I must’ve rolled out of the wrong side of the bed, because today was just one of those days.
This is just a little blurb from the pages of my life that I wrote S/P an interaction that left me feeling a lot bit little this morning. I wrote this partly for myself, as a form of catharsis, and partly in hopes that someone else out there who relates – whether to what I’m feeling, or where I am in my life, or both – will read this one day and feel a little less alone.
The truth is — that I’m scared. And I’m lonely.
That was what I was going to tell my mother when I stopped by her office this afternoon. I knew I wouldn’t, but I hoped that I would. Stepping inside, it almost felt like I could. My mom has been a counselor at the same local community college for the past decade and walking into her office is in itself a small comfort. The lamp-lit room with its paintings – soft floral oil paintings, the work of my grandfather’s thoughtful and meticulous hands… and its little trinkets. Tokens of my brother’s and my own collective upbringing that my mother has lovingly collected over the years and now put on display for students and colleagues alike to admire. (To admire — she presumes, with motherly affection.)
Many times I’ve found myself in this office. In high school I worked at a summer camp on campus. For four summers, half hour lunch breaks were spent in this office, laughing with my mother over Ziploc sandwiches and cookies. Always cookies.
Today was no exception. Not even through the door frame, I was greeted with an exuberant smile and a large napkin of baked goodness of all varieties. Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, white chocolate macadamia. I sit down. My mother stands up. Would I like some coffee? Decaf? Half-caf?
“Welcome to my little grocery store,” she says, pulling open a filing cabinet packed with goodies.
We are soon both seated, but it’s not long before Mom pops up again, pulling a colleague into her little corridor.
“[Insert indiscriminate co-woker’s name here], this is my daughter, Grace.”
She beams. I crumple. I hate introductions. We make small talk. The conversation is disjointed and awkward. “So I hear you just graduated. What did you study? Oh, geology, really? Like petroleum? Well, there is money in oil and gas.”
Henry (no, wait…) Thomas (?) is clearly befuddled by the stark contrast between my mother’s amicable and my own melancholy mood, but in the end my mother’s charming smile wins out, encouraging him to try, try again. With sympathetic eyes he pushes forward. “So are you going back to school? It’s hard getting a job without additional schooling. Well, we all start out paper-pushers anyway.” I crumple a little bit more. We carry on like this a little bit longer, until it is no longer sustainable and Paul John James walks away… a little worse for ware, I think.
I sat in relief – that my mother had failed to register the look of pity in her colleague’s eye. And in disbelief – that I should have found myself in such a position. “Star Child” – that’s the nickname another of my mother’s colleagues had given me back in middle school, when my mother first began working at this institution.
And now? …I feel as though I’ve been sucked into a black hole.
My mom and I sat for a bit, me nibbling on cookies and my mother plunking away at her keyboard. She asked about my friends, my plans for the evening. I asked her about her coworkers, the diplomas hanging on her wall.
Bachelor of Arts, ’79
Master of Education, ’81
I calculated the time it took for my mother to complete her studies. I admired — or, was that envy? — her expediency. It’s been only a few months since I finished my undergraduate education. I tried to remember this. I tried to remember that I am taking this time only to figure out what I want and that that is, in fact, OK.
But all I felt was this terrifying sense that I was finished. While my friends are beginning their careers, their master’s programs, their professional schooling, their marriages… I’m just… here. Hanging out on a Tuesday afternoon, in my mother’s office. No plans, just stress-hoovering cookies.
With my mind whirring away like this, I sat motionless. I could feel my mother preparing to lean in gently and ask,
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
And that is when I went cold. I could only handle so much pathetic in one sitting. I maintained as much composure as I could muster – only to deflate once again. I weakly deflected with, “You still see someone, sometimes, right?”
“I think that could be good for me too. To talk to someone.”
It wasn’t long after that, I bolted from the room. I had to get away from the overwhelming sense of underwhelming*, though running doesn’t get rid of it. It followed me to the car, it followed me home. Heck, it followed me all across the Interstate 8, when I packed up my boxes at the end of this, my senior year, and headed home. Will it ever S T O P?
*Associated symptoms including: erratic throws of anxiety, guilt, sadness and apathy.