In the Tunnel

“Well that must be somewhat of a relief, to know you’ll have a steady place to work for the rest of the school year.”  Michelle, my friend from my student teaching days, had met me for lunch.   She too was still substitute teaching, and lived with her parents while she was planning her wedding.  That alone was enough to give me a pang as I talked with her about how she went out on the weekends or was saving all of her salary for her wedding flowers.  But she was engaged to Frank, the brother of my ex boyfriend, Tom.  Tom, who had the unfortunate timing of being my boyfriend while my mother was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment.  Needless to say, while Michelle’s plans were still on track, mine had taken a pretty major detour.

I didn’t verbalize any of it, of course.  Michelle had been very kind to me in the months since my breakup with her soon to be brother in law, and it certainly wasn’t her fault that my mood was black these days.  I wasn’t about to make her feel badly, so I kept my end of the conversation light and positive.

“I am relieved.  It’s the same work as last spring, and I know Kathy so well, so working in her classroom and doing her lessons should be simple.  I just hope that I can turn it into a position at the school come June.”  I had snagged another long term substitute teaching position, subbing for my very own cooperating teacher from last spring’s student teaching.  She was pregnant now, and the outbreak of “Fifth’s Disease” at the school combined with her high risk pregnancy meant that she was going to have to stay away from the school for these last two and a half months of school.   It was early April now, and this meant the fattest possible paychecks I could earn as a substitute until the school year closed.  It wasn’t enough, but I could make it work until June.

“Are you getting excited about the wedding?”   I continued, ripping open a packet of the pink stuff and dumped it in my coffee.  Michelle’s wedding was on track for June of this year, and I had the oddest mixture of fear and anticipation of the event.   Seeing Tom again, after my life had changed so drastically, was an event I was having a hard time imagining.

There was such a stark contrast between my life a year ago, when I was dating Tom,  and today.  My former life as a single mother living at home with my mother and going to college seemed positively carefree compared to my current existence.  Even during my mother’s illness there was always something to do, someone who needed to be talked to, some place we needed to go, and there was always a goal:  get my mother better.  I was having a hard time finding my goal these days.  I was just trying to get through the days.

The sudden expanse of time alone that came with my mother’s passing was something I had been unprepared for.  It was hard to overstate the amount of activity and social contact that came with caring for her; the visitors, the nurses, the relatives calling, the friends coming to help me care for Zachary, the doctors, the visits to hospitals, and on and on.  After the last relative left and the last condolence card arrived, the silence grew deep.  I would arrive home at four or so in the afternoon with Zachary from daycare and marvel at the quiet.  We’d play and eat dinner and watch television until seven or so, when I’d put him to bed.   The silence of my thoughts began then, and echoed for hours until I finally retired around ten.  The weekends were worse; full days sometimes of not talking to another person except my son.  The person I used to be versus the person I’d become was vastly different.  I wondered how obvious it would be to Tom when I saw him at the wedding.

“I’m worried that I am not going to get it all done.”  Michelle enthused,  “But yes, I’m so excited.  Of course I wish I could lose about fifty pounds before June, but barring that, everything seems to be going well.  Frank signed the lease last week so I guess it is really all happening.”  While Michelle and Frank had agreed to not live together to please both sets of parents, Frank had signed a lease on an apartment that would become theirs after their wedding.  “You’ll have to come by and see it soon.”

“Definitely,” I said.  In the past I would have said more, asked questions about the bedrooms, the floor plan, the location.  But I couldn’t say anything else without choking on my own bitterness.  I wished it were me signing a lease on a new place and having that expanse of life’s possibility stretching out in front of me.  I wished it were me planning a wedding and worrying about how much flowers cost.   Worrying about losing weight instead of finding the money to pay my car insurance and my daycare costs.

The silence grew awkward but I couldn’t find the happy words to fill them with.  What kind of person was I to begrudge her a happy life?   Was I always going to talk to people my age and feel jealous that they were able to have weddings and apartments and relationships and parents?

The tunnel seemed very dark; I couldn’t see the end of it anywhere.

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