Sweet Alyssum

Work is okay. Better than okay, when compared to the shit show of 2021. That was an awful year. I’d lost my long-term job to COVID and had to find another. At first, it seemed I’d landed on my feet at a pediatric therapy clinic, where I worked the front desk and managed the schedule for ten providers and a passel of wild-eyed children. I loved those kids, by the way. One of my defining features as a human is how much I love children; it’s something everybody knows about me, including the kids, who are gravitationally pulled into my orbit, bearing broken toys and bandaged owies and scraps of paper covered in crayon. They know I’ll make a fuss and ask a bunch of questions and tape their artwork to my desk. We understand each other.

Anyway, I digress. I left that zoo after six months, due to a few too many incidents of micromanagement and a bullying coworker who could not bring herself to leave me the fuck alone. I moved on. And on, and on, and on, and on. I worked at a prosthetics clinic. I spent two days with some eye surgeons. I tried chiropractic, and bookkeeping for a home health service, and middle management. And possibly one or two other jobs I’m too traumatized to recall. I quit and quit and quit. It was a miserable year, and I was lost.

What happened eventually is that I made my way back to where I’d started, the rowdy front desk of a large physical therapy clinic. My god, the relief. I cannot tell you. The familiar faces. The familiar workflow. A kind boss who knew and appreciated me. And it was made even better when, three months in, I got wind that one of the group’s smaller clinics had lost both manager and therapist and would need to make a fresh start. I jumped up and down going me-me-me, and ended up securing that transfer.

At first, I worried that I had made another mistake. The tiny clinic was dingy and unloved, with pots full of dead plants outside and a depressing lack of personality within. I spent an evening wandering around the empty clinic, noting how there were approximately nine hundred paper cups in the storage room, how the sheets and towels were jumbled onto an open bookshelf which loomed like the Tower of Pisa over a nearby exam table. The exercise bike didn’t work. The dryer squeaked. You get the idea.

But it would be mine. The bosses told me to take ownership, and that’s what I did. I stopped by one weekend and tore the dead plants from the pots out front, filled them up with sweet alyssum and flowering perennials. I took down the dusty paper screen on the front door and polished the glass, got maintenence in to fix the bike and replace the damaged backsplash behind the sink. I scrubbed out the fridge. Cleaned the carpets. I ordered fresh white cabinetry with doors to replace that awful bookshelf, washed all the linens and folded them neatly and stacked them inside. I emptied the drawers and cupboards around my desk and reorganized the mess within. (Dozens of boxes of paperclips, what kind of OCD nonsense is this?) I brought houseplants from my own collection and put them in the waiting room and around the front desk. Friends, I scrubbed the bathrooms.

We took over the place in March. It’s just two of us in this clinic: the therapist and me. She’s wonderful, by the way. She specializes in pelvic floor and related issues, so we see a lot of pregnant patients, many of whom have kids they bring to their appointments. I’m the unofficial babysitter during these visits, so I get a lovely hour of kid-time on the reg. I push strollers, cuddle babies, put together puzzles on the waiting room floor. We have beach balls and fire trucks. A fart gun! Colored paper and highlighters, should any small person feel creatively inspired. People talk a lot about the vibe of the place. They say it’s peaceful and friendly. They like my playlist. They like my plants and ask if they are real. Our little-clinic-that-could is now booked six weeks out and we’re hiring another therapist to come in and help. The boss has requested my DNA for cloning.

It’s the right place for me. The right amount of bustle, very little stress. There are Christmas lights on the houseplants and paper snowflakes taped to the window, and although we do find the occasional junkie on the doorstep of a morning, the occasional asshole on the other end of the phone, and a sagging disappointment on paydays, all in all it’s a pretty good gig. I’m grateful to be where I am and have what I have.

Work is better than okay.

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