Those are often the first two words I text Hans when I awake in the grasp of mid-day. The sun leaks through the space between my blinds, and I rub my eyes in defiance. My stomach, my belly, my torso, my chest, they ache and screech and contort and twist into knots as my thoughts immediately remember the stresses of the night before. The deadlines. The kerning. The reading. The placing of images and posting of stories and printing of photos and printing of pages. So much.
It is not uncommon for me to unlock my apartment door at 3:00 in the morning, to step into my dark room and shake my head at the absurdity of the hour. This isn’t worth it, I tell myself. I’m exhausted and constantly sleepy, stressed and hunched. Haggard.
It’s been five weeks today that I started my job, and I can safely say that I am already burned out. The hours—late-night hours that challenge even me, the most habitual of night owls—have left me exhausted, drained, ill. I contracted bronchitis, my usual malady, and spent my days sleeping, dreaming of a peaceful environment. I knew I needed to slow down when a presentation editor from Racine called for an interview and compared my laryngitic voice to the Plague. I hacked a laugh, apologized for my current position and asked him to keep me in mind.
That was two weeks ago. I still feel overworked and overwhelmed. It’s frustrating when I am unsure of my duties, or when the capitalization of particular words change. An editor’s nightmare, really, these seemingly random changes.
The time spent at my job has kept from here. It has kept me from you. At 4:00 a.m., when the sky turns a lighter gray and the birds begin their morning chatter, I fall asleep. I do not set an alarm, but wake naturally, whether it is just a cruel five hours later, or a semi-refreshing eight. In the light of day, I contact authors for the website I work for, send out requests and conduct interviews. I read, tweet, clean, cook. The waking hours I spend in my apartment are short, for I soon bundle my things and leave my little efficiency for the newsroom. My hours, the little time for me, keeps me from you. It keeps me from Hans.
I was so familiar with nighttime phone calls and goodnight wishes. In the summers, we would talk for hours and hours, reality disappearing as the clocks ticked. 10:00. 11:00. 2:00. Five-hour phone calls with nothing but giggling and “I love yous.” After all those nights—three years’ worth, really—it is strange, now, to phone in the middle of the day. What do I say? I can’t possibly vent about work one more time. I miss you? I love you? The same things, over and over? I love you, but I don’t want to call you because I’m afraid you’ll think me boring, now.
I don’t want him to think that I’m weak. That I can’t hold a position. That nothing will make me happy.
My frustration over my work flounders all day, building and building until it explodes into wrenching cramps that leave me hunched, curled in pain. Not knowing how to do a page, how to find information, how to do this, how to do that, how to not do this, how to not do that overwhelmed me last night, and I found myself on the floor of the women’s restroom, sobbing.
“I need you to help calm me down,” I wheezed into the phone, my cheeks drenched. “It’s so late and I’m so tired, and I’m so behind…”
Justified or not, my annoyances seem childish at times. This is your first big-girl job, Dawn. You have to suck it up, I guess. Do what they give you, even if it’s not on your schedule. Do it anyway, even though you don’t even know where to begin. Do it, even though you disagree. Even you though you’re so tired you can’t spell the words “SIGNING DAY” correctly.
(I kept typing “Singing Day,” in case you’re wondering. Competitive contact singing would certainly make for an interesting NCAA sport.)
It’s so much.
I still dream of publishing, of editing, of reading. Of expanding my work with the online magazine for which I work. Of making contacts and getting my foot into the door, any door. Of playing photographer. Interviewer. Reviewer.
They’re just dreams, now. Things I wish I could imagine as I crawl into my cold, cotton sheets so late at night—or so early in the morning. Instead, I dream of columns and words, of picas and organizing and placing. A labyrinth of thoughts, of memories, of stresses. It’s so hard to escape.
When I awake in the morning, I already dread the coming evening. My stomach lurches, my heart pangs.
But I’m alive, and I reach for my phone to tell him so.