Trying for a Smile

super moon Christmas

can’t bring childhood back home

even with colors

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Office of Dispute Management

In this asynchronous environment, I have managed to log on every day of every class for eight and a half years. Even when I went camping, and I had to drive fifteen miles each way to the public library in the small town to work on their dial-up Internet crap computers. Even when I was dead-sick with the stomach flu in bed and Bruce had to bring me the laptop. Even when I was in the process of moving to Spain, where I found WiFi hotspots in the airports, in McDonald’s (once we arrived), in the dark hollows of hope that this pathetically-paying job offered me.

So, Ashleigh with an -l-e-i-g-h, from the Office of Dispute Management, I do not need an email reminding me of the repercussions; of the staff handbook; of the possibility of my “solicitation schedule” being disrupted.

I do not need your solicitations. I am not a prostitute, though you treat me like one. Truth is, like everything else in this low-paying, work-to-bones economy our country has set forth for us to stampede through, I didn’t have a class for four months. No extra pay. No vacation fund. No back-to-back classes like I had in years past. So when one started?

I forgot. I simply forgot. It was my daughter’s thirteenth birthday party, and we were swimming in a hotel pool and ordering pizza and arguing with the front desk about double charges and pretending our lives were different lives, if only for a weekend. It was my middle child’s thirteenth birthday, the child I have who adapts to every situation such as, “Mythili, your birthday is tomorrow, and is an ice cream cake OK, and brownies for this weekend?” (because honestly I hate baking cakes), and her easy and immediate response? “Yes, Mama,” before dashing out of the room.

I forgot. Because I have six extra people living in my house and two jobs at the one job I already have, where I’m supposed to be a teacher and a teacher coach, and I mostly suck at both.

Ashleigh, head of the Office of Dispute Management, I have a dispute. I think, that with fifteen years of teaching experience and more than a master’s degree and eight years at your company, I should be paid more than $1300 for a six-week course. I should be guaranteed a course whenever a student registers. I should have some point of human contact, besides generic “no-reply” emails that I have received for all these years, to ask questions about what to do when my students make every excuse in the book, when my students threaten to sue me, when my students display a level of incompetency that makes me question our entire society.

Because you know what, Ashleigh? This is the first “human” email chain I have participated in since I was hired in January 2009.

I would like a little humanity, rather than a vague threat of losing this fake job. I would like to put a face to a name, Ashleigh. I would like, for this time in my life where every moment feels like a failure, to think that, after eight years and not a single lapse in logging on, you could just. Fucking. Trust. Me.

It won’t happen again. Just like it never happened before.

There is no dispute. There is no management. There is no office. There is just a screen, the divider and diviner of our lives, bringing us closer and tearing us farther apart with each and every day.

Would you agree? Or would you dispute it?

The Other Room

You were in the other room Snapchatting (or as Mythili loves to say, “Snapcrapping”) when I went through the calendar with the rest of the family and your grandparents, pulling up all the details of each day of our trip.

You were in the other uncleaned room when I spent all those hours sifting through the piles of books with every last detail about the history, the must-sees, the hidden gems, of Spain and Portugal.

You were in the other room ignoring your sisters when I agreed to take one of your closest friends, someone with a restricted diet and a whole other level of stress every time we walk into a Spanish-speaking-only restaurant, on our trip with us for 17 days.

You were in the other room bingeing on Netflix when I carefully sifted through endless websites to find the best apartments, the best hotels, the best attractions, and most importantly of all, the best damn price that anyone could ever expect to pay for six weeks, family of five plus, on the Iberian Peninsula, dead summer.

You were in the other room sleeping like an angel when I used to wake up at 4:15 a.m. and ride my bike thirteen miles each way, in the dark, in the snow, in the sleet, and in the wind, just so that we could continue to live the way we lived when our second car broke down.

You were in the other room, watching Dora because cable companies don’t know how to cancel, when we had dial-up Internet and no cell phones and didn’t go out to eat more than twice in a year. For five years.

You were in the other room, the room of your childhood, when every last one of your friends got put in a daycare drama, when you got to sleep in and spend your mornings making candy with Daddy, going to the park, befriending the neighbors, and being as free as a child could be.

I was in the other room when you said to your father today, “I’m going to the store with them. They’re getting her an iPhone 8 even though they’re poorer than us. See?”

I was in the other room, sweeping and mopping and vacuuming and scrubbing after eleven people trashed my house, when you went to your sleepover.

I was in the other room, budgeting and grading papers for my second job so I could give you the gift of Iberia, TWICE, and I didn’t hear the tone, but I sure as hell could replay it like a flagged football fumble in my mind.

I was in the other room, the one in my mind where I have a family who loves to travel with me, and would take a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, to plan a moment of it, and fill the room with love and excitement and gratitude instead of criticizing every last detail down to the cost that I have kept well within my three-years-of-planning budget.

I was in the other room, riding my bicycle, skiing down the slope, hiking to the peak, swimming in the turquoise sea, speaking Castellano, wishing for one goddamn moment that what I did, what I tried to offer you, actually mattered. Wishing for one goddamn moment that one of you, just one, liked the same things I liked, wanted to see the world, wanted to climb that peak or sail down that curvy slope at thirty miles per hour, or drive just a bit farther to see the best sights.

We were in separate rooms.

We are in separate rooms.

And I don’t even know where to begin finding the key to the lock that will open the door to the room where you have enclosed yourself.