly the star but not getting out of this what he expected. Others don't seem to mind me as much and we have a beer or two while they wait for their train.
The time to go, to fly, literally, back home. I like to travel. Into the sky, over the islands called home going or coming back to them. Sitting in the skin of water, golden from the sun, the silt, patterned like the back of my hand. This is home. I've lived on the prairies, a rolling stretch of green and brown, patched and mended, watered and plowed black soil. That's home too. Flying over in the hum of technology. A baby cries, a kid kicks my seat, lovers cuddle close whispering under the full throttle jets. What's the movie?
Late again. This is the second time and she has mentioned, it in passing, of course but it is noted and not to be repeated, I suspect. I find a few notes of things to be aware of and one is arriving at work 10 minutes before start time for settling in and catching up on what's happening. I don't want to blow this job, there haven't been any of those little flags I get from other places of things to watch for but I do see there is a bit of glibness but I cn live with that.
Okay, I really do have to work on this time thing. I knew I should leave earlier. I knew I had to get across town and show up early for some kind of sleep clinic thing and I really thought I was on track until I looked at the clock and it was 20 minutes to with 15 minutes to get there and still be late. This is the day some guy decided to pull a knife on a cop and half the streets downtown get tied up with cop-induced gridlock. Just the streets I chose, anyway. Road rage.
Glimmers in the fog, swimming slowly through a sea of paper. The system works, has back-up upon back-up designed by an obsessive personality so details are not only important but vital - not necessarily for record keeping but for maintaining the sanity of the person in charge. A penny out means going back through everything until that penny is found. A sense of humour is the saving grace and awareness it is not at all a somebody will die situation. Made a date error, noted I'm sure, but a chance to learn correction procedures. Many more lessons before enlightenment.
A good daughter. She watched for the day they cleared the pikes and was there to catch the head when it was tossed into the Thames. The daughter of a saint, his principles were her principles but it was love that brought her to there. Brought her to where she could pull her father's head from the stinking river, flesh rotted and picked off by the tower ravens. A famous man, a famous place, who remembers the daughter risking all to cradle him one last time and take him home to the small church that held his family's heart.
Last night and promises to be one with roving gangs of exceptionally happy people, celebrating the Country's birthday in the traditional method of imbibing large quantities of the recreational pharmaceuticals of choice. Some become loud, obnoxious, the antithesis of how we like to think of ourselves behaving, perceived around the world. Loud, obnoxious the way we think of neighbors and distant relatives. And here they come, in through the door, loud, laughing and filled with attitude because they see a uniform. That is what determines the value of a person across the counter, someone to order, feel better than.
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