The Restructure

A work of fiction.

[the scene: a conference room set up with rows of chairs facing the front. Thirty or so workers in office attire file in dutifully. A woman with perfectly coiffed hair, and the detached air of a circling shark (“Shark Woman”) is flicking back and forth through PowerPoint slides being projected onto a screen at the front of the room. A Man enters the room and the energy shifts, the meeting is now ready to begin. The woman takes position at the front of the room. The man sits on a chair to her right]

Shark Woman: I just want to start off by saying how happy that George and I both are to have you all here today. This is a great turnout, isn’t it a just a great turn out George [she gestures to her right but doesn’t turn her head. The man remains stony faced].

Shark woman: I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are thrilled that George, our CEO and “fearless leader” [the woman makes air quotes as she says this] was able to join us today. I think we all appreciate how busy George’s schedule is, in light of recent developments. Can I just ask for a quick round of applause for George for showing up today?

[the crowd claps politely. George eyes the room impassively. Shark Woman waits for the clapping to die down]

SW: you may be wondering why we have organised this meeting, George and I appreciate how busy you are so we will endeavour not to take up too much of your time. You may have heard rumours of a restructure and I want to put these rumours to rest. To allay your fears once and for all. George and I are really a united front on this.

[murmuring breaks out among the audience]

SW: George and I would like to take this opportunity to field questions from you, the team.

[a woman raises her hand]

SW: Yes, Sandra, what is your question

Sandra: so the rumours of a restructure are untrue?

SW: That’s a great question. I would like to address your question by acknowledging the broader context in which we operate. I am sure you can appreciate that the sector is in a time of continual change, and in order to remain competitive we need to change along with it. This situation isn’t unique to us, in fact I would say it is affecting our colleagues and competitors across the sector. If anything they are faring much worse than us! I think we should all feel really good about that actually

Sandra: [interrupting] so there is a restructure then? I thought you said you were putting the rumours to rest?

SW: [narrowing her eyes] yes, by confirming that the rumours were, in fact, true. NEXT QUESTION

[a man raises his hand timidly]

SW: Ahmed yes, what is your question for George?

Ahmed: Umm yes. Thank you. So, by restructure do you mean downsize? As in, will jobs be lost [the crowd murmurs]

SW: Thanks for that question Ahmed, that is a really great question. George and I really appreciate you coming along today. I think it is safe to say, that in an organisation as large as this it can be quite a challenge to see the forest from the trees! It just makes sense then to thin out some of the dead wood. In these uncertain times the imperative exists to be fiscally responsible. We want to build for the future, but we don’t want to borrow from the past to do so. That would set an incredibly dangerous precedent, I think we can all agree on that NEXT QUESTION

[a short woman stands up. SW eyes her suspiciously]

SW: yes Alex?

Alex: What is the timeline on this? Who is affected? I have kids in school!

SW: [her face morphing into an approximation of a smile] Look these are valid concerns, and I thank you for bringing them to the table. I think you can appreciate that George and I have a heck of an undertaking in front of us. Massive. How long does it reach to achieve all of our outcomes? Satisfy all of our stakeholders? Trim the fat off the bone? How long is a piece of string Alex? [SW gestures magnanimously around the room]. Believe me on this colleagues, George and I are working on a full suite of real-world solutions for these very complex problems, and these will be communicated to you all in the fullness of time NEXT QUESTION

[the audience is mumbling, audibly concerned about this turn of events. George remains impassive, his eyes glued to the back of the room. SW has cemented the smile to her face]

SW: I think we have time for one more question?

Sandra: I hardly think this is the appropriate venue for this? Where is the consultation?

SW: That’s some great feedback. Really great. George and I are really going to take that on board. I want to thank you for your contribution Sandra. Unfortunately we have run out of time. We can’t reasonably expect to take up any more of George’s time, the restructure is keeping him very busy as I am sure you can all appreciate! As we move beyond the design phase of the restructure, beyond the communication phase, and into the implementation phase of the restructure then I am sure George will have some time to breathe again! But until that happens it will be all hands on deck!

