Keys

Most people live on a weekly basis. A lot of the things they see and do, repeat themselves when Monday starts. Unless some holiday occurs where they get the day off to spend in front of a television, they work like a little horsey for 5 days so that they can consume like a piggy for another 2. Rinse, repeat, retire, die.

Despite my holier-than-thou attitude, I am not so different from this cut-and-paste American dream. The only difference is that my repetition isn’t on a weekly basis, but a monthly one.

Just like theirs though, it starts on a Monday, with an alarm clock murdering my sleep in cold blood and forcing reality upon me. And I too flick some water on my eyebrows (stubborn bastards) and climb in my ‘98 Opel to drive to work. 5 minutes late as usual. Whatever I do, I can’t seem to fix that habit.

So far, most of my working days at the new job have been quite different from each other. Different productions, different clients, different tasks laid aside for me. I am grateful for that because this somewhat kills the occasional wave of brain-numbing boredom. I often find myself in limbo between contribution and sweet sweet sleep, where every bit of work is a drag but since I’m on the clock, I can’t just take a nap like I used to, in the lull before the show starts so that I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for dance show #12 of neighborhood school #4.

Although it’s hard to imagine a better place to work at, I’m still jonesing for some action. I had gotten so used to the adrenaline rushes and frantic pushes of stagehand business, that I find myself running into walls at the theater. By comparison, the most exciting things to be found there are a shadow of the dullest things about building stages. The contrast couldn’t be greater and the transfer from one to the other is tearing at me, something fierce.

In a sense though, this was all calculated in. All this frustration, all this craving, it’s all exactly as much as I had thought it would be. It’s in the “upper margins” of my estimation let’s say, but it’s there. I can’t just move from my earlier lifestyle into a full-time job and expect to be used to it from day 1. Or Year 1, for that matter. It’s going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better, and I hope I’ll be able to prove my worth before my 6 months trial period are over.

My work week lasts 7 days, from early morning until late at night. And if you think I mean 9-to-5 by that, I mock thee mercilessly. By ‘late at night’ I mean that time when you go to see a concert after work, or a theater play if you’re a little more cultured than myself. I mean that time, plus the time it takes to re-set the building to zero. Ready for the set of the next band, theater group, school, political party, or bozo in line to do their thing, supported by a strong crew of hardened but sleep-deprived house technicians- us. Repeat this 7 times a week and then we’ll talk about your long and hard working week, kid.

On Sunday evening, the keys go on the hook and are replaced by a new set of safety keys that fit on an apartment door in Prague. The next few hours are spent frantically packing, repeating several mantras to avoid forgetting obvious things, although I always do. Clothes are washed and hung out to dry (and forget), electronics are charged (and forgotten), rucksack is stuffed and tossed in a corner.

This is also when I open some of my mail and toss it aside. If I had time to spend on anything other than packing and not giving a shit (not necessarily in that order), I wouldn’t have the energy. I do need sleep though, because I have a long day ahead of me. This might be the earliest that I go to bed all month.

I don’t care what people say, I love to drive. Even 11-hour trips across Germany, I actually enjoy. I pick up some BlaBlaCar passengers here and there, and together we drive off into the sunrise.
I love the sense of wandering that you get, so far away from anything familiar. Most of all, I love stopping at gas stations, places vaguely familiar, between grain fields and a highway, with people you will never see again. You are bound to nothing but your car. For all intents and purposes, it is your temporary home.

Impatience begins to itch once the Czech border is reached, though. That is partly because the mundane act of getting one of those window stickers always turns out to be a fucking nuisance. The place is fully staffed but the sliding doors are sabotaged for half an hour? The truck driver in front of me pays with his banking card, but I don’t get to? I need to continue driving to the next gas station, breaking your laws in order to follow them?
It’s easy to forget Czech Republic’s communist history until the very moment you enter it.

But I haven’t failed making it there yet, and in the evening I am rewarded with the laughing face of my baby boy. The first few seconds are always bittersweet, as he might not act like he recognizes me. The times when he avoids my gaze to look at more interesting things, puts salt on a wound that has been there from the first moments over 2 years ago, and will remain open for a long time still.

But, minutes later, we are rolling on the ground like it’s all we’ve been doing. He loves to get thrown around until he can’t tell up from down, and I come join him when he takes a break to study a randomly encountered object in detail. There’s no one I talk to as much as I talk to him. Not nearly as much as his mother does, though. But no one really comes close to her. Like, ever.

With her putting him in my bed in the morning, my day starts and ends with him. In this small house, my privacy gets reduced to zero but to be honest, I wasn’t that attached to it to begin with. We visit stuff like the Prague zoo (greatly recommended) or the local sandstone formations. Little K is loving every second of it, except the part where we take a cell phone out of his mouth.

Despite the fact that I have zero time for myself, let alone my youtube and facebook addictions, I am getting used to this monthly adaptation. Basically, my time is equally divided between spending time with my child and clumsily trying to contribute to the household. Positive interactions with CZR itself are very limited but I’m starting to mind it a little less.

I count the days until I go home and be at ease, and yet, they go too fast. I alternate between feeling in an unfamiliar, alienating environment, and basking in the warmth of loving my son. The week flies by and soon, the last day approaches, when I feel like a total asshole for letting other priorities force me away from my own child.

I don’t know who you are,
Or what you do,
But I hope from the bottom of my heart, that you never get to experience the pain of knowing that when your son wakes up, you will be gone from his life.

