A Professional Dating History

Rene and I sat astride picnic tables in the park pavilion. The city of parks description could easily be seen from where we were and the surrounding green, splashing from the wading pool and laughing coming from the playground certainly made it seem so. Rene was the outreach coordinator for the local library. She had been an encouraging force throughout my ten years working for educational programs in Guatemala, but specifically during the time I supported the creation and maintenance of a library in Santa Catarina Palopó, my Peace Corps site. I pleaded with her for a purpose during the first months after I returned to Wisconsin. When I ran into her at the library, she suggested I assist her in her multicultural storytime, a pilot outreach program at the parks for the summer. The wind picked up. Rain threatened. The weather provided stormy Mondays for most of June, but I hoped it wasn’t going to continue. My dad authoritatively informed me that weather cycles every 7-10 days, so most likely I could count on a lot more rain.

“I recently accepted a position at the local literacy nonprofit, part time. I’m still not convinced I want it,” I confessed.

“So for now you’re not going back to school?” Rene asked. “You were considering a Ph.D.”

“My dad’s voice is in my head. If I can work, I should work. Grad school is expensive, especially when all I really want is a conversation.”

“Well sure, I didn’t go to school until I knew what I wanted.” Wow. That was brave.

“I’m hoping, I guess, this literacy part time thing will open doors. I don’t have any really connections with the local educational community. University options sure didn’t help,” I complained.

“How about a blog?” Rene offered.

“Writing a blog would be cheaper.” The soft shadow teacher bit me quickly when I mentioned it. A Ph. D. was uppity and disconnected in some sense to my previous jobs, but the blog was just plain narcissistic. Wasn’t it? Reading, writing, teaching or learning, casually and truly for fun, felt a long time ago. “I think this must be what divorce feels like,” I concluded.

“You’ll find something,” Rene smirked.

“I’m weird! I made myself weird. At the time each decision to go back and forth to Guatemala had an objective and now no one knows what to do with me. I don’t know what to do with me. I’m undatable.”

“Regardless,” her pony tail bounced as she turned her head, “something will happen when you least expect it.”

“The professional club encompassing “teacher” feels very limited. Or at least that is the way my job search feels.” Limited or limiting? I wondered. “It’s so easy to think that I could just raise goats with my dad. Why not? Why should I deal with this professional life?”

“You make it sound like a relationship. I already fell in love once. Right now, teaching and I are just going to be friends.” Rene laughed. She handed out the themes for the remaining storytimes and it was decided we would meet again, including Kari, the summer intern, to look for materials. “I have piles of activities that go with your theme. I left them at home. I haven’t reclassified all my teacher stuff yet. I carried so many different envelopes and boxes back and forth these past years, and I never bothered to put them back.” Rene sipped her Diet Coke like it was the simplest choice to purchase. I still felt the sting from my first months in Peace Corps when I bought a Diet Coke to drink in front of students in a classroom who had no refreshment. I had a lot of voices in my head. I hoped I could recognize my own.

Rained out again, Kari and I babysat our library books in the park pavilion. “How did you want me to support Kari?” I had asked Rene. “You don’t need to worry about it,” Rene assured me. “I’m just focused on outreach.” Although Kari was in her third year facilitating library programming, she was about to begin her first year as a classroom teacher. The way she listed all the things she needed to do to prepare her classroom told me how nervous she was. Those outside adornments like the physical classroom always made it to the top of the list, and like my overflowing tub, were her means to define her own expertise and preparedness. “You’re going to make extra work for yourself,” I had warned during earlier conversations. “Wait to see how things unfold.”

“I would love to hear more about Guatemala,” Kari said, shocking me back to attention. “That would be amazing to travel. I’m excited to hear more about your experiences.” No matter how much I valued my learning those past ten years in Guatemala, they were also cuts, like the scrapes I still had on my wrists from the tubs. Some were quickly healing. Others would leave a lingering question of injury, the kind that could have been more phantom than real, and yet could still interrupt range of motion.

“Uh huh, sure.”

I wasn’t excited to talk, because I didn’t know how. None of the vocabulary seemed right to describe what I did or why I did it. I wouldn’t mind listening to her evolving teacher story though. She was so inspired. It must be nice, to be young and so in love.

Since that summer almost two years ago, I’ve come to understand that job histories and dating histories are very much the same thing, and people can be categorized accordingly. The soul mate searches believing that the “just right” position he or she can have for life, in sickness and in health, full of passion and meaning is out there, somewhere. The casual dater fills out applications, works 9-5 to pay the bills and can give two weeks without thinking twice because no position he or she takes really required much of a time commitment nor knowledge investment. The mother takes the job for minimal pay, never demands more and tows the company line believing that the work he or she is doing can demand any sacrifice. The control factor is so high in this individual that he or she will never leave because the individual truly believes his or her presence is that important to the machine. The best friend stays forever too, but for a different reason. This person is always on the margin of the better job. He or she works hard and goes the extra mile really believing that it will take “just one more” thing, the text, the present, the late night conversation, to convince the employer to value his or her potential as something more, the significant other, and all the love and accolades that goes with it. The best friend always runs the risk of sinking even lower into the booty call, depending on what that “just one more” thing is.

And then, there’s me, divorced. I thought I was the soul mate once. I tried to convince myself that I can be the casual dater. I don’t see the value in being the mother. I’ve been there. I can’t let myself be the best friend yet again. So, I wait to heal and see what’s next.

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