Saturday, August 11, 2007

I'm so tired, I'm so tired of tryin'

We see a lot of regulars in my line of work. Usually, they're middle-aged, lifelong residents of the community, people with a lot to lose if our project lands on their street.

I spend my Saturdays under a blue tent for the job I'll refer to as Mayhem Inc., alternately sharing information with curious residents and being snapped at by people who think what we're doing is a front. This used to be funny, but now I find I'm breaking the cardinal rule of neutrality by nodding along as the critics rant. The thing is, they're right. We do know what we want to do. Most likely, we're going to do it, unless a vote or a major funding glitch derails the project. I want to tell you more, but I can't. Just like I can't divulge anything to the public beyond what I'm instructed to say. People come to me with hopeful expressions, asking if I can tell them what will happen to their street, their house. I tell them the half-truth: no, I can't, because we don't know. Often, we really do not: big projects take years to gel, and the block-by-block effects change over time...but I do know that their neighborhood is going to be impacted, and I usually know whether it's going to be serious.

And I cannot say a thing.

This afternoon, a man I know from one of our advisory groups said he felt sorry for us, because he wouldn't want to be in a position where he had to lie to poor people. He wanted to know how we slept at night when we did such dirty work for our supervisors.

"Put yourself in my shoes," he said.

"You don't know anything about me," I told him.

"No, but I doubt you've been as hard-up as the people I know."

By conventional definitions, he's right. Still, I wanted to take him by the hand and walk him to my car, where we could drive to the apartment I'm renting. I wanted to show him the empty spot next to me in my bed. To haul out the bank statements, the expired visa, the month-to-month lease and the health insurance I'm fighting to keep. I wanted to tell him that I spent Thursday being lectured, like a dog, behind a closed door in a conference room, because I'd been audacious enough to ask for more work than I was assigned. I'm not fitting in. I'm not willing to pay my dues -- I've never complained, never left a job incomplete, but apparently suggesting I could be challenged with new tasks makes me a problematic employee in their eyes. I need to stop thinking I have anything of merit to offer, because I'm supposed to be grateful that they even decided to give me a job. I thought about sharing how my boss quit two weeks ago, how our other boss is going to have a baby during the worst possible time for our team, how I've worked six days per week since June for a job that's nothing like I was told it would be when I started. I haven't seen my family since I moved, and they're three hours away but I won't be going home until at least October. I wanted to tell him I've lost close to 10 pounds in the last two months, to sit beside him on the floor and tell him that some days everything is fine, but other days, it's all I can do to get home and collapse on the sofa.

Instead, I just smiled a half-smile. As he filled out a comment form, he teased me, saying he was going to write down how I agreed with him about the project being a farce. I laughed nervously and asked him not to.

"I wouldn't do that," he said. "I just like seeing you smile. You have a nice smile."

I clung to those words the rest of the day, trying to believe that people still see the good girl behind the morally questionable job. Hoping they went through something similar when they were young. There has to be more to life. I can't believe work is always going to be this draining and time-consuming, or that I'll feel so little contentment from what I do. What it comes down to is that I need to believe this, too, is going to pass, and that I'll still have a smile that makes people happy when I'm finally done here.