I had a dream two weeks ago, a stress dream. I left New York without notice. I fled the big city for orange tinted skies of the high deserts with my most trusted group of friends. Circling around my projects, prospects and fears, I received a call from a college advisor. I could feel his disappointment through my outdated, palm-sized iphone 5s screen. “Where are you?” We both knew I fucked up big time. I didn’t know how to process, let alone explain why. “I’m in New Mexico.” The college was counting on me to keep strong ties to what seemed like a nearly-impossible internship opportunity (without the help of prestigious and expectant alumni who literally created this job in the first place).
Like any dream that paints lucidity, the lighting around me was dim. Have you ever woken up at 2pm on a rainy sunday– after a long night of jumping and running, dancing and bruising, crashing and burning for no goddamn reason other than to feel like you are in control of your happiness? That’s what the lighting is like in a not-quite-lucid lucid dream. Gray, damp, and dingy- I need a screen to protect me from the world. The summer is finally coming to an end and the sun isn’t friendly. The accumulation of dust bunnies hide in the crevices of a kitchen counter- Next to it, there is a humming dehumidifier replacing an early bird’s song. It is soothing to not feel so alone.
“I’m so sorry, I can explain.” His face was planted on one of those GPS radars they had in airplane movies set before the 2000s, think Conair. The secrets of my subconscious are out on a black and green grid where he could see my plight, maybe he understood that my actions weren’t ill-willed but a cry for help. “That doesn’t change the fact that they’ll never take another antioch student now.” Near the end of the phone call, I ask him if it would be inappropriate to text my work supervisor- while I text said supervisor. “Not only is it inappropriate, it’s too late. They’ve hired a graduate student to take on the task. They’re not gonna change their minds just because you regret your decision to leave.”
I don’t remember if he hung up or if I did, but I cried once the call ended. I cried one of those hearty chunky sobs. Coyote ugly howling, I’m hungry enough to swallow the air and ready to feel a little less empty. The mountains are purple and red, the earth is loose under my feet and I look for the people I came with. I walk around a newly abandoned town with those fake adobe buildings you see in Santa Fe, only the gutters are turquoise and not brown. Timeless thoughts when the anxiety kicks in: I hope I made the right decision in tagging along. It seems like my new friends and old friends are getting along but this isn’t what I wanted for myself.
SPLICE— dream sequences don’t make sense at all until they do. My job…. Do you wanna hear about my job? Ok so, I work on 8th ave, excuse me.. Eighth Avenue. It’s a big blob of a building, shiny with five-two-oh hanging up on what I’m guessing is the right side of the 11th to 13th floor. I hope the people working in those offices have at least some sort of view of the busy-busy streets and catch a sliver of sunlight.
It might have been a Wednesday or a Thursday, all I know is I slept worried. From my pillow, my eyes are projecting a holographic- techno-advanced (let’s call it savvy)- message from my supervisor who is a Sagittarius. So, it all makes sense to me. Or maybe, I’m on a gurney in an emergency room, under the kind of light that only allows you to see a floating figure in a somewhat indeterminate situation. No one is sure whether or not you will actually live through this. All I know is, I slept worried. “You need to S-P-L-I-C-E. Splice Michelle. Look at what you’ve got and slice it, cut it up, and make those dimensions into cubes. Side by side, diagonally- link the photos and prints and all those weird questions you have onto a timeline that you can take apart, rearrange, and put together again. Almost like it’s destruction- ripping everything apart, is itself a new artifact. If you know it well enough, you’ll be able to put it back together again.”
What does that mean to me, a twenty-four year old who’s dying wish is to pass linear algebra?
No sugar in my coffee, actually no coffee at all.
After six years of travel and relocating to two states and five different countries, I never saw myself becoming susceptible to culture shock in the midwest. But working as a legal assistant for Antioch Alum Phillip Brigham has proven otherwise. What I mean to say is this: for someone who has never had 1) an interest in studying law and 2) any office experience, I signed up to do something knowingly new and challenging. I don’t regret it at all.
The first time I visited in Chicago was in August of 2017. It was the weekend the Charlottesville protests happened. I remember walking into a bar serving happy hour prices to meet a longtime friend in Rogers Park. It took a couple of minutes before we, and everyone else, faced two flat screens displaying live coverage of the violence that broke out. Weirdly enough, I was relieved to be in a big city during a personal and historical time of disillusionment. In some ways, the five days I spent in Chicago evoked a patience for personal and political growth. I returned to Antioch in the haze of rust belt humidity on a sunday afternoon with four other students, dosing in and out of a mid-quarter crisis, entertaining my next big move.
When the time came to apply for jobs, I was so sure about moving to Chicago that I only applied to work as a legal assistant. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never had an office job nor did I own any work attire. The closest I’ve come to bringing any decent court-appearance outfit to life is wearing a beige faux-suede tommy hilfiger blazer, a white cotton turtleneck, and chunky black platforms with tassels. Aware of how people might not even look twice at my outfit when they are already staring at my siren red pixie cut/ nose ring combo. On the first day on the job, I photocopied god knows how many bank statements and uploaded them to smokeball, a very popular software among lawyers that organizes and shares legal files. I went through hundreds of text messages, googled spanish internet slang, and decided whether or not there was something more to them than I previously thought. It was tedious, it was thrilling, and it felt important. Telling my family and friends that I was working for a lawyer was both surreal and rewarding. But the next morning, I woke up worried about what important “somebodies”would think about my clothing in court, or how I would keep up with the constant responsibility to complete tasks with little experience in a legally bound high paying service industry. I put on the outfit I bought at Macy’s for my second day at work and looked at myself in the mirror. Instead of feeling like Dana Scully’s semi-casual sister, I asked myself, “Is this the best you can do? How do you expect to hide that you’re inexperienced.” Drowsy and insecure, I bought a coffee to power through a mid day dip.
That was a bad idea, it all felt like a bad idea. Moving to a big city was a bad idea, working in an office was a bad idea.
There aren’t that many things that make me anxious like coffee does. It took less than hour for me to feel my heart in my throat and tears in the corner of my eyes. This is when I decided to go on my first and only hour lunch break. I walked into a barnes and noble cafe, bought some quick eats and did the best thing I could think of. I called my mom.
I think she’s used to it. I think she’s used to me living in different places every six months. I think she’s used to me working for very rich people, the same people she cleans houses for. My mom has heard me call myself inadequate plenty times before and this was no different.
I apologized to her for not appreciating the sacrifices she made when she moved to the US from Guatemala thirty years ago. I told her that I was afraid of failing others. And that’s when she stopped me and said “ jamás te olvides de tu meta, enfócate en tu meta y lograras el conocimiento y experiencia que necesitas.” Never forget your goal, focus on your goal and you will achieve the knowledge and experience you need. She’s said this to me before and it won’t be the last time she reminds me that despite the many odds against me, focusing on my personal efforts will get me to where I need to be. She reminded me that I was exactly where I needed to be doing exactly what I needed to do. I don’t really care how cheesy it sounds, this really is how I was able to wipe away my tears, take several sips of sparkling water, return to work, and enjoy my first friday in the city.
Now here I am, week seven, Tuesday night with a brewski and listening to a tape recording my boss made for Anti-Watt (student run radio station) in 1994. I’ve continued to better my spanish through translating documents, meet judges in their chambers, and prepare proposals for clients. Along the way I’ve made some friends, learned about law in Illinois, had a couple of weird tinder dates, and other things that you just don’t write in a blog post… oh and no sugar in my coffee please, actually no coffee at all.