Monday, February 28, 2011

March Madness

There is no magic to March.  That's what I repeat over and over in my mind from mid-February to mid-April.
March marks the anniversary of the official crumbling of my marriage and the death of my husband.  Three years ago today is the deadline I set for him to have signed the divorce papers and move out of my house.  He didn't. 

March that year started with my futile, hopeless tears as I drove to the yarn store to teach a class.  I was working two jobs and teaching a class here and there for my LYS because anything was better than going home to face my wounded, emotionally crumpled husband and his very large anger.

March that year ended with him leaving my house in the coroner's van.  Was it a van?  I don't remember.  I can see his zipped body bag on the gurney like it happened yesterday but I don't remember all of the other details. I remember what he was wearing... I have no idea what I was wearing.  I remember the position of his head, the glance that passed between the paramedics as they decided there was no hope for him and switched their focus to me, the movie sound of the flash as they took photographs I'll never see.  I can't remember what I said to anyone until my mother arrived.  I don't remember texting the girl posse.  I don't remember how I spent the hours that I didn't sleep.  I don't remember who came to see me that week.

Looking back I am shocked that I was allowed to drive, to work, to speak to people.  I am shocked that I was able to leave my bed.  I don't know that I would have the strength a second time.

So it's not a real surprise that I have not been able to achieve a relationship with an available man since.  It's not a real surprise that while I am lonely and wish I had someone to spend Friday nights with my crushes and afflictions and obsessions focus on people who can't or won't ever ask me for the one thing I am not able to give: trust.  Of course I know that the truth is that it's not other people I can't trust.  My judgment was so profoundly and absolutely wrong with him that it feels I can no longer trust anything I want or need or believe.  The only thing I can trust are things I already know to be fatally flawed.

I can get through this month.  I've done it before.
And I think that means I can get through my trust issues and take another step forward.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Work is Also a Four-Letter Word

I have been looking for a new job.  There is a sense of shame in this for me because this will be my third job since May of 2009 and that feels wrong.  Before May '09 I worked in the same place for almost ten years.

I hate my job.  It is sucking the life and soul and joy from me.
I work with kids.  Mentally retarded kids who are also severely emotionally disturbed.  That's the actual classification for my kiddos... MR/DD and SED.  And I do like my clients.  I work well with them... but kids as a group?  Not my favorite population.  And I work in schools.  So every day I have to go to high school again.

When I was in high school I used to get panic attacks from the crowded hallways.  I actually graduated a year early because I hated school so much.  Almost twenty years later?  Still do.  And the classes themselves are horrifying. I admire teachers so much more than I already did.  The attitude rolls off of these kids in waves and I have witnessed very little learning.  It's depressing.

I get in there, though, and I find a way to work with these kids and like I said, individually I like them.  We're making some pretty good progress and the parents love me.  I love the part of my job that lets me teach parenting skills, and I like getting to turn fun stuff into teachable moments.  Today I played with Play Dough and made pudding and read a story about aliens who love underpants.

It's not all fun, of course.  Tuesday I got attacked (hair pulled, stabbed with a pencil and my glasses were broken) and then a kid threw up at lunch.  Today I had to confront a 17-year old with a history of physical aggression.  But for the flexibility and the benefits I could take all of this and run with it.

The biggest problem is that I am holding on to my job by my fingernails.  Even though I work hard and establish rapport with these "hopeless cases,"  even though I have kept one mom from suing my agency and have helped other families find hope that change is possible.  Even though I have earned two coveted "performance stars" for my dedication and value to the team... when it comes to the numbers that they use to determine the worth of an employee I am failing. 

There are reasons for this.

I had a debilitating medical issue in August and September, surgery in October.  I had a second, unrelated surgery in November which led to an infection that wouldn't heal for almost three months.  Also?  Shingles between Christmas and New Years.  And because I work with little germy landmines I have had a cold pretty much since I started in June.

So I have not really been at the top of my game.

And The Empire is aware of this.  The Empire doesn't care.  I could lose an arm and The Empire would want to know what my plan is for meeting my numbers while I recuperate.

And I'm not alone.  I don't know the actual numbers... I've asked for them but nobody is willing to disclose... but anecdotal evidence shows that at least 75% of the case managers in my department are in the same exact situation.

The Empire's response is that there are then 25% of the case managers who are making it so it can be done.  Also, there are lots of people who need jobs and if I can't do it I should just step aside so someone else can.  Not surprisingly, the turnover rate is high.  As is the incidence of dramatic blow ups and perfectly rational adults with kids and mortgages who storm out of the building screaming "I fucking quit."  In my eight months at The Empire I've actually witnessed that twice, and I'm almost never in the office.

The Empire gives you the choice to resign or be fired... and if you get fired you not only never get the opportunity to work a government job again but they won't pay unemployment.  See?  Evil.

I met with my supervisor on Wednesday.  She is as supportive as she can be, but she doesn't sugarcoat the situation.  I respect that.  My numbers are improving but I need to work harder, more, faster.  At that point I was eight hours into a twelve-hour day.  I left her office, locked my door and cried for about thirty minutes.  It wasn't the first time I cried in my office in the middle of a workday.  Then I took half a Xanax, fixed my face and taught a parenting class.   

