08 Dec

Sometimes, you are on a date. You see the person sitting across a table from you, perhaps with a cup of coffee between her hands, perhaps not. This person also sees you. She smiles. Her smile seems typical; taxonomically speaking, it fits into the larger category of date smiles, which in turn belong to the genus of smiles smiled because the smiler feels it is appropriate to smile, not because she is happy. At some point in that smiling instant, you realize, even before you take your seat across from the smile and the coffee, that this person is yours for the asking. Although to the naïve or desperate, asking might seem like a good deal, that is not always the case.

It is the same for jobs.

After Amber drove her long drive back to Kentucky, my cycle of dates wound down into a period of low activity. My carefully numbered moving boxes gradually shifted from being mostly closed to mostly open, rimmed with the approximately folded corners of packed clothes that I moved with increasing carelessness. The basement futon spent more time unfolded into a sleeping space than pretending to be a couch. The movement of restless bodies massaged flat the couch crease at its center. Mostly these bodies were in fact one body, singular, mine, sleeping instead of sexing, which bothered me only sometimes but intensely when it did. My laptop became used less for writing, or dating, or anything else, and more for seeing what internet people looked like with their clothes off. (As it turns out, they look like other people, just naked). Growths of glasses and dishes sprouted in fungal knots from flat surfaces. Unremembered beverages clustered on the floor, an easy arm’s reach from where I slept. A particular brown species of long-legged spider shared my living space with me. One morning, as I lifted last night’s water for a sip, I found a spider, inverted with curled legs, at the bottom of the half-full glass. During the night, it must have climbed in and been unable to climb out. Afterward, I killed all the ones I saw until I stopped seeing them. Between these tiny vengeances, I watched advertising on the television while thinking about how I probably ought to read a book or something.

What made me leave this place was a job interview.

The woman on the phone sounded young with a blonde voice. My own voice came out thick and stupid. She’d woken me up, and it took me a few minutes to realize where I was, who I was, and what I was doing. Sometime during misty childhood,  my sister or one of my brothers had taken a can of spray primer and tagged our drop ceiling. Still lying on my back, I struggled to focus my eyes on a red splotch. Yes, I had applied for the teaching position. Yes, I was still interested. Yes, I could come in Monday to discuss it.

After a half-hour of unwarranted interview nervousness on my part, my brand-new supervisor crammed a full-time teaching position up my bum at a salary ten grand per year higher than the lowball rate that I, in my desperation, had quoted to her. Of course I accepted.

I should have asked for more money.

I don’t want to imply that it was all bad. Certainly the flood of trite, heartwarming stories concerning spiritual and moral metamorphoses consequent to education has some basis in things that really happen. But also, there was the time that my felonious student had me call his parole officer in a pointless effort to spare him detention for cocaine possession. And the time that one of the medical assisting students brought a veiny, cartoonish, ten-inch dildo to class as an anatomical model of male reproductive structures. And the time that the building management reprimanded my school’s administration for the biohazardous feminine hygiene products someone had left draped over doors in the bathroom stalls. I just should have asked for more money is all.

Even so, the first checks felt magical. Most of them went to pay down the five-grand IOU held by Uncle Citibank. The fourteen percent annual interest he charged dwarfed the zero percent that would have been afforded by my parents’ charity, but the impersonal anonymity of it allowed me remain dignified (much in the same way that, sometimes, frantic pawing with a very recent acquaintance feels preferable to the abasement of wheedling a past lover into touching you). Once my debt load dropped back down to the triple digits, I felt comfortable spending money on Match again. Here is another secret about internet dating. I might have shared this with you already, but in case I didn’t: If you sign up for a Match account and then log in a bunch of times without subscribing to anything, eventually they will email you a coupon for a cheaper subscription. At least, that was true three years ago.

My resurrected subscription came complete with an inbox full of correspondence. I sifted through it. Some of it was very old, sent to me from people who did not notice or did not care that my account had been inactive for almost a year. One letter, though, came from someone recent. The message included the line “I reactivated my account just to write to you.” I thought that was nice.

I clicked on her link.


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