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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

the question pt 2

Yesterday, my dog busted into my room with a sprout of energy not dignified for 7 a.m. He leaped onto my bed, barking incessantly and obnoxiously at me. When I asked him, "Oliver, what are you doing?", he looked me directly in the eyes. And then he threw up.

Today, I witnessed a meet cute at the coffee shop I frequent. A young man in a plaid shacket and a rolling stones hoodie stopped to ask a blonde girl with curtain bangs and Doc Martens, "what book are you reading?". I watched her cheeks turn red, him shake her hand, ultimately culminating in an exchange of phone numbers. Of course, this is not alright with me. Why else do I carry a book with me everywhere, if not to be asked that exact question! I can put aside my jealousy and say, truly, I'm (almost) happy that she got to live out my dream. But, at any rate, it should have been me.

I attempted to order an iced coffee with vanilla. When the cashier enthusiastically sang my order back to me, and praised, "lavender, oh I love lavender," I had no choice but to swallow my disappointment and tap my card to the machine. I wonder often, what it is about me that stops me from doing a seemingly normal task, such as asking for the flavor of syrup that I want. No less, I couldn't be responsible for taking away the joy in her eyes as she sang the order to her coworker. So a lavender coffee it is. And it's actually pretty lovely.

The saying, "life works in mysterious ways" is true. I cannot tell you how many interviews I have ventured to (on zoom), where I was convinced (or more so, convincing myself), that I was going to get the job. I told friends, oh yeah I'm going to be a data consultant. Oh yeah, I'm going to work in sales. Oh yeah, I'm never going to be employed. Then, on a random Monday in March, I interviewed to be a teacher and by the end of the day, was offered a job as Middle School English Teacher.

After 41 weeks in the liminal space of being a postgraduate, I had finally accomplished that next step - my first real job. 41 weeks spent working through heartbreak, multi-level marketing schemes, robot interviews, depression, rejection, and confusion, I finally cracked the code. I took a selfie post-news and sent it to my family and friends. I bought a bottle of $12 champagne and baked myself a raspberry cake.

When you first graduate, the pressure is unrelenting. I know that I believed that my first real job had to be the "Thing". I refused to compromise my dreams for the sake of a career. So, I flubbed a financial writing test (subconsciously) on purpose and I only applied to jobs at NBC, where I am not a nepo baby. I hardly knew what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted it to be big and impressive. My self-doubt was contingent on whether I was impressive to those who might be expecting me to fail.

Then, I started this blog. It came at a time, when I couldn't answer questions about my future without making confusing jokes and turning the subject onto anything else. A time when I was so insecure, that I used to have my younger sister intensely proofread and edit my posts for content before I even considered putting them online. Then, I let humor overshadow my vulnerability, especially in my writing (I still do this in real life! ask my therapist).

This summer, came one of the (many) worst days of my life. As a result, my sister made me put on a pair of sneakers and go on a run with her. Well, I wasn't a runner, nor did I have the desire to do anything other than cry in my bed and pick myself apart. When she forced me on that run, I, like an abnormal person, started shouting all of my pent-up feelings as my out of shape legs hit the pavement. It was cathartic to yell out to the universe and ask, "WHEN DO I GET TO STOP FEELING THIS?"

I was desperate for an answer because I needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Since I was 12, I have dreaded life and been terrified of death. The people I have lost have chipped away at my interior and self-esteem. The people I have pushed away, well, I have carried them with me long since their absence had been solidified. My mind constantly operates in the past, a place of cushy discomfort and regret. When sad things happen, it's easy to try to explain them away from finding the logic and the pattern. When you have been a sad person all your life, it is easy to relegate that the problem is you.

When I graduated from college I felt like a broken person. In many ways, I was. Piece by piece I have put myself back together. I have accomplished most of that work through writing. Well, through this blog.

I didn't do it alone. I did it with good friends, with two amazing roommates (my parents), a therapist, my sisters, and of course, my dogs. When my own voice became too hard to hear, I replaced it with those of the people who love me. I heard my young sister telling me "it's okay to be a little mean sometimes" and my older sister saying "god, you really are the weirdest person I have ever met."

In all the time I have spent alone, I have gotten to know who I actually am. Not who I am when I want people to like me, or when I want to be funny, or taken seriously. Just, at the bare bones, who I am and what brings me joy.

Then, when I saw my high school year book the other day (and had that mental breakdown), I remembered that I had the most meaningful experience of my life when I spent time at Sacred Heart Summer Camp.

It's actually funny because I only signed up for the program at the behest of my older sister. I was a freshman in high school, 15, and terrified of being in charge of children all day. "I'm a child!," I told my sister, "I shouldn't be allowed to be an authority figure."

"It will be fine," she reassured me. "You might even end up loving it."

I was shaking in my bright purple sneakers and luckily in a white t-shirt that wouldn't show my sweat stains. I stepped foot into the camp for one second when a little girl walked up to me, tears welling my her eyes. "Kate told me that she doesn't want to be my friend anymore!" I looked around suddenly, wondering who the responsible party was that was going to deal with this problem. Then it dawned on me, I was the responsible party.

A natural instinct kicked in (call it maternal, or whatever), and I knelt down. "Would you like to take a quick walk into the hallway to talk about it?" She nodded, wiping a tear. I pulled the box of tissues off of the table and walked out with her. Whatever wisdom 15 year old me had to impart, it worked. We walked back into the cafeteria, her little hand reaching for mine. Maybe kids aren't so bad, I thought.

I volunteered there for four more years, connecting with the campers and dreading the end of the week, when the planning and excitement for camp was over and the kids said their tearful goodbyes. The campers would talk to me about the things they were going through, the bullies at school, the bullies in their lives. My heart sunk when the youngest camper didn't come back the last year I was there. I can still remember his little voice singing America the Beautiful, and I worry about what the world would bring him, if it would dull the unbridled joy in his tempo.

So maybe that's why I'd be a good teacher. Even though, it was not something I had ever really considered for myself. When people have told me that I gave the energy of a kindergarten teacher, I would get a little offended. (so you don't think I'm cool?). But, when I think about it now it just seems - right...I do wear a lot of bright colors after all.

I'm excited that this first job is an opportunity to do something meaningful. To deliver an education to a young mind at the crucial age of developing positive self-esteem. Growing up and having certain teachers care about me, push me to succeed, or recognize a talent in me, well that has been some of the goodness I have held onto in my life. If my junior year English teacher never told my dad that I was a "gifted writer", I don't know if I ever would have recognized that in myself. Maybe you'd never have this blog, so thank Ms. Levchuk for me.

I can't believe that I am old enough to be a teacher. I will say that I am so grateful for this opportunity and beyond ecstatic to see where the next year will take me. Until then (and the upcoming school year), I'm still enjoying my brief stint in retirement and my Free People discount.

Remember, especially for those in a limbo period, that life will work itself out for you. Every no is one step closer to a yes. Every loss brings you closer to the right thing for you. You are not lost or broken. You will laugh again. You will find your purpose. And you will do it because you can.

The next time someone asks me, "what are you doing?" I can finally answer with a clear smile and a sigh of relief. "I'm going to be a teacher."

-the employed friend

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