An effort to stay afloat while determining which way is up

Posts tagged ‘Waiting’

Happiness Put on Hold

I had it.  For one joyous hour it was mine. I celebrated with wine (which I’m trying to learn not to hate), called all my family members, and rejoiced in telling everyone the news about moving to France.  A teaching position was offered to me somewhere in Lille, sometime next October, and for the one hour after I heard the news, nothing was going to get in the way of that romanticized quintessentially French lifestyle I had dreamed of since high school.

Enter: my nemesis, the telephone.

"You're mine now, bitch."

The phone and I have always had something of an animosity toward each other.  Apart from the fact that the interface on this phone is horrible and nonsensical, I have always, upon hearing any telephone ring, been gripped by apprehension.  The two main subterranean roots at the foundation of this apprehension seem to be 1) my professional grade awkwardness concerning all forms of social interaction; and 2) the fact that (apart from family calls) bad-news telephone calls hold a majority over good-news telephone calls.  This particular phone call was not from my family; it was from my doctor.

Apparently, the routine check-up that I got as a part of my Let’s-Take-Advantage-of-Our-Health-Care-Before-It-Runs-Out-in-Two-Months spree turned up some “abnormalities” which need to be tested; abnormalities which could be essentially nothing, but could also be something frightening enough that I am reluctant to say it out loud.  Suddenly day-dreams of croissant-filled mornings and leisurely bicycle rides and day-trips to Belgium are rudely invaded by hypothetical scenarios where my savings has turned to crippling debt while I struggle endlessly to pay for  treatments worse than the disease which roots me to this spot and keeps me from accomplishing in life the things I have set out to do.

I just came back from a colposcopy, which is just as painful, uncomfortable, and shudder-inducing as those consonant clusters make it sound.  I know chances are good that this turns out to be nothing bad at all.  Given my age and history, I’m sure the statistics can tell me that I have nothing to worry about.  But despite all the reasons I shouldn’t be worrying, there’s nothing that can stop me from doing just that.  Fear never listens to logic, no matter how rational the mind in which it is contained.  It is an unruly, spoiled child running rampant in the recesses of the brain, messing everything up, moving things around where they’re not supposed to be, and generally running the place whenever it feels like as it screams all the while at the top of its annoying little lungs.  Unruly, spoiled children never give in to reason.  This fear will be my house guest in the coming weeks as I wait for results, and once again I will defer my celebration of my new opportunity, and put my happiness on hold until I am certain that this teaching position isn’t just another addition to the long list of “almosts” in my life.


In Transit


Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a certain tendency which I don’t find in many other people.  I’m always most content while I’m in transit between two places.   Almost to the point that I dread ever reaching my destination.  When I was young I would live for long car rides, and, like the effects of any gateway drug worth its salt, this caused me to later move on to  buses and trains and air planes and anything else I could get my hands on.  In Niger I spent half an hour on a donkey cart just going from one end of town to the other, and I loved every second of it.

There’s something beautiful about trains that no other form of transportation possesses.  Standing on deserted train tracks, you can look in either direction and see your way almost to infinity.  The simple, unalterable path of the train reflects the unalterable progression of time, or , at least, time as I perceive it.  I tell myself there are no symbols in real life, but a train seems too close an analogue to living to ignore.

Sometimes while in motion I feel very strongly that I’m falling sideways.  That my movement is not my own choice, but the result of an external force acting upon me.  Making my third trip between Denver and Phoenix across all that flat, shadowless land, the heights from which I was falling were almost nauseating.  Perhaps that’s why I find it comforting.  It reminds me that I’ll never be as big as the forces of physics acting on me.  It’s like being hugged by math.

In a practical sense, you could say that I find transportation to be comforting because it means that wherever I’m going, I still have a chance to prove myself.  Until I’ve arrived at my destination, I have a blank slate to work with and all the potential in the world to be or do something great.  The longer the trip, the more the potential.  However, as soon as I arrive at whatever destination I’m headed to, any action I take immediately rules out others that I could have taken, and already my potential is diminished.  I’m happy being in transit because it is the time when I am the least defined.

And in a far less practical sense, I can explain my love of transporting myself between locations with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  As I understand it, the more you know about a particle’s velocity, the less you know about its location.  Therefore, if I know and I can feel exactly how fast I am moving between points, maybe eventually I’ll have no location at all.  I’ll be nowhere and everywhere all at once.  Something about this idea greatly appeals to me.  I know its probably scientifically unsound to extrapolate the laws of physics like that, but it’s a beautiful thought, anyway, so I’ll keep it.

