Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The line


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet face a threat to her standing

The Maria Chronicles #46

Maria was able to send her son Evan home the day she got out of the hospital; her daughter Felicity insisted on staying two days longer. That Maria was able to go home was a function of the strong support she received from friends and colleagues. The chair of her department, Jen Abruzzi, came by every day. Her friend Janice told Felicity she'd be coming for an overnight visit the day after Felicity left. And as Maria herself pointed out, "I'm not an invalid, after all. I can get around fine in these crutches." An evident exaggeration. But Janice did succeed in getting Maria into her car, and the two made an excursion to see The Runaways, as both of them were Joan Jett fans in their youth.

As Maria well knew, however, the price she paid for this show of independence with her kids was the invisible presence of Jack Casey. It was Jack who had an extra walker delivered to the apartment before Maria ever got there. And it was Jack who sent a steady stream of gourmet food -- Chinese, Mexican, Greek -- every day. Jack apparently told Felicity that he was going to stay out of the way as long as Maria had the help she needed around the apartment, but that he stood ready to help if and when the need arose. "Quite a friend you have there," Evan observed, and wisely left it at that. Janice, naturally, clucked with approval and told Maria while she knew her friend would have a million reasons why Jack was impossible but that she was just going to have to get over herself. "Fuck you, Janice," she responded, and Janice kissed her on the forehead. Maria knows that at some point she's going to have to explain to Felicity, but she can't do that until she figures out just what there is to explain.

Today, Jen has come by again, this time with a pair of tuna sandwiches, a bag of chips, and a bottle of Diet Coke. Maria is aware that Jen as been a little stiff and uncomfortable on her visits, which she's attributed to feeling awkward with the family around. But the persistence of this discomfort today is hard to explain. Though Maria has been focused largely inward -- the lingering pain in her head and an overall sour mood have left her even more quiet than usual -- she decides to venture outward: "Is there something on your mind, Jen?"

Jen puts down her sandwich. "Maria, there's been something I've been wanting to tell you, but just never felt it was the right time."

"No time like the present, Jen."

"Well, I'm not sure about that. But I suppose at this point I should go ahead and tell you."

"Yes."

"Maria, do you know about Larry Roganoff?"

"Don't know him. I've heard his name."

"Yes. Well, Larry's been teaching at the school for many years. Decades. Two years ago, he took a leave of absence. It was widely believed then that it was a test run for retirement, and that he wouldn't be coming back. This year, he requested an extension on the leave, which Dani Bernstein reluctantly granted, but did because Larry's been sick and wanted a kind of security blanket. This in part is what allowed us to hire you. Last week Larry announced he was coming back. In and of itself, that wouldn't matter. But enrollments are unexpectedly down and after a lot of contention over the budget, the Board has ordered school-wide cuts. Individually, those things wouldn't matter, either. But taken together . . . . "

"Taken together means I'm out of a job."

"Not necessarily. Dani's in your corner, Maria, and, as you know, Dani is a pit bull. "'We're going to work this out,' she told me. I don't know whether that means a fight with the Board or a fight with Larry or a fight I don't know about in trying to hold your line. But from where I sit, as a department chair facing an uncertain situation, I felt some obligation to tell you what I see. I have this idea I owe that to you, even though it feels like kicking you when you're down."

"You're right, Jen. I do want to know. And yes, I do feel kicked." This is where Maria feels like she should be saying, "I know it's not your fault." And it probably isn't Jen's fault. But nothing she's been told at any point in the last year spelled out such contingencies. She's understood that her future wasn't guaranteed. But Maria always understood this in terms of her keeping up her end. Which she has. Now it looks like it's time to go back to Carney Sandoe and re-enter the job market. How could she have been so stupid? A middle-aged woman in this economy? She was a fool to think she could leave her old life behind.

Jen punctures the silence: "I should get going."

"I'm sorry, Jen. I'm just feeling a little out of sorts."

"I understand," Jen says as she stands up. "Well no -- I won't say I understand. But I can respect how you're feeling and thinking. I want you to know I'm going to do everything I can, Maria. We all want you here. Even if I can't save your job entirely, I think we can piece something together."

"Thanks for coming by, Jen. I do appreciate that."

Jen finishes buttoning her jacket, and purses her lips. "I'll be in touch, Maria."

Maria pushes the tuna fish sandwich in front of her off to her right. And then she puts her head in her hands and begins to cry.