Important! proclaims the subject line of Iwona's email, but it's not. Not to me, anyway. I was in work, at work, working on very serious things. Planning people's futures. She's planning a tattoo and wanted help with translation. She found me on the internet, she told me. Doesn't everyone? I ignored her email. I haven't time for that kind of thing.
Work is tiring. I am tired anyway, all the time. Vertigo has me skimming the walls when I walk, splaying my hands across the tilt of the table, leaning on my left elbow as I tap at my keyboard, listing to one side and in a state of permanent self-correction. The medication I've been given to treat it has given me tremors, a cotton-wool mouth and a desperate apathy.
I don't care about Iwona's tattoo.
I didn't care either about the man who called the office yesterday morning and spent an hour and a quarter on the phone to me, who felt his trust had been betrayed (though not by me) and whose voice caught when he called again four hours later, ten minutes before time to go home time, because there was something he'd forgotten to ask. I gave him clear, honest answers, little hope or reassurance, lots of time and patience. I get a lot of these calls. I talk about them in meetings with bureaucrats. I never ask them if they have kids themselves. I know that that's not necessary.
It is wrong to say that I didn't care. I did. Even on bad days, I always do. I care about all of them. It wears me out. My present chemical apathy should feel like respite, I think, but instead it feels like nothing at all. I am a sin eater.
I am good at my job, or at least at this part of it. I have a reputation. "The parents all ask for you" I am told, and some of them do, with a genuine fondness. These people I don't know, whose lives I have affected in a small but significant way by talking to them about the small significances in mine, they ask about me and they hope that they might gift their children with some version of what my parents gave to me. A flair for language that has given me a great facility for communication and empathy. It is an extraordinary position of privilege to be in, this job of mine.
I come home from work exhausted. The weight of someone else's expectations gather like grease in the crease of my chin and in the dark, damp skin either side of my nostrils. When I first started cycling, the huff-and-puff effort of my pedalling home was enough to leave the day's work behind. Now I feel like I should keep going down the North Circular until I hit the park and then ride up and down the S-bends until I have made space again for Andrew.
He made space for me last night on the couch. He was watching football. It's so fucking stressful, watching him watch Arsenal, that normally I leave the room. Here's how he'd be if we had a fight, I think, but we've had fights and he was nothing like that. There was no swearing, no punching the couch cushions, no pent-up aggression; he was the kind and equable man he always is. I am lucky.
I sat beside him on the couch with the laptop perched on a cushion, meaning to write. But I'd nothing to say. Nothing worth saying, anyway. Nothing I could publish on the internet. I shopped instead. A skirt guard for my bicycle and some temporary tattoos. I emailed the images to my sister and she laughed at me. I've always wanted a tattoo, I told her, but they're just so... permanent. They are that, she said.
I fished Iwona's email out of the trash this morning. It was polite, and she knew she was emailing the wrong person, looking in the wrong place, but she didn't know who else to ask. She'd had a stab at the translation herself and had translated 'forever mine' as 'forever a place for extracting mineral resources from the ground'. I emailed her back, and seven emails later we'd fleshed out the context and I'd given her the words she needed to ink her skin. GOD BLESS YOU she said. I am blessed indeed.