Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well, I have, for the Four-month showers have, and the mica on the side of the rock has.
First week of new job, I had to show up at a different place, at a different time, every day. First day going way out to Queens, I dutifully took an A train to a J train to a bus. It took two hours.
Transferring, riding a long, packed escalator, with stained glass sides, standing on an elevated platform (unusual for a Brooklyn/Manhattan girl), where the wind blew us and we looked out at the short, human-sized building of outer boroughs, four stories, two, dirty faces. Several elevated stations, a big glass elevator, and I thought, everyone thinks New Yorkers are crazy, but we are surrounded by every phobia trigger every minute, so it’s surprising any of us are sane. Claustrophobia. Agoraphobia. Acrophobia. All of them.
I rode busses until I made friends with my fellow riders, “Which Harry Potter book is that?” the lady said, after I had flirted with her baby for fifteen minutes of crawling Queens traffic. The bus couldn’t let us out until we actually. Got. To the. Official. Bus stop.
“I don’t get to read anymore,” she said. “Not since this one. I can’t wait until she turns two and I can read something besides Dr. Seuss.”
I began several mornings full of hateful thoughts. Really hateful, like, why was I doing this? Did I want to be a teacher still? Would I be, again? Had I been punished or cheated out of being who I was? Or was it like I kept telling people, I was on sabbatical this year, and I didn’t know what I would do in the future? Maybe that was just something I told people.
Was I angry? Was I damaged a lot from being angry, for so long, about how the school I worked wasn’t working, and I couldn’t do my job anything like the way I knew it could be done?
Had I been robbed of all this money I was making, as an experienced teacher, to now do this job for 2/3 as much, and was that awful, or was it all right? Would I get some freedom of energy and thought for that 1/3 of paycheck? Or not? Was it awful that my coworkers and bosses were younger than me, or did it not matter? Was I free? I wasn’t free. I was no longer capable, in fact, of holding a job at all.
Was there a way not to think so much about who I should be, how to be a solid citizen and an artist, which often seems impossible, and think of what should be happening to me, instead of what was?
After many and various meetings and trainings, all perfectly pleasant, I finally sat down to tutor, and time past quickly, guiding, chatting, listening, reading. It was heaven.
I got my Friday coffee in the science building. I waited for my latte to be made, it was not, finally the woman said, “What did you have?” I told her, she pushed a button to pull the shot. “It looks like two shots,” she muttered.
“It might be two shots in there,” she told me. She was a small person who had just finished serving a long line of people.
“It’s okay, I can handle it,” I said.
“Don’t blame me!” she laughed. We laughed.
In the science building they had a pendulum that is always swinging, proving our latitude of 40 degrees, reminding me that the first thing I saw in Paris, which confused the hell out of me, in that time before internets, I guess I didn’t even bring a guidebook, and I was blurry from no sleep on the plane, I walked into the Parthenon, because my hotel room was not yet ready, and there was this huge pendulum, and I had no idea what the hell was going on. In the basement, Voltaire was buried. Being confused and lost was everything I loved about Paris, and everything that scared me, so much I could hardly force myself to leave my hotel room every morning.
I was fretting, fretting, as I left for the week, about all the things that might go wrong with new job, and looked over at this huge stone with a plaque on it. Being from a place where there are no plaques about anything that ever happened because nothing ever happened there, I always stop and look at such plaques.
This one said: “On this site in 1839, Walt Whitman (1819-1892), taught in a one-room schoolhouse called the Jamaica Academy.” This made me take a deep breath and stop. The trees had been helping me, they always do, leaves help me, the sky, which was blue and not grey as it had been all week, the wind, which was only occasionally pushy, not insistently bitter as it had been. The enormous stone that was Walt Whitman. Of course he wasn’t a stone, he was grass.
Quote from Leaves of Grass, of course.
Image: detail of Abraham Bloemaert, “Moses Striking the Rock,” Metropolitan Museum of Art.