Here's what I can't get past: I am really good at what I do and I'm still failing.  I don't think I've ever failed at anything before.  (Well, except marriage, but that's a whole separate series of entries).

Failing is demoralizing, but my real problem is that I am already working my ass off.  I don't know how much more I can do.  And really?  In staff meetings when they announce anniversaries and I hear that someone has worked there for five years I shudder.  If I am still working in this office in five years I will put a gun in my mouth.

So why am I working so hard for something I don't even want?Why don't I just find another job?? 

The answer is even more depressing than the problem.  Unless I want to work with kids there are no jobs.  Not in my field.  Not right now.

And working for The Empire has made me question whether the four years I spent in grad school were a complete waste of time, money and energy.  Maybe I am not suited to this field.  Maybe I have no marketable skills at all and should just work at Starbucks.

Baby steps not to lose my mind:

Get out of bed every day.
Pack a lunch and a snack so I don't stop at McDonalds every day.
Make sure I have an adequate supply of Xanax in my bag.
Keep working my ass off until they call me in and ask me to resign.
Apply for every job I can find in my field that doesn't involve kids and hope like hell I find something before the axe falls or I have an actual breakdown and run from the building screaming "I fucking quit."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wash me Clean

It seems so simple... if your house is a mess then clean it, right?

A few months ago I had a new heater installed.  The heater guys showed up (on time!!) at 8:30 on a Saturday morning.  For six hours or so I had nothing to do but stay warm and wait for them to finish.  I couldn't just go back to bed because they might need to come inside for something so I bundled up on the couch with coffee, a book, my laptop and some knitting and figured I'd have plenty to keep me busy. 

I also had what we refer to as Mount Laundry to deal with before I could actually sit on the couch.  I folded and folded and folded... and ended up with a huge stack of bathroom towels that I didn't know what to do with.  Normal people have places where things go.  If they have a corkscrew or a serving dish or a dozen bath towels they know where those things go.

I don't know where my clean towels go.  I know where they end up - floor.  I know where they spend their clean hours - laundry basket, shower rod, foot of bed.

At some point - second or third cup of coffee - I started thinking about the hall closet.  Most people keep their clean towels in a closet close to the bathroom.   A very helpful (and forgiving) website once told me to only take out what I could clean in an hour.  It occurred to me that I could clean out that closet in an hour (it took two) and that I really didn't have anything else to do.

I threw a lot of things away.  Old makeup and hair curlers I never used... expired cold medicine and tangled ribbon.  This is where I stashed things that seemed vaguely bathroom-related that I didn't know what else to do with.

Turns out, it was also where I stashed things related to my husband that I couldn't deal with when he died.  Pictures of us, his cologne, a stack of Playboy magazines, Kung Fu movies.  When he died I almost immediately boxed up all of his clothes and got rid of them.  I had his best friend come over and take what he wanted from the fraternity paraphernalia, video games and miscellaneous boy things in the den.  Everyone grieves in their own way... and his death came sudden and just before the finality of a divorce that broke my heart.  I knew that if his things didn't immediately leave my house I might not either.  I had this image of myself crying on my bed covered in his sweatshirts and jeans.  I had no time for that sort of carrying on; I had a child and two jobs and grad school to deal with. So I purged.

Everything else got stashed in a closet or thrown away... and a few months ago, in my excitement to have a grown-up place to put my towels I had stumbled across a hornet's nest of sad.

I didn't throw everything away.  I kept the pictures, tossed the cologne...

This is not the only closet full of Jeff in my house which may just be why I don't nurture the little cleaning lady inside me.  It may also be why I choose to sit in bed and watch television (and knit and read) rather than spending time in any other room of the house.  It may also explain why I have been specializing in dating unavailable men. 

It's not that the downfall of my marriage and the death of my husband turned me into a big slow-moving slob.  Oh no.  I'm a dyed in the wool kind of lazy pack rat... but I am no longer comfortable with the messiness of my life and every time I start to try to fix that I seem to run right into the dead guy.  Figuratively, of course.

Last weekend I cleaned out a kitchen cabinet.  Just one.  At the top where I can't see anything I found twenty shot glasses, a martini glass, a beer stein from a casino, a flask and several lids whose sad travel mugs had been deemed lid-less and thrown away.  I don't have any idea why we had twenty shot glasses.  I don't generally drink shots and Jeff used his Notre Dame shot glass or no shot glass at all.  They're gone.  So is the martini glass and the stein.  I haven't made a decision about the flask yet... so it is back in the cabinet looking very out of place among my pretty Corningware and Pyrex baking dishes. 

But my pretty Corningware and Pyrex baking dishes appear to be very at home in the cabinet.  Because now that's where they go.

Baby Steps

I don't take a good look at myself often because when I really look at my life and I really think about the big picture I realize that there is a lot that is wrong.

House, finances, job, love life?  All disasters.

It would be impossible to trace every decision that led me to this point.  It would be equally impossible to untangle every mistake and bad habit I've developed over the past 35 years and start over from scratch.  And really?  Even if someone came in and erased my weight, cleaned my house and paid all of my bills for a month I would still end up back here in this bed crying about how much I hate what my life looks like. 

I didn't get to be like this overnight and I'm not going to fix it that way either.

Instead I'm going to take very slow, careful steps to address some of the things I don't like.  I'm not looking for miracles, just a little hope at the end of the day.