This time in 2014, our faculty voted to merge with another university department. So began the Year of Pain. We forced ourselves together, cracking open cultures, grafting extremities onto an unformed core.
The fertilization plucked a thread in me. A quickening pulse, a sudden expansion (which, from another angle, is simply an unraveling).
Into that opening bloomed one opportunity after another. Phototropic absent intention, each one reached towards fervor and fed on indiscriminate impulse.
I invited them all in.
When someone needed to design and lead a graduate policy writing seminar, I drafted a syllabus.
When someone needed to mentor two doctoral TAs in teaching practice, I took them on.
When someone needed to contribute an academic affairs article for the October issue, I sharpened my pencil.
When someone needed to present at the conference, I submitted the proposal.
When someone needed to teach a semester-long course in pedagogy to visiting Chinese professors, I rearranged my fall schedule.
When someone needed to administer a dean search, I opened the hood.
When someone needed to support all the students from two additional PhD programs because mergers mean more, I signed the job description.
Twelve months. All of this in one cycle around the sun.
This week, my supervisor handed me a piece of paper. A note. A pay increase. She also copied me on the discussion of which office I’ll be using when I work half of each week from the campus that is 12 minutes from my house rather than 45.
With all of this dizzying good news, you’d think when they let us out at 2:00pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend, I’d skip off to happy hour with friends.
Instead, I sag against my kitchen counter and burst into tears.
So weary. My everything — spinning head and sleep-starved body and stretched-thin days with my boy — all of it worn out. Yes, shorter commute, larger paycheck. Also yes, more learning, more pivoting, more work, more life.
More life indeed.
My only life.
I push off from the counter and throw back a glass of cold water. All that need is still gunning for me on the other side of the door. Its knock is insistent. No, it will not come in. I walk from the kitchen and turn Blues BBQ up loud enough to drown out the drumbeat of 40 years of mistakes.
And one year of overcorrecting. One Year of Pain.
I fit the battery into the drill and open holes in the bottoms of half a dozen plastic containers.
Then I step onto the balcony and plunge my hands into the soil.
The sage seedlings have started to unfurl, as have tiny pops of mint. The dill fans its lace as the sky moves. I lift them all into larger pots, deadhead the geraniums, pull feathery spiderwebs from cilantro already gone to seed.
Everything leans in one direction. The sun, such a piper. I rotate buckets and wedge the smaller ones in up front. The spinach is almost too leafy now and will need to go either into a larger pot or into my breakfast. As I water the hanging boxes, the clean scent of lemon verbena wraps itself around the Thai basil’s purple spines.
The lavender is the only seed that hasn’t taken. A mold furs black soil in two tiny pudding cups.That flower decided against trying in a climate too alien.
Maybe it lacked the strength to emerge from a wish for its remembered home.
The snow peas and sugar snaps are lush now, their tresses spilling over the concrete lip of the balcony. I bend and tear the creepers from one another as gently as I can. I wind them around the railing and hope the wind leaves them be.
What must they make of this strange place, up so far from the earth? Do they know this is it?
Do they understand that from here, they grow?
From here, and nowhere else?