Checked Out: Cinderburg Part 36
Barb returned to the branch just as Amy announced her last day of work. And I slowly came to terms with losing my best teammate.
I started asking Lacy about Amy’s replacement and the timeline at our weekly meetings. I brought it up constantly, stressed out in the back of my mind that any number of things would happen: that we’d be waiting half a year, that Amy’s replacement would be just like Nesca or worse, that Lacy would hire another lackey from her old department.
My predecessor, Pam, had eventually succeeded Lacy at her old position and had scared off enough of Lacy’s old team that most of them were jumping ship and transferring out or quitting. We’d already hired Nesca and Quinn. As much as Lacy might have wanted to bring her old team over, the current team at Cyprus resented these hires and noticed and felt obvious favoritism on that front.
As I discussed my options with Lacy, she suggested I check if my first choice from months before would still be interested in transferring. Luckily, she was, and we were given almost immediate permission to fill Amy’s role.
I was over the moon. Finally I was getting the applicant I’d wanted for half a year. I immediately made plans. She could take over Amy’s story times, since Nesca panicked at the idea of story time. She could take over the craft programs. She could help out at the desk. She could do some of the monthly reports.
Unfortunately for me, I had to wait almost a full month for Angie to transfer. For the entire month of May, it would just be Nesca and me.
Not ideal, I told myself, but not terrible either. Kids would still be in school for more than half of that month. At least Angie would arrive right at the start of summer.
Amy’s final week came and my excitement over Angie’s upcoming arrival was tainted by Amy’s goodbye.
Throwing the goodbye parties had become one of my unofficial duties. For Amy, who’d fallen giddily in love with a punny children’s book called “Alpaca Lunch,” I got her a cake that said, “You’re moooving? Alpaca your desk!” A paper alpaca and cow finished the effect.
I decided that wasn’t enough, though, and recruited Ajay to help me print and tape poop emojis all over the place. I placed one on a paper crown and had Amy wear it, since she was a party pooper for leaving.
The poop emojis incidentally made Mikhaila laugh uncontrollably for an entire afternoon, the most emotion I have ever seen this Russian mystery ever show.
It was while I was ordering the cake for this party that I got the news that ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Lacy approached me in the break room. She shut the door behind her and asked me for a word.
Uh oh. Something serious was going down.
“I’m not going into too much detail, and I know the timing is the worst, but Nesca will be using some FMLA and adjusting her schedule for the next month, possibly longer. Nesca has some mental health issues and she will be entering a treatment program that takes place at night. So she won’t be working any of the nights we normally have her work for the next month.”
I felt like my feet had been knocked out from underneath me. I was prepping to lose Amy, and now I was kind of losing Nesca?
“Are you kidding me?” I wanted to ask. But I couldn’t. FMLA dictated Nesca could have this time off, so she would have this time off regardless of how I felt about it.
“We’ll need to adjust your schedule to get the coverage we need.”
The next week, as I decorated the break room with the poop emojis, Lacy found me again. We made it most of the week with Nesca on her adjusted schedule. But the week hadn’t ended before Lacy pulled me aside again to deliver worse news.
“Nesca’s treatment program believes she needs a more rigorous course of treatment. They want her to start the day program for the next month, which means her schedule is going to change again.”
I asked a question before I let myself panic.
“How’s her schedule going to change?”
Lacy delayed her answer by saying “Welllllll.”
Oh, holy cow. How much worse was it going to get?
“She’ll need to be at the treatment program Monday through Friday, 8–3.”
Oh. That was much worse.
“But she’ll be able to be here starting at 4 and will close on the nights she normally closes. And she’s going to work every weekend until it’s over.”
I repeated the positives of the situation over and over to myself. We’d have evening and weekend coverage. We were in the midst of a programming break, so it shouldn’t be too busy. Angie would join us before the chaos of summer got going.
