I got notice on Thursday that my assignment with the school I’d been working at since August was terminated. No explanation, no thank-you-for-your-hard-work. Instead, I got a kick in the backside: as I collected my time sheet from the office, I found out that the incompetent cow who works as the school secretary didn’t turn my last time sheet in to payroll, so now my next paycheck will be a week late.
“Oops, you must have turned it in really late,” she quipped.
I filled out the sheet at the beginning of the pay period, I said through gritted teeth. I updated it the day before I knew you turned the time sheets in. It was pointless arguing with her, however. She has a known habit of flipping her mistakes so it appears to be your fault. I ran the two time sheets down to payroll myself, cursing her, the school district and the idiots in HR.
Part of me was sad to leave the students I’d gotten to know: but the other part was relieved and glad. The work was getting too physically challenging, even dangerous. The previous day, the 150-pound TBI student ran away from class and charged straight into me. I managed to stay on my feet, but later at home, I discovered a huge bruise on my left shin and another on the left side of my rib cage. It didn’t hurt at first, but the next morning, getting out of bed was agony. I also had a very sore throat, which progressed rapidly into a stuffy head and runny nose. A colleague, one who gets paid sick leave, had come into work with a raging head cold two days earlier. I asked her why she hadn’t stayed at home, and she replied she wanted to save her leave time for when her children were sick.
I get that she’s a responsible mom and the district doesn’t allow us time off for family beyond three weeks of maternity leave: but people who come to work when they have a fever and a nose that’s running like a faucet are inconsiderate, speaking as one who doesn’t get paid sick leave at all. Plus this has been one nasty head cold—calling it a cold doesn’t do it justice. Last night I couldn’t tell if I was crying from the sinus pain or just had a runny nose and eyes. I tried to call the pharmacist and ask if it was okay to take sinus or cold meds with the ulcer medication I’ve been taking, but after the medical center’s switchboard put me on hold for 20 minutes, I threw aside the phone. “Screw it! I’m miserable and I don’t care if I get liver failure after this.” Dr. Google then said there were no reported side effects from mixing ulcer meds with OTC cold medications, so I took everything in the medicine cabinet and slept like a log after that.
That said, I’m back in the substitute pool now. It doesn’t pay as well as being a regular employee at a school, but I do have my freedom back. If I don’t want to work on a particular day, I don’t. I don’t get paid either, but given that I don’t get paid sick leave anyway and I’m both sick and covered with black and blue marks, I might as well use some time to recover.
Sunny has been loving that I’m home all day. She doesn’t like that I shake the bed with my coughing and blowing my nose, but my not working means she gets to stay in the cottage during our rainy, cold mornings and not get thrown out when it’s time for me to go to school.
I mentioned earlier that I have a buddy to hang out with now. He’s a 74-year-old gay man whom I met through the program for homeless families I volunteer for. We had some interesting conversations while working together in the kitchen, though it was always a huge effort since K is deaf as the proverbial doornail. I was surprised however when between volunteer stints, he began emailing me every night, sometimes as late as 4 a.m. (I told him I have to get up 5 a.m. for work; he said, “Good! Then I’ll expect a reply in a few hours.”) His friends at church told me K. has no family and has been profoundly lonely since his partner died five years ago, so they were happy to hear that I’d become his online “pen pal.”
With friendship comes responsibility, however. As I was packing for my Christmas flight to New York, I got a phone call from K’s closest gay friend, asking if I had heard from him recently. The friend had tried calling and emailing K about coming to his house for Christmas but hadn’t heard back. I hadn’t, but frankly my mind had been on trying to pack Christmas gifts for the whole family plus my toiletries and clothes into a single carry-on suitcase. After grousing that I had to leave the next day and ‘can’t you check on him, dammit?’ I put on my coat and drove to the downtown apartment building where K lives. It was pouring rain and I couldn’t find parking anywhere nearby, so I had to leave my car in an overpriced ramp and hike soaking wet to the apartment office. The staff called K’s apartment for me, but he didn’t pick up. A city police officer happened to be making a welfare check on another resident (the building was full of seniors living alone, apparently); he promised to check on K for me after he was done with the other call. After a nerve-wracking 45 minutes (what if he’s dead? omg!), the officer came down and said K had answered the door and appeared to be fine. His phone wasn’t working, nor was his computer.
After getting the code for the security elevator from the staff, I stormed upstairs, feeling both irate and relieved. When I got to his floor, K was waiting for me in the hallway.
He spread out his arms. “Can I get a hug?”
In his apartment I found that he had somehow disconnected his phone while putting up his Christmas tree. I reset the connection and got the dial tone back on, then called K’s friend to let him know everything was okay. Then I looked at K’s laptop and realized he hadn’t closed the goddamn reminder to “Update to Windows 10 for Free!” which had prevented him from opening his browser. K is heads and shoulders above my father at using technology, but he’s never figured out the details, like which browser or OS he uses on his laptop. I tried teaching him, but he was, hm, sweetly clueless.
Since then, K has been eternally grateful. He takes me to concerts and goes to the art crawls and museum with me. It’s sometimes a pain in the butt because 1) I am always the designated driver—K can’t drive anymore and doesn’t have a car—and 2) he can’t hear worth beans, so conversations are not only hard to carry on, but I have to shout, sometimes about ridiculously personal stuff like my financial situation. (Shrieking, “I’M BROKE! MY LAST PAYCHECK WAS CHICKEN FEED!” during intermission in Symphony Hall is not exactly a boost to morale.) I also have to keep an eye on him, as he’ll walk straight into traffic or out an ‘Emergency Only’ exit if I don’t grab him. At times I feel more like his caregiver, which brings back bad memories of my parents. But he’s better read and more intelligent than my folks ever were; and he does try to be a decent person, most times. He still harbors prejudices about “single moms on welfare,” Muslims, and Mexicans. I have to remind him that we’re both from groups that have been hated at one time or another, so we have to work harder at not making generalizations.
I don’t know why the Universe threw K into my path. It hasn’t been easy being his friend, but it’s been an interesting journey with him.