This morning I was in the office, typing away, reviewing a rubric in preparation for the next class. That part is not true. Truthfully, I forget what I was working on. The memory has been sandblasted from my mind. They say the body has no memory of pain, and I am thankful it is so.
What I remember is that I was involved in the deal, making sure the employer gets his money’s worth. Making sure the students know how not to fail the next assignment. Then it goes dark.
He comes in. He is a coworker. I share an office with about eighty dozen other people because the college stacks adjuncts together like cordwood. It saves money and makes room for more sports programs and administrative assessments. I’ll call him John.
John doesn’t just enter the office. He’s snuffly and blowing his nose. I have a vision of Horton hearing a Who. But, snuffly and nose-blowy? No problem. It’s the cold season. Have some compassion. I double-down on the fancy book learnin’. It’s ok. I stabilize.
John sits. He blows again. He uncrinkles a newspaper in front of him on the desk opposite mine. The wind picks up. The trees sway a little. Clouds blacker than Lindsay Lohan's eyebrows form, and then the storm breaks.
From the depths of somewhere, his armpit I think, John pulls out a breakfast sandwich. And not just any breakfast sandwich, but a breakfast sandwich wrapped in something forged in the paper-mill of hell. The newspaper before him is like an ant walking on velvet in comparison. This thing, this brown, sandwich-paper, it’s what Satan uses for toilet paper.
The sandwich reminds me of how my father in law used to wrap Christmas presents: triple, sometimes quadruple layers of paper and a quarter spool of tape -- crinkle-crackle crinkle-crackle crinkle-crackle crinkle-crackle crinkle-crackle! It’s like John’s skinning a porcupine over there. That’s how long it takes.
And it hurts us. It hurts our ears! It must stop. Oh, the tumult in my soul! I cannot bear it, but I must. I’m in the middle of an Edgar Allan Poe story and I’ve stopped typing. But, it’s almost done. It’s almost good again. The paper stops screaming and I can breathe. Until it dawns on me... he’s going to eat in the office.
A snuffly, blowy, newspaper reading co-worker is going to eat a crinkling-paper wrapped breakfast sandwich and he’s sitting next to me. The smacking ensues and he’s enjoying this sandwich with approving hums and aahs from somewhere deep. He’s reading that paper and he’s grunting with the cold in his nose and I’ve just seen the obliteration, the utter and complete annihilation, of anything resembling inner peace or calm.
I retreat to the tower of iron will, a place deep in my psyche; my last nerve, the line before froth drips from my mouth; think Danny Torrence in the Shining. The tower has been in service through the long years. It’s the inner sanctum where the slimy tendrils of Cthulu horror can reach only so far. It is not my happy place. My happy place has been napalmed. The little blue jonquils and floppy-eared bunny rabbits living in my happy place are crisp and black and smoldering.
The sounds of the smacking and throat-scooting and paper rasping pig (did I just call my coworker a pig?!) sitting next to me has me laying on a cold, wet concrete floor in a fetal position begging for it all to stop.
I log off. I gather my things. I go get a cup of coffee in the department lounge. It is quiet again. I survive.
Why am I like that? Don’t know. Just am. Will it happen again? Yes, it will. Any saving grace or lessons learned? Maybe…
Consider that we are to love one another: strangers, fellow pilgrims, enemies, and neighbors, one another as we love ourselves. Ok fine, I know that. It’s not always easy, but I know that. I try. Some people are hard to love but we try anyway, in spite of ourselves and in spite of them.
Then there’s Christ. Christ will never eat a sandwich in my ear. He is perfect. Loving Christ is different. I (we?) should never feel obligated to love Christ, like we ‘have to’. When that happens, it’s not like it should be. Loving Christ should be a great joy, not a burden. It is something we should want, not something we have to. Think about that…