I tried to ignore the negative. I didn’t want to think about Amy being gone, which devastated me. I had come to count on her to be there every day. We’d spent countless hours sharing stories at the desk and rolling our eyes at the same patrons. We’d pulled pranks together and on each other. We pulled together last minute projects and worked through painstaking plans months in advance. She was the person who pushed me into online dating and helped me take picture after picture to use on my profile.
I’d been worried about her leaving me with Nesca. Worried about Nesca not giving her all. And now I had to worry about Nesca hardly being there at all.
I tore my thoughts away from that negative path and forced a smile at Lacy.
“Okay,” I said, tired, “Thank you for letting me know.”
She untensed and said, “Thank you for being so understanding about it all. I really appreciate it. And Nesca does, too.”
Amy’s goodbye was already hard enough, but this news left me distracted and I hate to say that I hardly talked to her on her final days.
I barely made it halfway through my first week without Amy and Nesca, though, before I was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
There were no story times, yes, but I still had tons I needed to do. We only had a few more weeks until summer started. I had supplies to prepare, documents to design, volunteer days to coordinate, Harry Potter prep to complete and an intern program to plan. This was in addition to general running of the library. I still had to take care of a department that had gone from three full-time employees to just me in the span of a week. And this wasn’t even the first time this had happened! Plus, I was expected to help out other departments as needs arose.
Please note that no such help was given to me.
Instead, Lacy’s attempts at help came in the form of questions. She often asked me how I was doing and if I needed to hand anything off to someone else. The only problem was that everyone was overworked. We were all overloaded with too much on our plates. I felt like I hadn’t moved forward in time. That I was still stuck where I’d been a year before with too much to do and no one to hand it off to. When was I going to be pulled into a meeting with the manager to be told I couldn’t delegate?
Conversely, as much as she tried to “help,” Lacy also made matters worse. Despite knowing how overwhelmed I was, and though she fully acknowledged that staff had too much to do and not enough time, she volunteered us for more projects.
I’d been in a constant battle with the community center next door. Much like other community partners, they wanted weekly activities from us. Even at times when we were fully staffed, weekly library activities just weren’t in the cards and never would be. We had at least five or six other community groups who also wanted weekly activities and we simply couldn’t accommodate that level of programming. So we had a blanket rule of no more than one monthly program per group.
But Lacy was convinced we should try to do more and offered to let the community center’s summer camp come to the library three days each week. I tried to talk her out of it.
“But we have specific days set aside for certain age groups,” she argued.
“They won’t adhere to that,” I said.
“They will!” she insisted, “I’ve sent them a schedule.”
“They won’t stick to it, I’m telling you. They will come when they want to come. They’ll bring all the kids over on the same day. They might not even come on the days you have given them, and choose to hit us up in the afternoon.”
Lacy ignored my protests.
“There will be chaperones coming with them,” she argued further.
“They won’t pay attention,” I countered, “They never do. They haven’t in the past.”
“It will be during your programs, so you won’t even have to worry about it.”
“They’ll still be there when it ends. And the children’s department will be a madhouse.”
“It will be fine, I promise,” she pressed, “We need to show that we’re trying.”
I argued that the summer programs I offered them was plenty evidence that we were trying, but Lacy insisted on more. Though I won’t go into detail, everything I predicted came true: the community center came whenever they felt like it and the chaperones hardly paid attention.
I told you so, Lacy.
Beyond her efforts with the community center, she also was determined to help alleviate some of the pressures in the circulation department. She installed phones at all desks so circ wouldn’t have to deal with phone calls after fielding complaints they were juggling too much.
Circulation complained still further, arguing they had too much to do in the mornings with all their circulation duties. According to them, something needed to be taken away and given to someone else. It never occurred to them to restructure when they did things throughout the day, especially since circ staff regularly had an hour or two each afternoon with nothing to do or work on. At least once a week Zahra checked with me to see if I needed help with anything, searching for some way to be useful.
And yet, instead of pushing any one of these duties to a different time of the day, Lacy decided the librarians would take some of these tasks on their shoulders. We would now pull holds.
Had she not just spent days asking me to hand things off to someone else? Had I not replied by asking who even had the ability to take on more?
