Tag Archives: work

for L., 195?-2014.

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the voicemail said, “call me. something terrible has happened.” my first thought was, L. is dead. when i called and discovered that i was right, that she hadn’t come to work and her son said that she’d died and  they didn’t know what the cause was, my immediate instinct was, she killed herself. i never had any doubt in my mind. she was in her fifties, not super healthy but not super unhealthy either. we worked together, at the crisis mental health residence. at my job, “co-workers” doesn’t mean awkward chit-chat in the ladies room about guarded pleasantries, doesn’t mean being hushed by a boss for talking. at my job, we are together 24 hours a day, we go through so much, and we become very close. my first shift with L. was an overnight that very suddenly descended into chaos. i came back from talking one guy down after the incident to find L. sobbing in the office. “do you want a hug?” i asked, and she said yes, and there we were, in an office in san francisco late at night, her sobbing in my arms, an hour after we’d met. after that, how could we not become friends. she would yell, “hi, sweeetie!” when i arrived, all warmth and glow. but still, that deep sadness that was apparent all around her, that we weren’t allowed to touch. we’d ask how she was doing and she’d say, “i’m fiiiine!” a little too cheerfully. we didn’t question it. didn’t make sure that she was really okay.

my last conversation with her that i remember, she’d mentioned having some problems with her live-in partner. he’d called her a bitch and they weren’t on speaking terms. “why don’t you kick him out?” i asked, half-jokingly. “i can’t afford to live on my own,” she sighed, and in that tone there was so much resignation, such a sense of being trapped. and there was so much i didn’t ask, so much we didn’t ask. not that she would have told us anyway.

at the weird company-sponsored grief-counseling group, i was the one to say it. i think she committed suicide. more than one person agreed with me. more than one person expressed the belief that suicide is inevitable. i wanted to scream, if suicide is inevitable than what the fuck are we doing with our lives? we work with acutely suicidal people, and although the work we do is imperfect and underfunded and understaffed and nowhere near enough time (two weeks! TWO MOTHERFUCKIN’ WEEKS!) clients often tell us that we’ve done a good job with them, that we’ve given them hope. L., in her last week at work, in her last week of life, did a lot of really amazing work with someone who was very suicidal. was that it? was that why? was she hoarding pills while she tried to convince him to live?
human beings are referred to as “the only animal that commits suicide.” but that isn’t true. my ex-girlfriend had a snake that committed suicide. it stopped eating and she took it to the vet. the vet said that reptiles in captivity do that sometimes, once they realize that they’re in a cage and they aren’t ever getting out. they refuse to eat. they’d rather die.

now, in the aftermath, i have no energy. i ignore texts. i don’t care anymore. when clients ask me for things i want to roll my eyes. who cares. L. is dead. every day shift, she was supposed to be there, and they’re that much harder. i broke down sobbing in front of my co-workers, who were all really nice but i felt embarrassed. i have no interest in being, or attempting to be, posi about this. there is nothing good about it. nothing.

the cockroaches in my apartment have finally grown too plentiful to ignore. i don’t want to kill them, my imagination is too good, i think about the social structures that they create. i see them scampering across my apartment, full of life. they often drown in my drain, or in any puddle of water, they get incinerated in the flames of my stove and wander into the freezer and freeze to death, but they keep going. they want to live so badly. i spray them with a spray that my boyfriend helped me pick out because i’m that level of non-functional right now. they run and then they freeze, twitch for a while, then they are gone.  i bear witness to these tiny deaths because i feel it’s the least i can do, even if it makes me feel terrible.

on wednesday, three co-workers and i went to her memorial service. it was on the beach. half-moon bay, several miles south of san francisco. so hypnotizingly beautiful, the clear blue water, the white sand. the signs warning that you can’t go into this beautiful water, that people have drowned just by wading. that the waves are unusually large and strong. it was here, standing in a black wool dress with the sun beating down on me, my feet bare, my toes in the pacific, that one of her friends answered my question of what happened. “she took pills,” she said. “she left a note. this wasn’t the first time, or the second time. it was more like the twelfth. we all knew we’d lose her this way. it was just a matter of time.”
we didn’t know. she’d never told us at all. a lot of people at work, myself included, are open about our own painful struggles with mental health issues or drug addictions or whatever has shaped us. it’s about half and half–people who’ve gone to school vs. people who’ve lived it. she’d gone to school, and she didn’t talk about her past. so we all assumed that she didn’t live it. we never asked. we never thought. she was such a good counselor. i said, at some point, maybe on a shift or maybe on the car ride home, if L. can’t survive this job, how can anyone?
her adult son told us that the job was what kept her going this long. he said that he’d visited her at work, how he hadn’t wanted to go because his mom had to stay at places like our job, after every suicide attempt, and they were always so white, so sterile, so sad. he thought it would remind him of a sad time. but he visited her at work and saw the bright yellow and orange walls, the clients all cooking with his mom and having a good time, and realized that it was different, realized why she wanted to be there. her ex-husband told us that the note was addressed to her four adult children, and that it essentially said, it’s not like you aren’t worth it, but i just can’t do this anymore. her daughter had made an altar on the beach, full of pictures of her mom throughout various stages of her life. it was beautiful and sad. i took a picture with my shadow cast over it from the setting sun.

in a cruel twist of library availability, “being flynn” finally came on the holdshelf for me the day afterwards. it’s a movie based on nick flynn’s memoir, “another bullshit night in suck city,” about working at a homeless shelter where his estranged father is a resident, while recovering from the suicide of his mother. i watched it and could relate far too much, especially when they talked about the kinds of people who work at such a draining job–the jesus freaks, the ex-cons, and the punks. (i think we all know which category i fall into!) there’s a moment where they all talk to the camera about why they’re here, the punks shouting, “this job is so hardcore! i could never get this adrenaline rush anywhere else!” lili taylor, playing the front desk monitor, smiles at the camera and says, “i used to be a crack addict and a hooker. i clawed my way up and i got this job. within two years, i’ll be back on drugs and back in the street. because,”–her smile turning rueful–“everyone knows that you can’t stay changed for long.”