[the room is quiet. A man in the back row is crying silently]

SW: This has been a great meeting. Really great. I feel like we really broke down some barriers here. And believe me team, I can say in all sincerity that George and I are looking forward to a productive and fiscally responsible future with some of you.

[in a sweeping motion SW leads George from the room. Both exit]

[the room is quiet. A woman scrolls through Seek on her mobile phone]

Father’s Day

Skull by coda, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  coda 

Sunday, the 6th of September 2015 was Father’s Day in Australia.

Saturday, the 25th of October 2014 was the day my 61 year old Dad passed away from liver cancer.

You do the math.

I had anticipated that a lot of days following Dad’s death would be painful. Christmas was one of these. Not that my Dad enjoyed Christmas, he despised it openly and vocally to anyone who visited our house at that time of year. He would sit in his usual corner of the living room (every Dad has their own I suppose) ranting ineffectually about the money wasted, and the crowds, and the spoiled children. Meanwhile my Mum was hoarding presents in the linen cupboard and the top shelves of wardrobes, in preparation for the big reveal. The pain of Christmas day that year was less about his contribution than his absence. He wasn’t there to complain.

To be honest I can’t remember how we spent his birthday in early January. My guess there would have been a lot of forced jocularity between my brother and I, in an effort to keep Mum’s head above water. She is barely buoyant at the best of times, but on this occasion I was worried she would disappear altogether.

At least I anticipated that though. A milestone people ‘warned’ me about. “It will be hard” they said, and in response I gritted my teeth and thought “it can’t be any harder than what has preceded it”. Marking the first of his birthday’s after his passing would in no way be more difficult than witnessing the way cancer ravaged his body and stole from him his ‘grey nomad‘ dreams. Following his diagnosis and his rapidly failing health our small family, my Mum, my brother, my Dad and I, closed ranks, drew closer, while in the shadows, in the alone time, we fell apart.

While his birthday was fucking hard, in no way was it harder than experiencing that.

After my Dad died, I took a week off work. The “work” I reference is of course paid employment. I was lucky that I both had access to paid leave, and a job I could return to. However this was not time “off”. I would rather attend a thousand lunch time meetings than organise my father’s funeral. Discuss payment plans with a funeral director. Sit in a house full of stuff which has become unmoored. Existing in a weird in between place of not being ours but not exactly being his either. Sorting through belongings and wills. This of course does not fall under the banner of work. However it was expected and it was needed and it couldn’t be outsourced and so it was done. I had known this moment was coming ever since I learned of Dad’s diagnosis, and when it came it was every bit as horrendous as I imagined it would be.

No one thinks planning their father’s funeral is going to be easy.

My daughter started school this year. There have been hat parades and book parades and endless events at which grandparents are always fucking invited. Please come to grandparents day! said the push notification from the school’s app (which as an aside seems to be programmed to remind me that I am a shitty Mum at the most inopportune moments). Some of these moments pass by with a whisper, some with a wail, but each of them I see coming. I prepare myself. I give my very best ‘stiff upper lip’ and by god they won’t see me cry.

Which is why I was surprised at the intensity of my grief at Father’s day.

I got a sneak preview. I had come home from work and I was flicking mindlessly through a pile of catalogues. They were thematically linked but my tired brain didn’t automatically put together the pieces. There were boxer shorts and cheap, embossed tool sets. T-shirts emblazoned with ‘World’s coolest Dad!’ and car washing kits. I flicked and I paused and I flicked and I paused and two thoughts passed through my mind in quick succession: 1. Shit, not again. What are you going to get Dad for Fath.. 2. Oh.

Oh.

Perversely I even felt a sense of relief. Dad was difficult to buy for, and made a big deal out of not wanting anything to the point that giving him gifts was an awkward exercise all around. On the father’s day before he died my Dad was on a week long trip that my brother and I paid for in order to give just a small (far too small) taste of the retirement travel he had spent his entire adult life planning for. So he got no tacky “gift” last year either. In the years directly preceding his diagnosis we would take him out for Indian food, and strangely he would insist on having my brother and I order. My daughter, then a toddler would spill rice all over the ground and inevitably get butter chicken all over her “good” clothes. My brother and I would compete to see who could make Dad laugh the most. While he was a morose man he loved to laugh. His favourite saying was “Life’s shit and then you die” which sounds horrendous, but made sense in the context of a man who went through some extraordinarily shitty things in his short life.