I broke finally on a Wednesday morning. I stood among the shelves, pulling books, and the exhaustion and the rushing and the overwhelming list of things I still needed to do crashed over me.
The book I held slipped from my fingers to clatter onto the cart and tears trickled in tiny rivers down my face.
I knew then that I was done. I’d spent six years in libraries at that point, and for five of those years I’d been struggling with the weight of too many roles being shoved into one and given to me. I couldn’t keep staff in my department. I had no social life and no stable schedule. My manager kept piling stuff onto my plate, knowing full well that I was already overloaded. I never had a manager I could trust. There was too much crap in my life, both the figurative and literal kind. I was done.
I emailed Lacy asking for a meeting and when she arrived, I shut ourselves into her office.
The tears flowed again.
I told Lacy everything, which all came as news to her. I’d done too good of a job at keeping boundaries between us. She had no clue that I was so done in. And when I reached my issues with being the only person in the department, yet again, I said, “It just feels like I’m over in the department all by myself.”
“You are by yourself,” she said, and I realized, that was true. She continued, “But you’ll get Angie by the end of the month. And Nesca should be back to normal by then.”
I shook my head sadly.
“Lacy, I’m not happy,” I said. I felt a jolt at that, like an epiphany. I wasn’t happy. Not one bit. I hadn’t been happy for a while.
I thought back on what I’d wanted my future to be like when I was a kid. That picture of me married with kids seemed even further away now than it had then. More than 8 years ago I had decided to do something about finding a career. And I had viewed that career not necessarily from the perspective of “I’ll do this for the rest of my life,” but more from the perspective of “I’ll do this until I meet someone.”
And now I realized that hadn’t happened. And probably wouldn’t happen. Which meant I was going to have to actually continue for the rest of my career feeling the way I’d been feeling for five years. I didn’t have it in me to continue on this way.
“I’m not happy doing this work.”
“Are you sure you’re not just burnt out?” Lacy gently asked.
I shook my head, “No. I mean, yes, I’m burnt out. But I’ve been burnt out for years with only a few weeks here and there where things feel better for a moment, and then get worse than before. I can’t keep doing this. This isn’t the life I want to lead. I think… I think I want to find a new career.”
Lacy’s face held a deep sadness as she regarded me. We had discussed burn out a few times before I’d closed myself off. I could tell she wished she could convince me I was wrong, that it wasn’t that I wanted a new career. Instead I was just tired and needed a proper vacation, or something like that. But I have always known my own mind. And when I thought of my future, being a librarian well into my forties, fifties, and sixties, it filled me with dread.
Did I really want to be cleaning other people’s poop out of urinals for another thirty years? Or watching other people’s families grow with every passing story time while I had none of my own? Or dealing with mentally unstable patrons who could snap at the tiniest word? Or suffer through annual budget cuts and hiring freezes and never having anyone stay in my department?
I didn’t want that for anyone. And I especially didn’t want that for me and my future.
“Are you sure?” Lacy asked again.
I nodded firmly, “I am.”
Lacy nodded in return, accepting and digesting this revelation.
“Do you know what you want to do?”
As always, my mind went to that picture of me with a family.
I let the picture fade away.
I shook my head, “No, but I’ll figure it out.”
She then offered to help me in whatever way she could. Did I want interview coaching? Help with my resume? Did I want her to help me figure out the color of my parachute?
Remembering the boundaries I’d worked so hard to put in place, I politely declined her offer for the moment.
“I need to figure things out first, and then maybe,” I said. A thought popped into my head. I added hastily, “But I’m not quitting right now! I just want you to know that I’m going to start looking.”
Lacy understood and I left.
I felt lighter as I rushed to the bathroom, wiping away the vestiges of my tears and willing my splotchy skin to cool it and fade back to a color that wasn’t red. Then I went back out onto the floor.
From that day forward, I began my job search in earnest.
Next time, Myron’s dumb mouth reaffirms my desperate desire to leave.
Until then, I remain…