I have failed many things spectacularly, to the point where I beat myself wondering what the fuck is wrong with me that certain functions of a mind just don’t seem to exist in mine, but never have I felt more like a failure than when, after a week of playing and parenting, I disappear, knowing that my little boy won’t understand why. There’s nothing keeping him from thinking that it’s his fault, and that eats me the fuck up.

Hand on my heart, it is the single worst thing and I hope you get to live without it.

The ride back is bittersweet as usual. I don’t elaborate on my crippling doubts or regret to my passengers, instead discussing inherent sexism demonstrated by society as it programs a female voice into my GPS system. Never do I feel more detached from the world than our moments at a gas station in the hills of Germany, and at that moment, it is the best comfort I could ask for. The things that I am running from as I sip my coffee, border the theatrical. One doesn’t get to be Vigo Mortensen every day.

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Therefore, I both exit and enter Belgium on these trips, with the sun in my face. Studio Brussel plays ‘Goe Veur In Den Otto’ [Good For In The Car], blasting some of the tackiest heavy metal (and second-most annoying DJ voice on the air) as I drop people off in Brussels and lay down the last sprint home. Once there, I don’t bother opening my backpack if I even get it out of the car, instead I crash into bed. Tomorrow is a new working day, after all.

The keys to Prague remain in my backpack, to be found in a week or 3. My badge is readied on the table.

And they wonder why I’m not a morning person.
”How the hell is this logical?” A little something pops inside my center and I gesture wildly. “We have three different switches that each turn on part of the working lights. One is a key on the wall right here, one is a switch behind the door right there, and the third is in a dark corner on the other side of the stage?”

I know the reason: This building is a few times older than I am and has been rebuilt several times. No one really bothered to fix the electrical scheme properly, as it was always well known by the house technicians. I am one of them now, but as a freelancer, I am used to working with stuff adapted to being used by lots of different people. Stuff that is marked and follows certain logical guidelines.

Luckily, my colleague, younger than I am, also a freelancer and also recently hired, understands my frustration and I get away with it. I scold myself later though, and tell myself to sit down and behave, lest I come over as aggressive (again) and they deem me unfit for this environment when my trial period is over. I need this job.

As the time without a moment to myself nears 3 weeks though, the pressure builds up. It is hard, let me tell you. Despite my best efforts I’m having trouble learning where everything is and how it works, often making a fool of myself as I repeat my mistakes. On the last few days of the week, I occasionally slip up in ways that could have put people in danger. I need to work on this or someone might regret it someday.

One can imagine the burden that rolls off my shoulders when I hang my badge on the hook before going to bed, with nothing but a free week ahead of me. It starts with endless sleep, the accumulated hours of fatigue finally handled by my body as it rests to its heart’s desire. I wake up groggy and moody, it will take another few nights to get back in shape, and inevitably shift my sleep cycle several hours forwards.

Perhaps ‘free time’ is a generous term. I make a point of not doing a single god damn thing on the first day, but the 6 others are symbolized by the key to my bike lock: Every day I’m on the road to catch up on paperwork, seeing friends and doing stuff that I put on hold for 3 weeks.
I shrug when prompted on my new job. “It’s boring,” I say. “But it’s a good job.”

I enjoy my week immensely, although the worries of getting my shit in order in constantly on my mind. And 7 days really is a long time, giving me the opportunity to refresh and recharge. This is necessary because the week after, my routine starts again from day 1. Keys will be swapped once more and my car will carry me another 3,000 kilometers through Europe before the month is over.

 


It should be noted that, at this very moment, none of the above is true. It has been for the last few months but now that the theater season is over, I basically get a month and a half of paid vacation. I’ve been doing stagehand work as a hobby and for the much-needed extra income, binging on the many little jobs like a relapsing junkie. This summer has been a great ride so far and gave me the perfect change of pace before the season starts again.

Also, my son is coming to visit this month, for a couple of weeks. The good part is of course that I don’t have to drive there, but the bad part is that this is the longest period I have gone without seeing him. There’s no telling how much I miss him, seeing him grow up on pictures and skype. But, he’ll be here soon, and I will have the time to dedicate to him.

Big changes have always been an essential part of my life, but after this summer, they will likely slow to a crawl. All the pain mentioned above will intensify as it repeats itself, but so will the good times. And I will have to experience neither alone, as I am always surrounded by supportive people eager to help.

I consider this summer a toast to this, and to them: One last feast before the real work begins. If anyone can pull it through, it’s me, and it’s us. I hold the keys to every step of the way.

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2 responses

  1. Line

    Wow! Vooral dat laatste deel vind ik sterk! Daar slaag ik niet zo goed in, om die bocht te maken. En wat het afscheid van je zoon betreft: geef hem de kans om afscheid te nemen. Misschien moeilijker voor jou, maar beter voor hem. Neem afscheid voor hij gaat slapen door (eventueel) echt door de deur te stappen. Het is beter voor kinderen (alhoewel dramatischer) om dat te kunnen doen, dat moment te kunnen vastleggen. En niet zonder teken, plots te verdwijnen. Zo weet hij ook wanneer het precies gaat gebeuren (en vermijd je dat hij gedurende de week al angstig wordt dat je de volgende dag plots zal weg zijn). Groet en dikke kus!

    16 September 2016 at 10:30

    • Merci. Ik zal het in gedachten houden.

      21 September 2016 at 13:07

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