I know this hunger, this need to make patterns, to build meaning from detritus – Chris Abani – Santificum.
I’m trying to find meaning now. I’m in an office at my school site with my colleague. I’m on the phone with the union rep, a woman, asking her a series of questions about the reasons my and my colleague’s names are on a more specific list regarding layoffs than we had been on before. I want clarification because it appears to me that I’ve been put on this list because I had not attended a voluntary meeting for employees who were affected by impending layoffs – a meeting that took place during my site’s late work hours, that I had not, to my knowledge, been informed about. A meeting, as far as I knew and still know, my future employment did not depend upon. I’m upset. I am not able to sound like Jolly Jill. My questions come quick, they come with a tone of concern. This woman interrupts me like I’m a little child, like I’m screaming, like I’m flailing my hands in the air. “Darlene.” “Darlene.” “Darlene.” I stop talking, confused.
Woman: You need to change your tone.
Me: Why are you calling my name like that.
Her: You’re yelling at the wrong person.
Me: I’m not yelling.
Her: I’m not your enemy.
Me: It’s hard to tell.
Her: How do you say your name again, “Kregel?”
I’m turning to the pen again. I’ve been caught up, walking through the chaos of my life’s circumstances, where it’s been far too easy to return to habits of an earlier time as a single black mother, caring for 4 small children. A familiar time of isolation and defensive, voiceless introspection. The type of introspection where the only one to blame, no matter the players in the game, is myself. It’s been an exhausting several months, maybe a year, maybe two years. If I go back to when my son, Marcus, had his first seizure, then lost 30 lbs., then developed an irreversible condition related to prolonged use of anti-psychotic drugs, I think that’s about two years. If I start with the November 9th, 2016 election results, when the most obvious non-choice for a president was elected to run our country, I’d say my exhaustion started then. If I go back to March of this year, when my school district had a seeming epiphany that a reduction in force (RIF’s) was the best way to handle a budget problem that until that month, many didn’t know existed, and many argue, actually doesn’t exist, I’d say my exhaustion started then. If I go back to this past week, when we found out my husband’s job (in the same district), will be eliminated, and he will be reassigned to a yet unknown position…anyway, you get my point. I find myself feeling physically sick today, and that doesn’t happen often with me. I take this physical weakness as my warning, as an alert to pay attention to the mental weakness born from an exhaustion that has been stewing for so long. My body is telling me to move, to fight against physical and mental atrophy that old habits of being can cause. In order to build my physical and mental strength, I need to build meaning out of my circumstances and rid myself of the debris of self-doubt, shame, and blame. So, I’m writing through this shit.
Many of my Christian folk would tell me to pray, let God lead you. To them I’d say, writing is my prayer. It’s the only time I’m closest to breaking through the stickiness of life, through the sludge life can bury me in. Writing gets me toward the pure, the naked, the truth. It is holy.
It is Thursday, two days after my phone encounter with the union woman. At the end of that difficult conversation, she’d invited my colleague and I to her office to get any information we’d missed at the hearing.
Her: I spoke to you on March 21st around 3:30.
Me: I have no recollection of talking to anyone during work hours.
Her: When I told you about the meeting you said your husband works for the district and you didn’t think this applied to you.
Me: That sounds crazy. I would never say such a stupid thing.
Her: You can deny it if you want.
Me: I’m not denying it, I have no recollection. I mean it’s possible that I said something that stupid even though I have absolutely no memory of ever in my life talking to you. But, I don’t think so.
This is how our meeting begins. The woman went on to claim she spoke to my colleague, too. For the rest of the meeting, my mouth forms words, makes sentences. I’m attempting professionalism to get the information I need, but my body is jumpy and ready to run for shelter, to my family, to the people who actually know me and trust me and believe in me. I want away from this fake ally.
After the meeting, as soon as my colleague and I walk out of the room, and the door is closed, he says – “She did not call us. She left a message. I looked it up when she gave us the date, and it’s a message. She never talked to us.”
My breathing gets easier. I’m so relieved to have my colleague there in that moment. He verifies for me that for at least one of us, the rep lied. He verified my sanity, and reminded me that the one thing we did right that day was to go to the meeting together. I checked my old messages when I got home, and sure enough, I received a voice message one hour before the deadline to turn in the form that would grant me permission to the meeting. A voice message, not a conversation, received one hour before the 4:30pm deadline. My “day” is from 2:30pm to 8:pm.
Did I stand up for myself? I wanted to do better. At home I wished I would have asked the lady how was it that one day ago, she couldn’t pronounce my name, but today, she remembered with clarity, a full conversation she’d had with me, where I reference my husband who, because of our relationship, would give me preferential treatment. Did I feel gaslit? Yes. Did I feel like I was in a scene cut from the movie “Get Out?” Yes. Did I go to the sunken place? I write to stay here, to avoid paralysis, the darkness, to figure out the patterns, to build meaning from the detritus.
I feel strengthened already, There’s so much more. Marcus, work, my life. Thank you for your eyes and hearts. Your comments and encouragement are welcome. I’ll be posting again soon.