I wake with a start. The clock says 5:15 and Tommy is next to me. My anxiety kept me up last night for an hour or so, but at least it’s better than the previous week. The room is freezing because the HVAC hasn’t worked in a week. But I can’t worry about that because it’s time to run, eat, shower, get the kids ready and get out the door.
I get to school early and meet with a student. “You need to craft topic sentences that connect back to your thesis,” I say, and show her how to do that. Then I’m off to teach about US-Chinese relations. I don’t really know what I’m talking about but at least I read a little about it on my phone in the bathroom that morning.
“The HVAC guy showed up,” my dad texts. “There is a big problem with the whole system that needs fixing.”
I can’t deal with this now because I have to keep teaching. (Did you know the Chinese government is building up islands in the South China Sea and putting military bases on them? Well, they are. I find out more about it during the break between classes as I lean against the wall of the staff bathroom and scroll through the New York Times.)
Classes keep going but then somehow it’s lunchtime and I should be eating, but I’m on the phone trying to shut down an old bank account in Oregon. “Your husband’s name is on this too,” the woman nervously says. “So we need you to send in a death certificate. I’m so sorry to ask this.”
“Hell,” I tell her, “this is nothing. I send death certificates around everywhere.” She is too shocked at my callousness to reply. I fold one up that I keep at school and put it in the mailbox.
I talk to students in the hallway about China. For a moment, I actually am distracted from my life as I see their animated faces.
It’s in between classes now so I call a therapist. I’m looking for a new one, so we do a set of intake questions. “What are you looking for in therapy?” she asks me.
I look around and think I’m in private. “Well I’m trying to figure out who I am going to be with the rest of my life. I am realizing that no matter how much I want a partner, I might never have one again, and I need to try and make meaning from my life if I’m going to do it alone.” I am honest, though maybe a bit raw. I tear up a little as I talk about how up-and-down life has been lately.
I look up. One of my freshmen students is listening. Great. I hope she didn’t hear the part where I said I was almost at my breaking point.
I look back at my phone. There’s a missed call from my accountant. I call him back. We discuss what to do with my tax situation for the very complicated year of 2018 when I lost my husband and started collecting Social Security and became a single mom. I’m only half-following what he’s trying to get me to understand, and I feel super frustrated by my lack of knowledge. “I just want you to do whatever you think is best in your expert opinion, so I can go back to living my terrible fucking life,” I say to him.
“Okay, don’t worry,” he says kindly, and I immediately feel bad. He has no idea what my day has been like and he’s just trying to help.
I hang up and look at my texts. There’s another one from my dad. “The HVAC guy is going to text you. It’s going to be $1600 to fix the problem.”
Below the message from my dad is the text from the HVAC guy. Things do not look good.
I need to make copies. I get my papers and I put on my headphones and don’t care that it’s rude to walk around a high school like this. I don’t care that I constantly tell my students not to do it. I need to block everyone out or I’m going to lose it.
I’m in the copy room. I need to get home to make dinner. The copier keeps jamming. I re-set the copier and keep going, but the third time it jams I start crying. I have ink all over my fingers and I lean over the hot copier and let tears drip on the machine.
“Okay, breathe,” I say to myself and I do just that. I compose myself because really, crying over a jammed copier is insane, even if it’s not really the reason that I’m crying.
“I am gonna lose my damn mind,” I text a few friends.
I get home. I don’t sit in the car in front of the house because then I will start crying again. Instead, I go in and start dinner with my coat still on. We’re having stir fry.
Claire can’t figure out her math and is upset. Tommy clogs the toilet and I have to find the plunger. Austin appears to have wandered off to the neighbor’s house to avoid the chaos.
I pull Claire into her room while Tommy screams for me outside. She’s visibly upset. “Do you know what happened today?” I ask her.
She shakes her head. “I got overwhelmed. I was worried about too many things including that I might have to pay a lot of money for the heater to start working again and I started crying when I was making copies for my students. That’s what’s happening to you now. You are overwhelmed. Let’s both take a break.”
We eat. We shower. I braid her wet hair in two braids and feel good, for once, because that’s something that I do well. She hugs me and then sits by me and plays Minecraft while I type a strongly worded email to the landscaper whose previous work seems to have screwed up the HVAC system. I do not pay $1600 to anyone, at least not today.
And then it’s teeth brushing and stories and bedtime. I fall asleep on the boys’ bed and move myself back to my own room at midnight.
The room is still really cold. I curl up on my side of the bed and pull my robe up to my chin. Shawn’s side will be filled by Tommy in a few hours, but for now, it’s just me.