With a lapful of catalogues full of laughing male models and their placid wives and their giggling children I sobbed. I sobbed in a way I had managed to avoid for some time.

When Dad died my grief was all enveloping. It wasn’t just an emotion, it was a physiological experience. I was wracked with full body sobs. I would talk to my daughter about whatever it was that was happening at that time (which I can honestly say I don’t remember) but it was a very clear feeling of surviving, white knuckling through every single moment of every single day. I didn’t register her presence, I just did enough to get through the interaction so I could get back to the full time occupation of existing. Even though I spent most of the early days preceding and following the death of my Dad in a state of tight lipped obstinance, inside I felt as raw and bloody as an open wound. Vulnerable, exposed, and ultimately ashamed of my very human-ness. A yawning chasm of pain.

I appear to have now passed my socially sanctioned “grieving time”. My Dad doesn’t come up in conversation, and unless asked I won’t bring him up. A few days after returning to work a few cards appeared on my desk, signed by colleagues I barely knew, with all of the appropriate platitudes. I was told by a well meaning manager to “take all the time [you] need”, however this offer wasn’t followed up with any kind of concrete support (who would do my work in my absence?) and the matter was never raised again. Now friends don’t ask and I don’t offer. When my Mum brings him up in conversation I will contribute, reminisce, but at the same time my jaw is set. This isn’t the day my resolve will fade. This isn’t the day I will bleed my pain over everyone, not when they need me. At least this is what I tell myself. Perhaps the pain is too much to feel so I avoid it all costs. The grief is too messy. It bleeds into my professional demeanour, into my closely guarded private life. Perhaps it is a wound I salve with work, and business, and the emotional labour of motherhood. Perhaps I don’t sit still long enough to come to that conclusion.

Over time the pain has mostly dulled. The taste of blood has left my mouth, the scab has fallen off. I am aware of my grief now as more of a background emotion. It is a brittle bone, flesh dissolved by hungry ants and bleached white by the unforgiving sun. It exists, but fades into the background, disappearing into the sand. However as bones age they splinter, and the sharp edges cause me to bleed when I don’t want to, or least expect it. I am beginning to learn that I can’t avoid my grief because the shards are embedded in me.

Father’s day came and went, as do all days. To mark the occasion my family and I visited a horrendous “all-you can-eat” buffet which my Nan insisted we go to, despite it being entirely unsuitable and completely lacking on food suitable for vegetarians. We raised a toast to the Dad’s not with us (my Dad and my Pa) and we talked about other things. My daughter ate far too much toosghetti and I drank far too much wine. The day was entirely unremarkable, yet entirely out of the ordinary because my Dad wasn’t there, and wasn’t ever going to be there again.

My daughter won’t know him. She won’t buy him a gift from the school’s father’s day stall. She won’t make him a card which sheds glitter all over the house, giving him something to complain about. We won’t share another Indian meal. He won’t laugh at something my brother says. He won’t call me girl. He won’t call my brother boy. No one else calls us that.

The bone stands in stark contrast to the blue horizon. It could easily go unnoticed, half buried as it is in the white sand. However, take the time to look and you just might see it.

I’m trying my best not to.

Employment (In)security and Shame: Working Hard on Soft Money

For those of you who are familiar with my blog, you would know that I am a long term casual academic, who last year was able to gain fractional employment within the tertiary sector under a short term contract as a professional member of staff. I am very fortunate in that this opportunity has afforded me a modicum of security and financial stability. This set of circumstances occurred at both a good and bad time for me. Last year my Dad became ill with liver cancer and died, while earlier this year my husband had to go undergo spinal surgery and is unable to work full-time while he is in recovery. In my writing I have acknowledged both my extreme privilege in being able to access paid leave concessions during these stressful experiences, while also acknowledging that the precariousness of my working situation has meant that I have never quite felt comfortable enough in my position to take full advantage of them. I am employed year-to-year and it just so happened that I was in the position of having to apply for my own position just a short time after having buried my Dad.

