I could have guessed that I would have to wear a mask, even for simple everyday transactions (picking up paychecks, buying coffee, buying groceries, chit-chatting with the boss’s secretary, securing another quart of bourbon, the usual stuff).
I would not have guessed that my own personal sense of the fall of the empire would come when I was informed that my older son’s school was switching to 2 days a week. Meaning not just that my bright and active 6 year old would be offered 60% less education, but that whatever stopgap measure in place for the other 3 days would involve someone less credentialed, and paid approximately 60% less than his teacher — who this past year was no great shakes, let’s not fool ourselves.
Nor would I have guessed that my own particular version of clinging to the precipice of sanity would consist, madly, of crafting a rather elegant letter to my school board member pleading with her please please please don’t go down to 2 days a week. Don’t try to avoid state receivership (what. the. fuck. really? Sacramento is as bad as Oakland?) by pulling a 3-card monte of “hide the teacher”: “whoops, no that’s an AmeriCorps volunteer! You’ve won a prize little sucker! Here’s your cheap imitation substitute for real satisfaction at Vanity Fair!”
I would not have guessed that the creeping sense of vocational irrelevance would not affect me, not least because my own work continues, at least for the time being, to be relevant to those higher up in the pecking order. And that while it may be the case that the particular credentials that the bureaucracy for which I work issues may soon be irrelevant, “soon” is not “now,” and so I still have a job.
I could have guessed that it would consist of my reading a history of disinformation campaigns in the 20th century. Which so far makes for compelling history, but does not add up to much in the way of social science.
Also, I could totally have guessed that at this point in the collapse of civilization I would up to beginner level 10 in Duolingo Norwegian, and intermediate level 3 in French. Who wants to fuck around with utility. Go for art. Go for fjords. Go Simon Biles and do that goddamn straightup backflip. Go for the fucking gold in the Olympic biathalon year after goddamn year.
I should have guessed, but would not have, that it would end with my older boy noting, every day, that his favorite thing about summer camp is finally getting to play on the playground. I should also have known, and did not want to acknowledge, that it would end with my younger boy crying himself to sleep every night, every single fucking night, because the darkness is scary and the dad who’s there to sit with you always has to leave at some point. Always.