I have a degree in English, which means I have 2 jobs and can sometimes afford to splurge at the dollar store. This Summer, I’ve been teaching high school and working with a few community college students. It’s a nice arrangement that leaves me plenty of time for myself. From 8 until 12, I work with the high school students. Then from 12 until 6, I work with the community college kids. Then from 6 until 8, I usually work with the high school students again, or I grade. Sometimes I sleep. My favorite part of my schedule is that I finally have purged from myself the fear of death.
I’ve noticed a unique experience that comes with working 12 hour days, and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to identify it. It’s not depression which feels like a heavy, slowly vibrating blanket. It’s not just exhaustion because I’d know my best friend when I saw it. The feeling generally comes 6 hours into the day, and only when I do math. Arithmetic has never been my friend, and it is least welcome when doing the really simple calculations for 12 hours minus 6 hours. Realizing you’ve worked 6 hours and still have 6 left has all the strange energizing effect of a dozen shots of espresso and the paradoxically depressing effect of being told you’ve got 10 days left to live and 9 of those days will be spent in the humid waiting room of your childhood dentist. Seeing I have 6 hours of work left after working that much already is at once invigorating and depressing because I am obsessed with my job, but I also really dig my bed.
I do not take good care of myself on the long days because sometimes I forget I’m a person. I wonder if anyone else does this. My reflection in the mirror sometimes startles me because I usually expect to see some kind of cloud with eyes and a single slobbery orifice. Unfortunately, I am not a cloud, and I suffer for it on the long days. There was a time, long ago, when I remembered to pack myself a lunch. It was incredible. When I got hungry at work, I could just eat. My body remembered it needed nutrients, and then I provided them like an obedient host. This forethought and meal planning has not happened for a long time. Lately, around hour 9, the primordial gears of my brain get to churning, and I am filled with savage impulses.
I saw a student throw away a mostly-intact apple, and I nearly shoved him into traffic. One student left an enormous cookie on her desk, and I fell into a fantasy of biting into its soft cookie center, ravaging the melting morsels of chocolate, just going to town on this cookie and caring nothing at all for the terrified student onlookers. Someone drew a strawberry on the board, and I gave some serious thought to licking it off.
Someone looking in on my life might be concerned I’m deliberately starving myself, but getting a sexy beach bod isn’t as motivational to me as magazines in grocery store checkout lines would want. I’m not trying to waste away; it’s just happening. I can only hope that once I am gone, English majors around the world will look to my desiccated corpse, to my fingers worn to nubs from relentless typing and impatient desk tapping, and to my bleached skull permanently stuck in a twisted, suffering, kind of giddy smile because even when I’m dead I’ll look like I’ve just made a joke that nobody else in the room thinks is funny.