Saturday morning I said goodbye to Mike and MJ, left the house in my new black suit, and drove to Pasadena to work the counters of high-end retail. It’s a job I did for years before MJ was born. Although I excelled at it, and my company treated me kindly, I swore never to return. Mostly it’s the dress code. I abhor hose. But it’s also the whole rich people thing. And the chain store thing. And the mean-spirited nature of for-commission sales. And the long hours. And the–OK, I could go on. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that, a year after my daughter was born, I gave all of my suits to Goodwill.
“No matter what work I go back to someday,” I told myself confidently, “it won’t be that. Plus, I’ll never be a size zero again.”
It turns out only the latter was true. Now I have to buy all new suits. In a larger size, of course.
Because I am back. Three days a week. That’s what will get me benefits, and right now we need them badly. A fact that hasn’t stopped me from feeling pretty sorry for myself.
It’s not that I mind working, per se. Like most of us, I’ve done it my entire adult life. I do, however, long for work that utilizes my brain, creativity, and twisted, occasional wit. But I still don’t know what that work is. Funnily, being a stay-at-home mom is the closest I’ve come.
It’s the hours of this job that are the hardest. When I say goodbye to MJ in the morning, now, it is for the day. I don’t get home until nearly eight, at which point she is asleep. I’m losing, then, nearly half of my time with her. For someone who has been with her nearly every moment of her life, this is no small thing.
And I knew it would be tough.
But the pain of it, on that first day, surprised even me.
I was fine during the day. Lunchtime, with its quiet break room, almond butter sandwich, and buzzing fluorescent lights, was melancholy, but otherwise I stayed busy. “I’m OK,” I told myself. “I’m doing this.”
It was when I got in the car to drive home that things fell apart. I didn’t see it coming, either. It was like one of those stomach flus that arrive out of nowhere–one moment you’re fine and the next you’re heaving into your Crate and Barrel waste basket.
There I was, leaving the parking garage, fuming to myself about their $7 charge. “Rip off,” I muttered. “What’s the point of even working?” I pulled out into Pasadena traffic. Made a left on Green Street. Stopped for some pedestrians. I dialed Mike on the cell phone–perhaps I could at least speak to MJ before she went down. No answer. Dropping my phone dejectedly in the cupholder I looked up. There was a group of women in the crosswalk. All were blonde and snugly dressed, but of disparate ages. Maybe they were related. It was hard to tell, because all five of them were sporting huge quantities of plastic surgery. One of them, with lips like tire rubbers and a face like pale jeggings, let her gaze drop on me. Mostly in a “you are going to stop, aren’t you?” way.
Our eyes met. It’s then that I started sobbing.
Each of her companions, now, turned to gaze at me–five exotic gazelles scanning the urban tundra. One cocked her head as she stared. “She’s doing something weird with her mouth,” her face seemed to say.
It was all I could do not to shout “so are you!”
But I didn’t. I was too busy crying.
I cried all through busy Pasadena. I cried on the freeway ramp. I cried down the 134, and onto the 2. I cried, smudging rivers off of my face, as I drove into Mt. Washington. I sobbed as I passed the spot where I got my ticket. (I also stopped, of course. I was upset, not stupid.)
When I got home I cried at Mike for a good long while. Then I peeled off my work clothes, dropping them carelessly on the wooden arm of a chair, and trudged, in my underwear, into MJ’s room.
Out like a light, as she should be.
Kneeling by her bed, I stroked her hair, adjusted her covers, and wiped my face on her stuffed animals. Snuff, snuff. It was a pathetic picture. Especially because I was wearing a garment–recently acquired at Target–that can only be described as a Granny thong. I got it for yoga. Which, I wept to myself as I gazed down at my garb, I would never do again now that I work.
And so it goes. It wasn’t until I had written a self-pitying epistle of great length and emotionality to a friend of mine that I was snapped out of my spell. She is in Brazil right now, and wrote back, via e-mail, quite immediately:
“You need to grow up a little about this,” she started. She went on to remind me of my good fortune in landing this particular job. “Maybe it’s just that I’m in a poor country, the backs of people being broken by inflation and NO jobs. A job to support their families? People would kill for that.”
And I know she’s right. I’m going to get grateful. In a few days. For now, though? I am an emotional wreck with one wrinkled suit, another shift to work tomorrow, and a daughter I can’t stop kissing.
The good news? She’s fully potty trained. At last. It happened just this week, seemingly out of the blue. Maybe she’s more ready for this change than I know. Whatever the case, I’m glad I won’t have to teach any new caregivers the “drip catcher” technique.
Thank God for small favors.
And good benefits.
And the resilience of humans everywhere.