Needless to say, 2014 wasn’t the best year for me.

However due to my hard work, and the successes of my project, I am now acknowledged on my institution’s public webpages as a member of staff. From the outside it may appear that I may have even made it. I am liked and respected, perhaps even valued by my colleagues and peers. However the nature of my employment has meant that I have never felt like I was properly a part of the institution. Still no tinsel for me.

And soon I may not be. I very recently learned that the grant body which funds my position may be withdrawing their support for my project into 2016. Not because of any wrongdoing on my part. Not because of any dissatisfaction from the student participants of the project I am a part of, if anything the opposite is true. Not because of anyone’s individual cruelty, this is the system and the system works in its own obtuse way. Not because of budgetary mishandling or political maneouvreing or any kind of strategic misstep on my part, but simply because the priorities of this group has shifted onto other projects. This is simply the nature of soft funding, one minute you have it and the next you don’t. Now this decision isn’t fait accompli. I was tasked with writing an “impact statement” which would outline the risks to the university if funding was not to continue from this source. I wrote one, a damn good one, which made salient points about the welfare of the students and the need we were addressing. Later in the year I will learn of the outcome of this appeal. Until then I continue to work under the BAU model, making plans for the future and operating under the tenuous assumption that everything will be just fine.

I am in limbo. My position is funded up until 31 December 2015, but after that there is no certainty. If and when funding is secured (either from this original source, or internally sourced) then my job will still not likely be secure as, like last year, I will be put into the position of writing my own position description, and again applying for my own job. Sound familiar?

This is entirely circumstancial, and none of these events are a reflection of my skills, abilities, or dedication to the role that I have. I know this intellectually. I understand that a staggering 8 out of 10 workers employed within higher education in Australia are employed under either casual or short term contracts contracts (boy do I know). Lots of people know about it. The NTEU know about it. Actual Casuals know about. There has been an academic conference dedicated to these issues. I am not unlike so many of my friends and colleagues in the sector, insecure, overworked, and possibly soon even unemployed.

Then why do I feel so fucking ashamed?

Today I was on my phone at work, speaking to a friend on the phone about a conference submission we were working on. She asked me how I was and naturally, this was at the forefront of my mind. I hesitated in telling her, not because I thought she would judge me (quite the opposite in fact) but because I work in an open plan office and didn’t want the people I work with to know my secret. Because they might judge me. Because they might blame me. Because they might think I brought this upon myself with incompetence, or laziness, or stupidity.

I told my friend anyway, playing it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but I could feel my face burning. My dirty secret was out, a secret not mine to keep, a secret not a secret at all.

It has always been important to me that people know how hard I work, how dedicated I am to what I do. I am often the first to arrive in the office and among the last to leave. Now we are in the middle of Australia’s winter I frequently walk to my car in the dark, using my phone’s flashlight function to illuminate the way. I try I try I try so. fucking. hard.

Perhaps the root of my shame: I am a decidedly “working class” girl. My Dad was a hard-working electrician, my Mum “stayed at home”. We lived in a fibro house in what is classified as a Low SES area – my living situation had its own statistical category. We had a nice house and I am proud of how hard my Dad worked to provide for us, but we certainly were not “well off”. I was also the first in my family to attend university. My family was all incredibly proud of me for attending university, even if they didn’t always understand what I did there (my major was Communications, my Nan would tell people I studied primary school teaching, or psychology, or English literature, as the mood struck her). I had their full support to do the thing, even when the benefits of the thing became muddied. Even after I dropped out of my PhD there was still a certain amount of prestige for them associated with me being a “tutor” (now known as casual academic, a term which conveys prestige that tutor never did). But by withdrawing from the PhD, and never extending beyond the role of the casual academic, I feel like I failed my hardworking and principled family. Conversely I also failed the institution by never quite being good enough for them, ultimately failing to get the PhD that meant so much to me. By never properly escaping from the trap of casual academia all I proved (to myself, if no one else) was that I didn’t work hard enough. My academic successes were shared by my family and my institution, my failures were mine alone. Over time I came to reframe my misguided dedication to academia as a noble pursuit, a higher calling, to mask the shame I felt as having failed within a system in which there is little-to-no chance to succeed in the first place.

