Tuesday, September 12, 2006

500-some days to retirement

I kept thinking, this kind of stress would be understandable if I worked in the operating room of Emergency. Or if I were an air traffic controller. I kept smiling at people and speaking in a soothing voice. "Two hundred items for course reserves have arrived on my desk within two days and I can't be at my desk. I'm sorry. I know you need to do the assigned readings, and I'll get them out as fast as I can. I know this is very difficult but it will be sorted out soon."

Nothing goes smoothly. Every student has an expired record, a new address, a new email and phone number to update. As we do each update, the lineup grows. Four hundred people need records entered, from scratch and everyone with available fingers is typing them in. There is no such thing as swiping a barcode, and then scanning book barcodes and simply loaning them. Delay piles on delay. Oh. You didn't know you had $45.00 in fines? Did you not get your email? Most of the new students don't know how to use the online catalogue and need help. The professors, oblivious for the most part, to the fact that I'm training a student and have a lineup of people waiting, want to discuss their course reserves right then and there - without submitting anything in writing. By the end of the day, I'm saying, "I don't know what's on my desk. I haven't been there today." My new assistant tells me, looking like she expects on-the-spot execution, that she's changing her classes and can't work Thursday night. The one thing that was settled, the schedule, blows apart like a house of cards in a stiff wind.

By 2:oo o'clock, I go to the office. I hurl a reserve file folder across my desk. And then try to breathe. I pick up my messages to find that the Scorpio has called twice and it's too late to return the call. He's bleeding and it's not minor and he's going home. He's going to try to see the doctor. I burst into tears and throw my arms around Emilie, a beloved former student assistant who's come in to visit with her new baby. "It's a bad, bad day," I wail.

And then I try to breath again and go back out there.

At the end of the day, my new student assistant, who, to her credit, has not fled, screaming, looks at me, stunned and asks, "Are all your days like this?"

"Yes. Well. Yes, they are for the first three or four weeks."

I manage not to cry noticably on the bus trip home. When I get through my door, I don't know what to do. The stress has so permeated my entire body that I can't imagine how to make the strumming tension stop. I notice that I am holding my breath and I exhale. Big deep breath. Exhale. It helps a little, but my shoulders are still attached to my earlobes and the tightness seems to extend from my three-week old headache to the soles of my feet.

I pour the first glass of wine I've had in a while. There is only a little left in the bottle.

And I come here. Because there is no place else to go, I don't know what else to do and tomorrow will not be any better.