If anything, my biggest problem with the life I have now is that there’s not enough transit time.  I’m stuck in one city, and none of my daily commutes allow me enough time to really think.  That’s the draw of transportation after all.  It’s an enclosed system where you’re allowed to sit quietly for long periods of time while simultaneously being able to see and participate in the world around you.  The unspoken rules of society allow for you to keep to yourself unless you desire otherwise, so you can just sit and think quietly while images of landscapes bombard you like warm, heavy rain.  Entire stories blur past the window and continue without you, but at least you were a part of them for a split second.  You were a part of something.

This lack of transit time is reflected in my current state of mind.  Until I receive word that I will have the opportunity to move to France next fall, I will be stuck still, my direction chosen but no momentum to take me there, a broken train car on an abandoned track looking toward infinity, hoping to one day see the end.  So far, I haven’t been able to think of a proper contingency plan if I never hear from the French program, which, I guess, would mean that my train car would be left on that abandoned plain between two lives and allowed to rust and rot.  Every few years some wild animal might come to steal the stuffing from the seat cushions. The wheels would sag on their axles and the window panes would fall out after their wooden frames finally rot to nothing.  The unrelenting sun would chip the aquamarine lacquer on the outside of the hull, while inside the patterned carpets fade to a uniform grey.  And all this time its singular passenger would sit quietly and stare out the window, suitcase by her side and gloved hands folded in her lap, waiting for the day the landscapes will once again fall past her, or she past them.


Last Friday I was at work, wiping down tables sticky with spilled milk and using a rag to brush off constellations of crumbs from the same cafeteria pizza they’ve been serving in public schools for the last twenty years at least.  They’ve assigned me to lunch duty, which I knew they would, even if it’s not in the job description.  I don’t mind.  It makes the day go faster.  This is life now.

Rewind to one year earlier when I was curled up on the most uncomfortable airport chairs imaginable trying to get some sleep in Madrid on an 18-hour layover.  There are no cushions on the chairs, and the arm rests are fixed in place and  close enough to the seats to render me the singular option of to contorting around them, determined to reach some kind of unconsciousness.  I know that my music player only has a few minutes of battery left, so in addition to my Spanish sleeping arrangements, I know if I don’t drop off the edge soon before the music dies, the brain’s autopilot will be discontinued and I’ll start thinking myself in circles again.

Rewind again to the day before.  I’m sobbing in a very ugly manner on a train somewhere between Rabat and Casablanca.  I’ve just said goodbye to all the friends I thought I would have years to get to know.  One good friend saw me off at the train station.  The rest had either left already, or they were eating their last breakfast in the unusually fancy hotel we had been housed in for the past week.  We had both done our best to make light of the situation, but the tears came anyway.  A nice Moroccan man gave us each a dirham as a souvenir of our time.  I already had a few left, not to mention several thousand CFA, but I was grateful nonetheless.  I’m holding on to that dirham looking at the countryside tumble past.  My luggage is sitting on the seat between me and the window, so I can make it appear as though all that land is falling interminably into my suitcase.  I’ve become very good at packing.

Rewind one last time to the week before when we all find out we will be forced to leave West Africa after developing a love and reverence for the land and its people in only seven months.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote a book about becoming unstuck in time, a concept which, since I read about it, has stuck with me ever after.  While separated by some distance, all these moments are somehow part of the same simultaneous crash.

The word “evacuation” is finally and definitively delivered from our friend Tondi’s mouth.  Crash.

The attendant comes to punch my ticket and help me figure out how to get to the airport, even though I’m in such a state I can hardly remember a word of French.  Crash.

I wake from an unsatisfactory twenty minute sleep and notice that my drooling has left a mark on my new Moroccan bag which remains there to this day.  Crash.

A bell rings to call in the next grade for lunch at a school in a town where I never thought I’d be in a profession where I never wanted to be.  Crash.

Or perhaps more appropriately, ding.

Today being the 22nd of January means my Peace Corps service ended over a year ago and I am once again a listless drifter with no particular goal in sight.  I will remain this way until April at least, when I will hopefully be accepted into a French work program.  My primary mission now is to survive the next three months of feeling worthless.  Hopefully writing about things will help.  All the details will come to light eventually.

For now I’ll just be treading in some mighty metaphorical waters.