24 December 2012

Emotional whiplash

It's been a week since I finished my PhD, but it's felt like much longer. I got home after the viva and the kids pulled crackers that littered the lounge with streamers and confetti. Yoko got me wine and cigarellos to celebrate. I told the story of the viva on the phone and on Skype a couple of times, adjusting it for whoever was listening and how much patience I felt they had for the details. I can talk about it moment by moment, the things that I forgot about in the first telling, but now remember in light of the outcome. The weather had been so good that day and I faced the examiner in front of a window overlooking the football pitch and the river that skirts the edge of campus. I caught glimpses over his shoulder at times, my unconscious remembering every frustrated walk out to the river and back when I was stuck and angry.

After the girls had gone to bed, I worked fixing all the typos in the thesis that we had found and looked for a binder to deal with it within the week. I realised that if I were able to get everything done — get the whole thing bound and submitted--that I could be completely finished with all my responsibilities at the OU by the time I left the country.

On Tuesday morning, I got the go ahead from the Research School to print it. I ordered the copies online and paid the money to have them shipped overnight when they were finished, to arrive sometime on Thursday, well in time for submission on Friday. I also spent some time trying to get ahold of the woman in charge of my computer that I wanted to buy from the OU, but she didn't respond to any of my e-mails or calls. I took a heap of rubbish to the dump and threw it all away.

On Wednesday, I got up, and took the girls to school, went shopping with Yoko, then brought Naomi and Mei to the dentist, and held both of their hands while the dentist filled tiny cavities in their tiny mouths. I took them home, cleaned and sold my car, and met a friend for coffee and he took me home. A never ending list of things to do which was interrupted when I was rushing past the refectory and saw a friend and colleague I hadn't seen in a long time. I stopped and went in, something I probably wouldn't have done any other day, but now there is no time and you need to say hello and goodbye while you can.

On Friday, I got up early again (Naomi was sick), picked up my 13 kilo box of theses plus two more copies and headed to take the bus to the OU. I got there on time, turned in my theses at the Research School and then got an e-mail saying that there was no way my computer was going to be done on time. I rode the bus back to the shopping centre and looked at computers and went to London.

I taught a very small class and left a bit early, thinking I would check my bank account to see how much I had been paid from Middlesex. £44.79. No, that couldn't be right, I thought, trying to work out where a mistake had been made. It was 4:45; everything would be closed. I rushed over to HR; no one was there. I found a guy in payroll who you could tell was trying to be empathetic, but what could he do: everything was closed now. It was, after all, Christmas. There were Christmas cookies on the filing cabinet as I left and I wondered what would happen if I took one without asking: I didn't get paid, goddammit! This has consequences! 

On the underground ride home, I figured out what the problem was: my line manager had made a simple, but costly mistake. I wrote an incredulous e-mail to him in my head as I rode the Northern line down into Euston, missing entirely the fact that it was my last time riding into London on the underground. I rode the Northern line so much this year: I love how you memorise the stations without thinking. Hampstead, Golder's Green, Brent Cross, Hendon Central. What comes next, I don't know.

I met a friend at Angel, we had a pint at a pub, and he went off to meet friends. Walking back to Euston, I found a Starbucks and flirted in the way married men do with younger women serving them coffee:
Did you want the soya hot?
Yes, please, well, either way, whatever's easier.
It's better hot.
Yes, yes, thank you.
Here you are.
Happy Christmas.
You too.
I sat in a big chair upstairs, feeling suddenly heavy and bogged down. An Englishman and an Indian guy were talking about nuclear bombs, laughing about how the first real nuclear test was on Hiroshima. It annoyed me to no end, much more than it usually would: my wife's grandfather was killed by that bomb, you assholes.
Disembodied, looking down at myself, I scowled: Christ...on Monday, I had been a god. A god. Now I was flaccid and exhausted--a man in a wet overcoat waiting for a couple minutes sleep on a train rushing through the night towards the suburbs. 
On Saturday, I woke up and rode the bus back to the OU to pick up my laptop. It was raining heavily: I sat at a colleague's desk as the laptop filled itself up with security updates and Japanese fonts. I intended to ride the bus again, but missed it and opted to walk home. I packed up all the things that I had left on my desk. A coaster, a mug, and headed out to walk across campus one last time. When I got to the footbridge, the one that I had crossed every day, the one leading into the university, I turned around and looked back. As I remember it, I was smoking one of the cigarellos that Yoko had given me. I wanted to cry--I've wanted to cry all week, but there was no physical impetus to cry. I just stood and looked for a minute. All of this, all four years. Then I turned around and walked home.