However a decade later my insistence in remaining loyal to the sector has paid off, in a fashion. I have secured work I enjoy. I am good at it. I am starting to build a profile. And now the chance exists that the rug will be pulled out from under me.

Richard Kuttner (cited in Bertram) notes that the ‘new’ economy has destabilised the central premise of the ‘old work economy’, that being that a worker’s commitment and loyal service to her employer would be rewarded over time with security and advancement opportunities. However, as Eva Bertram argues, with downsizing and deindustrialisation within the new economy, employment now comes with little to no security. As has long been discussed in regards to the increased casualisation and precarity of employment within the tertiary sector in particular, employee loyalty and commitment are a decidedly irrational decision. There is no security in higher education in Australia. While regular employment “provides the anchor for spatial and temporal aspects of daily life” (Wilson in Bertram) Bertram notes that:

Today however, incoherence and unpredictability are not only a hallmark of unemployment, but also are the characteristics of many jobs

Work in the tertiary sector in Australia is indeed both incoherent and unpredictable. It makes no sense for casual and limited term contract employees to be loyal to the tertiary institutions they work for. I know from my own experience that my loyalty, commitment, and dedication are unlikely to be acknowledged, let alone rewarded, in this current climate. Yet I was a casual academic for over a decade. I know of higher education workers who have worked for even longer on back-to-back limited-term contracts, only to find out at the eleventh hour after all of those years of service, that they didn’t have a job to return to after Christmas. I know of an exceptional academic who worked as a subject coordinator in one session, only to be scrambling for work the next. These stories aren’t the exception in higher education in Australia, they are the rule.

I knew all of those things. I know them intimately. I blog about them for goodness sake. And yet still I try. Still I commit. Still I return to my car in the dark. Still I miss the soccer practice and the school pick ups. Still I irrationally hope that my hard work will be rewarded with security, opportunities for advancement, recognition of my contribution.

As well as being ashamed, I think I am also angry. Over the twelve months I have sacrificed time I could have spent with my daughter, who this year entered kindergarten. I sacrificed time I could have used to look after myself both physically and emotionally following the illness and death of my Dad. My working class background, coupled with my long term history of precarious employment has left me feeling ashamed and guilty. I am angry at my own perceived childishness for investing in the seemingly naïve notion that hard work is always recognised and rewarded in due course. I am angry at myself. I am angry at being in this position yet again.

I know this problem is much bigger than me, my friends and colleagues, my Twitter allies. These are issues that need to be addressed at the systemic level. I don’t have answers, only a drive to see positive change in the sector that I am a part of, however tenuously. Join the #securework Tweetup on Friday and share your stories. I know I will.

Part 5: The quiet room

In order to get some respite from the hordes of family who have taken over my house, I decide to “look after Ms 5” by which I mean lie on the bed like a petulant teenager and scroll through Twitter. Around 4 I get the call from my husband’s surgeon. His surgery had taken longer than expected (6.5 hours compared to 4) but he was well, and would be transfered to the ward in 15 minutes.

Knowing that time is a malleable concept in the hospital system I choked down a “salad sandwich” comprised of crunchy tomato, limp lettuce, and stale bread. My baser needs satisfied I was off!

Parking didn’t prove much easier the second (third?) time around, but I managed to find a park which while not being in the direct vicinity of the hospital, was at least in the same postcode. While walking I received another phone call, this time from a nurse on the ward, the same one who had written down my number before: my husband was on his way to the ward, now was the time to visit!

After the day’s earlier calamities my spirits were buoyed. I was finally going to see him and know for myself if he was ok.

Through the hospital’s entrance I walked, down the hall, then up the lift to level 4.

When I arrived I was told that my husband had not yet begun the journey from the theatre to the ward, so I was directed to sit and wait in the “quiet room”.

While the waiting room from earlier in the day had been grey, the quiet room had beige as its defining motif. The carpet was beige, the walls a different shade of beige, and the furniture was the most delightful shade of brown melamine. There was a side table that I recognised as being from The Reject Shop. I admit I know this because I have this same ‘piece’ in my house.