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why yes, it has been a long december.

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at work, we keep all the knives in a drawer or a locked cabinet, sweep the house to make sure that there aren’t any laying around. most people won’t do anything with them besides chop vegetables, but you never know. one of my co-workers is traumatized by something awful that happened recently with a pair of scissors, while she was working all night alone. i worked with her on christmas day and she kept asking, “where are the knives? where are the scissors?!” hypervigilant. i don’t blame her.

i’ve been working a lot and i am exhausted and burned out. one co-worker, who i met for the first time on christmas when he was coming in for the night shift, talked to me for ten minutes and said, “you need a vacation.” my sister sent me a letter yesterday where she said that i sound “tired” on my blog. i dunno if she means this blog or the one related to my book, but she’s right! i am tired, the kind that sleeping or coffee can’t touch. yesterday i worked thirteen hours and it was exhausting but i did a workshop based on a piece from doris zine which some people really seemed to like (it was from the Q section of the encyclopedia of doris, the piece called “quitting”). i got to share it because it changed my life when i first read it and i thought it could change someone else’s life too. i got to share it because i wanted to and nobody is going to tell me no. i also got three hugs, a few high fives, a few sincere thanks. all of these things make me feel good, keep me going in the face of trauma, despair, and futility.

it was good but i’m glad i have the next two days off, where i can wear inappropriate shirts and be restoratively silent and go to the vegan coffee shop with my boyfriend and generally chill the fuck out. my apartment feels a little like a hotel room, temporary, like it will never be a real home. i had a moment of genuine loss for a second but i don’t want to write about that. the white walls kind of bum me out & i can’t paint them. the white curtains. everything coming into my life seems to be white, or at least i see the white spaces more. i am a colorful person and it’s kinda harshing my mellow–although, of course, i am still infinitely grateful to have a home at all in this city, and a safe one at that. i’ll ride it as long as i can, and then do something else, i guess.

aural discomfort

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the drone of a vacuum + “it’s not unusual” (that god awful easy listening song) + my boss’ daughter’s shrill voice bitching about some insignificant thing or other = a combination of noise that makes me feel like my soul is dying.

of course, i am bitching about some insignificant thing in criticizing someone else for bitching about some insignificant thing. but at least you can’t hear me!

fuck the past.

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i’m at work right now & there has been a big family bitchfest going on all day for the people i work for. lots of pointless bitching & adult-babiness delivered in a shrill voice that makes me want to crawl under my desk and hide. they tried to drag me into it at one point, but i hid in the bathroom until the fighting momentarily died down, and then went back into the conference room with my little notebook like nothing had happened. i’m very good at hiding.
god, families are so fucked up! i am feeling very triggered and nervous right now & i just want to go home but i need the $, plus it would be kind of awkward if i told my boss, “your daughter’s insanity makes me really nervous because i was raised by a pair of insane people and i haven’t quite worked out my issues with that, so i think i, like, need to go home and breathe deeply for a while and drink some stress relief tea & remind myself over & over again that i live somewhere safe now. okay?”
on a lighter note, thanksgiving was really good. i got super stressed & depressed the day before, but everything worked out fine. most of the food turned out well, people brought tasty shit, everyone i invited more or less got along, many laughs were had, colleen discovered a new hairstyle for me, and i had a lot of good conversations and generally felt the love. the day before thanksgiving i was super bummed about how different everything is this year, but the actual act of thanksgiving itself reminded me of all the new roads that are opening, that continue to open as we speak. reminded me of the amazingness i am capable of & the splendid people that i’ve met this year. & for real i am thankful, for so much. i don’t need a fucking holiday to remind me. i have two things to remind me every day to be thankful. one is that i saw one of my best friends die a lengthy, slow and terrible death. the most vital woman i ever knew; i saw her strength and will to live get sucked out week by week until there wasn’t anything left. thing number two is that i work with prisoners. i write to them and i work with a whole bunch of people on pre-release. & those two things shape me & remind me on even the suckiest most horrible days that my life & freedom are such a precious fucking gift & i have no right to waste them.
and with that, back to work…

a quick work story, before it is lost to the ages forever

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this happened on friday. but i am so busy!

my boss [reviewing the books]: why is the internet bill filed under “dues”?

bookkeeper: uhh…i don’t know…that’s just how we’ve always done it.

my boss: well, it isn’t dues. file it under….i don’t know, peaches, sediment, anything but dues! because it isn’t dues!

bookkeeper:what?!?

hilarity @ work

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my boss, speaking rhetorically to this young new lawyer: now, let’s say that you’re a merchant and you have thousands of cans of soup that nobody wants….
new lawyer:so, you’re saying that there’s no market for soup anymore? you’re saying that nobody buys soup at all?
my boss:not this soup! it’s, uh…..rat soup!
me: [chuckles] [mainly at the complete and utter randomness that is my boss]
my boss:you see! this soup is so bad, even [ocean] isn’t interested!