I thought about you again. In those perfect empty moments past midnight as I lay in bed waiting for sleep’s arms to cradle me, a figment of memory fluttering behind my closed lids. The auditory hallucination of your voice calling me from the other side of my bedroom wall. I checked my phone for the time, the orange glow cutting through the darkness. When will sleep take me? Why do these thoughts run laps through my mind? Why are you always at the center of each of them?
I watched the Insurrection unfold as my fever finally settled at a comfortable 100 degrees. COVID made a mess of my lungs while the current president wrecked democracy with his words, motivating his blindly-allegiant followers into storming the Capitol. Chants for the deaths of the leaders of this so-called free nation echoed through the hallways. Police officers were beaten and bruised by the very people who were “backing the blue” throughout 2020, as demonstrations of “defund the police” and “Black Lives Matter” took place. These patriots, as they referred to themselves, erected a makeshift gallow to hang the Democratic leaders and the Republican vice president. They’re motivated by misinformation, fed lie after lie even before election results were tallied. “[T]he only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” For months after the November election, calls for recounts, shouts of voter fraud, phone calls to stop the count echoed through the media. A coup d’état was the final attempt to secure an unlawful win, to overthrow our election system. In the end, no matter their attempt, democracy continued. 14 days after the Insurrection, Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president.
The lights went out as Texas froze. Ted Cruz hopped on a plane to Cancun. He left his poor dog to freeze. What sort of man does that?
My depression increases. The city has implemented a new employee evaluation system. And the aftermath of COVID still wrecks my body. My kidneys feel like boulders perched in my gut. I can’t piss, but is that a blessing? When I do, my sides tense up and the pain crawls up.
I meet M for the first time. And I am nervous around her. I’ve seen too many versions of her come in and out of this library. Talented, smart, funny and full of ambition only to be turned away. I don’t know it yet, but a change is coming. One volume has wrapping up, and a new story is on the horizon.
I’ve been down this path before, why should it feel different? Still, I filled out the application and submitted it.
The two of them sit across from me, though I no longer feel flanked. They slide the evaluation in front of me. Give me the goals that I am to achieve each month and what I’m to achieve by the mid-year. I have no plans on signing the form there. Unlike my compatriots, I will play the hand I’m dealt. Secure what little power over my own autonomy that I still cling to. It’s not if I’m willing to agree to these measures, it’s when. I eventually do.
Afterward, I apply for other jobs. I have no intention of being around by the mid-year.
I entered the meeting early, interrupting their conversation. I am still trying to navigate this new world of social norms. Before Zoom, the interviewee is expected to arrive early at the office. Is expected to wait in the lobby with no distractions. No cell phones in hand, scrolling through social media. Magazines are ok, but books might raise an eyebrow. In those days, I always carried a book or a notebook to keep my mind from reeling. Before the scheduled interview – which took place on Teams – I scribbled a list of possible questions to ask. I sign on to my work-provided Teams and click the link in my email. And there appeared four faces I’ll later come to recognize.
My only thought is how am I supposed to make eye contact. To look at my camera means to not address the person I’m responding to; to look at my screen means to appear distracted. I fiddle with my loose earbud and do my best to respond. And I’ve come to learn that online interviews are more nerve-wracking than in person ones.
I grit my teeth as she talks down at me. Maybe I’m just angry, maybe it’s my depression. Maybe I’m just sick and tired for having to deal with yes-people instead of freethinkers who stand up for the department. I had campaigned for her to take the role of supervisor of the department, but I finally delivered something the administration wanted. “Why didn’t you meet last month’s goal?” Because there is no communication between departments. Because things change on a dime. Because what is there to deliver? Because I don’t know who they expect me to network with. Because you have given me little to no guidance over this, being too busy trying to address the problem child. It takes every ounce of me not to just straight up and quit on the spot. Takes more effort to nod than it would to break the news that I won’t be here in September.
I confess to M that there are times when reading the message doesn’t hit me. Tell her that I can read every word of a passage or text aloud and still not understand the sentence. I remember that earlier conversation when a new email reaches my inbox. I turn in my letter of resignation. My time at the public library has ended.
There are days that I’m at home and days I’m in the office. I caught the first year of college bug. There is so much I want to do, so many things I want to learn. After an Ally training, I throw out the idea of building a LGBTQIA+ collection as a long term, ongoing goal. My ideas here aren’t cast aside. They’re not pocketed and kept for another day. While not all of them will pan out, they’re also not quickly reasoned away into oblivion.
My mood is elevated. I finally feel like myself again.
It’s been some time, hasn’t it? I’m always lurking in your history, though my time may have been limited. But I never went away. Never truly. There I dwelled until you remembered me. Until you picked up a picture from your high school days and smirked at the boy you once were. The boy who wore lipstick. Who borrowed his girl friend’s clothing. The skinny, life-like doll looking for some sort of validation. A chronic 15 minutes of adoration. How easily you forget an old friend. How easily my persona toss aside when it never fit your narrative. But I notice. I recognize that need in your eye. That longing for that feminine feel. I know the thoughts you push back, deep inside your mind. The ones that are aching to push through. And that’s how I slipped out after you killed your god. That’s how I remember.