We were having so many problems for so long, I still don’t think people understand how all encompassing it was. His grandmother says, “I called and invited you over,” but it’s the way she says it and I wish I could say to her, “I just couldn’t. He was so broken that I became broken and I look at you with all of your expectations and it takes all I have to stay in this room.” But instead I smile and turn to his father who feels more like my father every year, and I think of his mother and the ways I’m trying to repair what I’ve damaged and I begin to feel like I’m on solid ground. I love his family because I try to love everyone, but I love his brothers and his grandmother because I love him and because I love his parents.
That is what I never understood: love is a choice.
And when I’m talking to my own mom, relieved to be hearing her familiar voice, she says, “Isn’t it nice to be around family during the holidays?” I tell her that it makes me miss our side of the family, but I see our side of the family in his more and more, although I’m still not sure if this sharpens or eases the ache of feeling so far from people who express love in exactly the ways I was trained to receive.
I talk about college to his middle brother, who is still an undergrad, and I just feel exhausted. I’m tired of explaining my interests. I’m tired of wondering if my jargon is isolating. I am insurmountably fatigued of people telling me not to give up on my dreams, as if the entirety of my dreams is held in writing academic papers and teaching undergraduates about rape as a product of gender inequality. There is some part of me that appreciates the encouragement, but I am beginning to read it as an inability to listen.
You see, dear reader, I have done the unthinkable. I have obtained a job.
After 40 hours of training and First Aid and CPR certification, I am to emerge, transformed by an information cocoon, into a residential counselor at a group home for at-risk youth. I am told that I will primarily be serving children placed outside of their homes because of neglect or sexual abuse. The day of my interview I walked into the office of this non-profit and it was so familiar it felt like a second home. My hours are to be similar to my partner’s, and we are to be poor in materialistic wealth, but already I feel enriched.
The therapist my partner has been seeing has somehow gotten through to him. I have not met her, but I sense that she knows him like I know him and this goes a long way in easing my worries. And, with less worry I am free to cook and bake and clean and read. These actions are satisfying and sustaining in a way that writing papers never was.
Truthfully, I don’t miss academia. I felt a little displaced after I was graduated because it was such a large part of my identity, but it forced me to make my self. Gender is a social construct. Race is a social construct. Sexuality is a social construct. Our society is intellectually manufactured, but removed from academia I feel these beliefs deep inside me in a way I didn’t when I felt as if I had to constantly justify and “prove” them. I don’t miss having a long-term plan, which nearly everyone is academia has. I enjoy living in each day and I am finding that outside of the academy my secret self has begun to bleed into my external self.
I don’t care anymore about impacting the academy with my theories. When I was still in my undergraduate studies, I thought scornfully of social workers, believing that they were too focused on the micro to make any lasting impact. Since leaving university I’ve realized that without foot soldiers there is no war.
And whose life is it if I give it up to the judgments of others?
Now I know that this life is mine. Owning my life has instilled a more clear sense of strength and purpose than receiving my degree (which was rather anticlimactic) ever did.
I wish you happy holidays, dear reader. I wish you a sense of peace and sense of purpose, and wish that those feelings and that knowledge stay with you year-round.