This was a dreary room. A depressing room. A room for receiving bad news in. A room for making unfortunate phone calls in. A room for being quiet.

The guy perched awkwardly on the end of the lounge we were sharing had a different interpretation of the term “quiet” than I did. He was watching a YouTube video on his phone of an interview with the boxer Mohammad Ali. At full volume.

The quiet room was not devoid of decoration. There were 4 ‘prints’ which looked remarkably like wrapping paper presented in cheap metal certificate frames. There were also some aging wilting flowers which had been cast aside by patients past. Lastly, one wall of the quiet room was dominated by a pair of brown curtains. I pulled the curtains aside to reveal:

IMG_20150223_172508what appeared to be an xray screen. The curtain was an affectation, an attempt at homeliness in a beige and sanitised space. The quiet room used to be a consultation room.

Fifteen minutes turned into thirty turned into forty five. My phone’s battery died, leaving me with the windowless curtains to ponder. My fellow quiet room patron started to watch another video. I couldn’t tell you what or who he was watching, just that they fancied themselves a comedian and bandied about the “n word” a lot. It cut through the silence like nails on a chalkboard. The tension was palpable, or maybe it was just me.

Then lo! A wild nurse appeared. 30 minutes he tells me, not long at all! I might have believed it an hour ago, but now i’m not so sure.

The die is cast. I sit in the not-so-quiet quiet room and I continue to wait.

Part 4: A fuck up of biblical proportions

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

It appears someone has installed a revolving door in my house. Social conventions have gone out the window as well-meaning family members let themselves in and out without knocking, without so much as calling out. I am resentful at their intrusion on my space, then feel shitty at myself for feeling resentful. They are helping! Stop being an ungrateful bitch! I can hear them now, taking up all of the chairs in the living room, making awkward small talk.

3 pm comes and I drive to the hospital. Cars are circling like sharks around prey. I get lucky and find a spot to park in, albeit one on the dark side of the moon. It is only for two hours but that should be fine… it should be fine..

I drag myself up the hill. The clothes that were suitable at 6 in the morning are now far too hot and heavy. I am sweating and anxious and feel sick. It doesn’t help that I haven’t eaten since this morning, but surely that mascarpone should tide me over? I enter the hospital entrance and walk with conviction, walk with purpose, whereas really I am just walking the way that the architecture ostensibly leads me to go.

I get to lifts and give up my one-woman mission. I ask a young guy who could be an intern or a specialist, I can never tell. Without taking his eyes off his phone he directs me to level 4. The lift carries me up.

I get out and walk until I find a desk. Visiting hours have just started but there appear to be people everywhere. Am I late? Could I have already got here? A nurse asks who I am looking for. I say my husband’s name and the woman repeats it as if she has never heard of such a person. Hell she probably hasn’t. He is my husband and I need to know if he is okay.

The woman is on the phone. She talks to numerous people in order to ascertain that my husband is still in theatre. All bustle and business she reports to me that he will be at least another two hours, if not more. I ask if something has gone wrong, if I should be concerned. She answers as if by rote that she doesn’t know, but that it is likely he was bumped back for another surgery, perhaps an emergency came in overnight, perhaps perhaps perhaps. I am welcome to wait but they will ring next of kin, explaining it to me as if I am a small child. “that’s me!” I exclaim “I am his wife!”. She takes down my number on a slip of paper I am convinced will never been seen again before asking me to repeat my husband’s name. She writes my name besides his, joined with an arrow. My connection to my husband reduced to a road marker.

I want to scream his name. I want everyone in this ward to know his name! I know it, it is burnt into my skin. I am trying not to cry, I am angry and upset. This is a fuck up of biblical propoertions and yet a completely ordinary misunderstanding. I should have called first. I should have eaten lunch. I want them to know my husband’s name. I don’t express any of this. Instead I say “… oh okay thanks”. I turn on my heels and take the lift downstairs. Then begins my long walk back to the car.

Part 3: A parental call to arms

You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

I hit publish on this when the phone rings. Not my mobile, which I expect to ring, but the home phone which we only keep connected because parents and in-laws tend to be averse to using their mobiles. My heart is in my throat as I have no idea who would be calling that number and why. I hurry to answer it.

