It’s raining, but four years ago it was sunny when I watched my mom breathe for the last time. Now I’m sitting here looking at reciepts for pizza and taxis and filling out forms that prove that, yes, these were university expenses. And I think my job is so important and valuable.
She wasn't gone long before I hopped on a plane to attend a debate tournament, because they matter so much. I remember nothing of that event. Every tournament since that one has been less and less meaningful. Now they simply sit in my mind and rot.
These 9 dollar an hour cubicle functionary tasks are the wounds we of course bear for the task of doing “oh so much” for education. This is a narrative I have constructed as universal, but it’s shared by only one person - me. I share it with my ideal self. He’s a disgusting figure, someone who thinks he’s so amazing for spending so much time working with students outside of the official confines of the classroom. He's proud of the sacrifices he makes; he feels entitled to things. He's full of shit. This husk is what I've made in order to justify where I sit in the world, a place far away from the much more enjoyable life I used to have where I would do things that needed no justification to myself as valuable.
I used to read and write for my own enjoyment. Now those tasks are pushed to the secondary, and tertiary lines due to serving the university. I’ve convinced myself that the uttered phrase, “thank you for all you do for the university” is some sort of currency, moral or otherwise. What a joke. If anyone is profiting off of what I’ve been doing, I’ll never know. I try to meet with students, the noise from the cleaning staff is too loud for us to have a conversation. At least someone is having fun in the world.
My mother’s hospital room was an endless parade of visitors. Young and old, they praised her as a teacher. She had done it for thirty years. We were never alone, not until those last few minutes. They could have been hours. I was not attentive to the time. Not one of them said, “thank you for all you did for the school.” Because they knew it was insulting. Insulting comments are best kept from dire and emotional moments. Better to deliver them in insulting circumstances - such as when you have done a lot of unpaid work and consider yourself lucky to sit in a dirty, tiny cubicle next to the garbage.
I remember spending whole days reading in the library. Now I spend whole days doing paperwork. Now I prepare the wrong readings for class. Now I fantasize about how I’m improving things at my university.
It’s a sick joke. I wrote it. I delivered it. Nobody laughs.
What a fool I’ve been.
“Thank you for all you do for the University” will be no comfort when my last sunrise moves to meet me. It's coming. The beams are reaching toward me. I’ve done nothing. I have nothing to show for all of my supposedly noble hard work. I've improved nothing around me. Everything is smudged with my fingerprints. Things are in different places than they were. there's some mud on the carpet. My legacy.
When that sun comes up what will I say? I didn’t go over budget? Everyone safely got on the plane? So and So had a great time speaking really fast to three other people in an empty classroom somewhere on the planet?
All I will be able to say is - what have I done with my life?
It’s all I can say today as I keep going back from my rainy apartment to that sunny Houston hospital.
I’m wasting my life. I've wasted my life.
It repeats as I reconcile the hotel taxes from the last trip with the online records. What noble work I do in the service of higher education.