Coming Up for Air
It’s been a while since I’ve written something for Queereka. I feel I owe you an apology and explanation. Since my last post I started working on my thesis. I was given several months, as per my institution’s policy. Unfortunately I was also dealing with a cash flow problem. I had run out of money roughly two months ago and was deathly afraid of being evicted from my apartment. Said apartment was only a block away from my previous residence, now occupied by my abusive, drug addict ed. He had been doing meth since before we’d met and had, with more resourcefulness and thought than he applied to our relationship, hidden his addiction from me. We would have still been together if his money and contacts in the local party and play scene hadn’t run dry. While driving on the Taconic Parkway to visit a friend of his he went into withdrawal, crying, rocking, oscillating from rage to joy. He insisted I take him to the Capital Psychiatric Hospital. They directed us to the local ER where my ex told the admission clerk that he was both “homicidal and suicidal”. After spending 7 hours there with him, holding him while he shook and releasing him when he threw me off he was admitted. The next day he told me that he was addicted to meth in a tone beyond casual, beyond callous. I broke up with him on the spot and spent the next month hunting for a place to escape to. The landlord of my old place found out and threatened to track me down with a private detective after I had fled the place to force me to pay up the remaining 8 months on the lease. My ex didn’t care. Agoraphobia set. I didn’t have a car back then and had to walk the neighborhood, looking over my shoulder for his blue Acura, for signs that I was being watched by somebody with a lawsuit to serve.
My graduate adviser’s patience wore thin, thinner even than my data set. I’d had trouble getting test animals for months, they just weren’t breeding. I’d been unmotivated for a while too, homelife with an unstable boyfriend and a precarious “rent or food” situation had given me white and red stress streaks in my beard. I was pushed out of lab, submitted my final data set and began work on the thesis. The trouble was that I had no money for rent, I had given nearly all of it away to get into a safe living space, and had a laptop just shy of death. I retreated into myself, spending entire days, weeks, applying to every job that I could get to. Eventually I got so desperate I turned to friends, one gave me a job under the table at a cafe, another friend got me into a different cafe on the other side of town. Running around between two jobs was hard but manageable. The money kept me solvent in the same way that desert rain lets dormant Artemiea cysts hatch into brine shrimp. The thesis went through multiple rounds of submission and revision before the defense.
I met somebody else, a graduate student from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute by chance. He was black, from Mississippi and had an electric smile. His rough hands and gentle touch melted me. He spoke my nerdy language and laughed at my jokes. Against my better judgment, you know, because I had just escaped a nightmare of illicit fisting parties and emotional manipulation, I fell for him. Maybe I relied too heavily on his support during my attacks, my fear of the outside, my nauseating anxiety attacks, my migraines. Maybe my horrible dancing drove him off. Maybe my freedom with compliments made him uncomfortable. Maybe I missed the signs, his offhand comment that his parents had told him not to bring a white girl home, the interest he expressed in Middle Eastern girls. Maybe he was more uncomfortable with my open polyamory than I knew, not that I ever went behind his back, thats not who I am. The day came after a harrowing series of emails from my thesis committee. The pdf screamed in red lines and comments. I’d just watched “God is Not Dead” with a friend while drinking heavily, she a devout Greek Orthadox, free spirit and punk aficionado, me an atheist/agnostic who was too naturalistic for his own good when my boyfriend came over. She left us in peace, thinking we needed private time. I told him how vulnerable I felt, how tired I was of the committee jerking me around. How I felt like I had had my trust betrayed. The irony overwhelmed him. He said “funny story” and broke up with me on the spot.
I changed jobs. Started working 60 hours a week delivering library books to rural placed on the boarder between New York and Vermont. Places where the principal industry is growing corn and cows outnumber people. Places that straddle the Battenkil and look down on the fog that hugs the Hudson. Places that used to control the shipping on the Champlain Canal but now are full of the poor, the elderly and empty mainstreet buildings. The job paid well enough; I got overtime but it was stressful. The company vans were rusty things with brake lines that shattered more than once on my route, with malfunctioning doors that did not open, with engines that stopped working as I climbed off ramps. I had a boss who was good enough in person but refused to replace vehicles. The business model involved buying junkers and running them into the ground, never mind safety or service disruptions. His policy with people was roughly the same. My supervisor was often worked 80+ hours a week with no breaks or overtime pay, wearing the hats of dispatcher, manager, and unlicensed mechanic. Meanwhile the boss would bug out of work at 2 pm to drink a 5th of vodka and buy lottery tickets with company money. I suspect he was depressed. If he hadn’t been busily turning his manager into a shell of a man I might have sympathized more.
Under those conditions I crafted my thesis defense and final revisions. Those conditions pushed me to apply to Americorps, to Peace Corps, to audio-engineering workshops and storytelling retreats. I was desperate for an out. Two weeks ago it came in the form of an offer by an Americorps affiliate in San Jose. I accepted. My life is packed away in my coup. Yesterday was my last day on the job. My thesis was submitted two weeks ago and tomorrow I file all the departure paperwork with my graduate school’s administration. Monday I say goodbye to my local friends and Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the availability of rooms, I set off for the west. I don’t have any fear anymore. I’m not worried about my adviser and how he pushed me to adopt a career in standup comedy instead of science. I’m not worried about seeing my ex on a street corner and what he might do or say. I’m not worried about my thesis or money. I see an open door, a path to getting my feet under me, a way out. I plan to resume writing for Queereka while I’m there. There’s a lot of things I want to talk about. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned. I hope you’ll be there with me when I return.
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