After pleasantries are exchanged I am asked if I am Mum to Ms 5. I answer in the affirmative. “She just vomited” the voice on the phone tells me. “I will come and get her right away” I answer.

A parental call to arms. Regardless of the other dramas that might be happening, and my overwhelming compulsion to sit around feeling sorry for myself, I race to Ms 5’s school.

I park illegally and half-walk/half-run into the office. A kindly office lady brings my baby out. She is pale and shaking, vomit splatters the front of her school tunic. “There was red in her vomit, did she drink red cordial?” she asks kindly. “At a party yesterday, yes, red cordial” I reply, hoping that it is in fact red cordial and not a sign of something more sinister. She did attend a party yesterday, against better judgment she drank red cordial. But what if? I shut that thought down quickly. That is not an option.

I bundle her home. Bubble bath is run, toast is made and promptly goes cold. A fever has gripped my baby, we argue about medicine which she stubbornly refuses to take. She is now in bed, on my husband’s side, watching a movie on our TV. I am jumpy, every movement sounds like the beginnings of a vomit. I hear my phone making phantom noises. What if someone needs to contact me? What if what if what if

Plans are rearranged. No ballet for Ms 5 this afternoon, likely no school tomorrow either. Work commitments flicker on the edge of my consciousness. Lists and lists and lists of tasks to do. Time critical tasks. A husband in surgery who needs me. A child in bed who needs me.

I want to not be needed for five minutes. That doesn’t change the fact that I am.

I feel sick I feel sick I feel sick.

It isn’t even 2 pm.

Part 2: “I’ll have the special”

I went from the hospital waiting room after saying my goodbyes, to the beach. Well, not directly to the beach as I had to navigate the labyrinthine car park in order to even leave the premises. The parking machine didn’t take credit cards, I somehow took three wrong turns in the car park itself and for a while found myself unable to leave. Trying not to cry, trying not to become overwhelmed, failing on both counts.

Eventually I escaped and found myself at the beach. I left the hospital and went to the beach without even really knowing why. I drove there because it is a scenic place to be, and I know how to get there, and the parking is easy at that time of the morning. Mind you, I don’t have to justify that decision to anyone as there is no one to justify it to, but here we are.

A man is sitting in the gutter, covered in blood. A police car is next to him, with its lights flashing. His bike lays mangled up on the grass. I don’t know what happened. He is alive I guess, as am I. Traffic slows to take in this spectacle. I avert my eyes and park my car.

I sit myself in a cafe after being directed by wait staff to sit anywhere I like. I wait 20 minutes and realise no one is coming. I don’t have the mental energy to flag down a waitress so I sit somewhere more public. When asked what I want I order my usual coffee (you know the one) and “the special”. I order it because reading the menu is confusing, plus the special has mascarpone which a) sounds delicious and b) i have never had. Now seems like as good a time as any to try mascarpone. I am not entirely sure what it is but if pressed I would say it was a kind of cheese.

When the food comes I take a photo of it and post it to instagram with the caption “heaven”. I have no idea why I do this as heaven is a place that some people think dead people go to. I don’t. The food isn’t heavenly. The pancakes are slightly burnt and weigh heavily on me. I cram it into my mouth in that half distracted way that you do in order to satisfy yourself, in an attempt to not feel feelings. Despite the pancakes being burnt and sickly, when the waitress returns I tell her “it’s lovely, thanks”. What else can I possibly say?

On autopilot I drive home. My daughter is at school so I am bouncing about the house. I write a blog post. My sister-in-law (who I appreciate more than I can ever express) drives out to my house and sits with me. I spew stream of consciousness things at her about my worries and fears, work, the recent death of my Father, clothes we both like. She brings me coffee and listens and offers no solutions because sometimes there are none to offer. She leaves as she needs to and should, full of unnecessary apologies. I am now alone.

I am agitated. My hands are shaking. People are sending me supportive messages on Facebook and Twitter and I reply with smiling face emoticons. There is no “agitated, hands shaking emoticon”. I am running on adrenaline and caffeine.

My husband was admitted at 6:30am. It is now 12pm. I will see him in 3 hours.

For now I will wait.