It’s 8:55 on a Monday morning and there are already a dozen emails from Lucy. She sends them whenever a thought occurs. I scroll down for the one with my orders for the day.
Subject: Hello and prorties for The Week
No. She cannot spell. Much of the time she cannot organize a coherent thought. Rachel and I help each other out, forwarding her more impenetrable emails to each other to see if we can decipher them. I’m saving the best ones in a file. There’s got to be a way to make money off them.
This week’s list of demands isn’t too bad. We’re between fundraising campaigns right now so things are slow. She wants me to organize the previous campaign files. Everything that has ever been sent out is stuffed into several boxes under my desk with no order to them that I can see.
Lucy says that Darlene, my predecessor, kept on top of the filing. Lucy says that Darlene was better than me in every way. They were a team, working together as a well-oiled machine. Lucy had but to think a thought for Darlene to act on it.
I used to feel bad about this, like I was a huge disappointment, like I wasn’t keeping up. But Rachel has filled me in on the regular screaming matches the two of them used to have. And those boxes were under my desk when I got here.
I head out to Rachel’s desk. “Can I have a couple dozen file folders? Lucy wants me to archive the fundraising campaigns.”
“OK, but take your time. She won’t be in this morning. There’s some function at Dervlin’s school.”
Dervlin is Lucy’s son. He’s five years old with the soul of a mean-spirited, cantankerous old man. Lucy adores him.
I don’t know where he got his name. My first week here, Lucy suggested that we should start a club. Because we both loved men with unusual names.
He was visiting the office that day. Lucy brings him in when her child-care arrangements fall apart. So, about once a week, on average.
On the day I met him, Dervlin was a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped round my leg.
“Oh, he does that to all the women!” Lucy giggled as Dervlin’s sweaty hands crept up under my skirt. I would have shaken him off and stepped away, but I had chosen that day to wear office-appropriate footwear and I can’t keep my balance very well in any heel height above ‘flat’. Instead, I gave her my wrinkle-nosed, raised-eyebrow smile which is supposed to convey that I’ve never hated you more than I hate you in this moment and if you want me to stop hating you, you had better change your behavior right now. I think it needs work. Lucy stood chatting for quite some time before finally fishing Dervlin out of my underthings and letting me walk away. I haven’t worn a skirt to work since.
In the end, Lucy doesn’t come in at all. That happens frequently around here. We’re not allowed to question her, so we look really incompetent when anyone calls for her. “No, I’m sorry, she’s not in at the moment,” Rachel will say in her sweetest, don’t-ask-me-any-more-questions voice. Then “No, I’m afraid I don’t know when to expect her. May I take a message?” as her voice plummets from sweet professionalism to hopeless rage. Taking messages is a crap shoot. As likely as not, Lucy won’t answer them.
I sort the backlog of fund-raising materials into the file folders, keeping the duplicates in their own folders at Rachel’s suggestion. Lucy adores duplicates and has been known to ask for them. Apparently, the invention of the photocopier hasn’t fully registered with her yet.
Of course, there isn’t any room in the one filing cabinet allowed into the office – tucked into a corner of the kitchen, which turns getting a coffee into a circus act – filing cabinets being deemed ‘so unstylish’ by our boss. Do not get Rachel started on that one. So now they’re back in the boxes under my desk.
“How was work?” Odin asked when I got home. I gave my usual incoherent growl.
“Can I get you something? Cup of tea? Glass of wine?”
“Tea first, please.” I sank onto the sofa, putting my feet on the coffee table. I have this fear that if I start with the wine, I will have set myself on the road to ruin, but if I have a cup of tea first, then it’s OK.
“How was your day?” I asked him. It was easy, our apartment is one big room with a small bedroom and bath off the main room.
“It was good,” he smiled. “I think we’re making progress.” Odin’s working for an internet start-up. It’s all very hush-hush because they’re pre-launch and don’t want to tip their hand. He helps to trouble-shoot the programming and is in charge of their marketing strategy. He’s actually pretty excited about this one. It does my heart good to see him enjoying his work.
I had my tea and we started fixing dinner. This usually involves me sitting at the counter while he cooks. I love that he loves to cook.
I told him about my conversation with Rachel. I had been thinking about it for the rest of the day. See, in a crisis, you can’t focus on anything but the crisis. Which means you don’t have to look at the bigger picture, the bigger questions, like the fact of your own mortality or the fact that life is basically pointless, both of which lead to some itchy, uncomfortable feelings that most of us would do anything to avoid.
So we escape. Into the comforts and rigours of religion, like Odin’s mum, or of making a difference, like I guess Lucy is trying to do.
Or we set ourselves big challenges, like my Dad used to do, like running an ultramarathon or climbing a mountain or writing a freaking novel.
“Or, if we can’t find a challenge that grabs us, we make a crisis. And those of us who move from crisis to crisis are so good at it that we have no idea that most of the drama is of our own making.”
Odin paused in his vegetable chopping. “But not all of it.” He’s very sensitive to accusations of crisis-mongering. And even though I know it can’t all be a coincidence, even I would be hard-pressed to explain how most of the crazy situations he’s found himself in could be his fault. It’s the sheer number that throws me.
Still, that’s a discussion for another time.
He poured me a glass of wine and I settled back to wonder what will happen when I make my peace with my own discomfort, with the fact that yes, like everybody, everywhere, always, I am going to die. And the rest of the world will not feel my loss nearly as keenly as I would want them to. And even if they do, they’ll move on.
It’s been a little over two years since my Dad died. I still think of him most days. But not every day, not like at first. Not every single moment. And Mum’s started dating again. Which is good. Pete’s a lovely man and she deserves to be happy. But as a lesson in the ineffability of life, it’s a solid one.
You’re here and then you’re gone. And even making a difference while you’re here won’t make that much of a difference. Not lastingly, personally, profoundly. We really only make a small difference to the handful of people closest to us. Even the Hitler’s and Mandela’s can only do what they do because of the myriad unknowns who willingly side with them to help or harm the people close to them.
So what will my life be like when I’ve truly made my peace with that? I think then, I will have nothing to fear from anyone and no one will be able to sell me anything. I will be able to relax into the now, the peaceful, pointless here.
And to every crisis I am tempted to manufacture, I will say, “I’m going to die and this is all pointless so you might as well go away.” Comforting thought.