Lisa Birch

May 18, 2017

5 min read

I remember the very moment I was told I wouldn’t be passing my final teaching placement.

It was awful.

It was windy day, and my uni mentor told me this in the yard. I burst into tears, and sat on a bed in the sick bay, crying my eyes out. My thoughts were so crazy. It was all about how I failed everyone — my parents who worked so hard to put me through uni, my grandparents sending me money for text books, leaving my job so I could finish uni and now I wouldn’t be able to go back to it, my pride.

I’m a pretty proud person. This event could have easily done me in. Well, it kind of did.

A few hours later I showed up for work. It was if God knew I was in a rough spot, so when I went to unlock the hall for the night, two of my friends who sometimes came to visit were standing in the dark, waiting for me. It gave me the chance to start saying it. ‘I failed my prac,’ I had to keep telling people, the less scary ones first.

‘Oh,’ they would say. ‘Can you do it again?’

My answer was always yes, and I was looking forward to it. This was a lie, but what I eventually relished in was going to the gym and being crazily active. I walked and ran and did all sorts of things that I never worried about before. Sometimes I even weighed my food. I worked as a children’s fitness coach, and at Pizza Hut and I was busy until my next placement came up. And I passed with flying colors.

My first break up felt exactly the same. I have always been so proud when I was suddenly with a boy. (Uh, man?) My first boyfriend broke up with me outside a paint shop, and for years afterwards, each time I walked past I would reach down and touch the ledge where we had sat for an hour and talked about All The Things That Were Wrong. When we were finished, I tugged my too tight purple faux leather jacket around me and looked at the stars. ‘I’ve been dumped.’ I told them. ‘There are too many Things wrong with me.’

I have no recollection of what those Things were. They don’t matter. What mattered was that he said I could take my time to tell people. This was a mistake.

I told my mum and dad of course, they were probably happy, and then it took two weeks to tell people.

When I first walked into work, a month ago, hand in hand with my boyfriend, it was like I was a mini celebrity for the next week. ‘Who’s your new boyfriend?’ ‘Where does he go to school?’ ‘Oh, you guys are so cute’. At school, girls who wouldn’t talk to me suddenly wanted to know any goss they could.

And so after the big Things talk, I felt awful. I felt happy because I didn’t really lurve my boyfriend, he was a very nice guy but we had nothing in common except we shared a best friend for a few years (PS yes, that was awkward afterwards too). But my celeb status was changing.

What I soon learned was that no one really cared when I didn’t have a boyfriend. Oh, some apologized to me, you know, ‘poor you, so sad,’ but no one was judging me for my inability to keep a boy around when I was fifteen. Sometimes I’d even boast it was my idea. ‘Good for you,’ they’d say, and move the conversation along.

Not having a boyfriend for a while, well six months, until the next month-long “relationship” started, was just what I needed. I felt happier. For the first three years of high school life I had moaned that I was the only person I knew who hadn’t had a boyfriend. Well, that was no longer an issue, and somehow, that knowledge gave me a little bit more strength than I had before.

When my first big teaching contract wasn’t renewed, I was called in to be re-interviewed for the position. It was probably a formality, I hadn’t been on the Board’s good books for months, which may have coincided with the appearance of a relationship on Facebook. Unmarried women can be risky, peeps.

I was more fortunate than most though. I didn’t really want to renew my contract, but some of my colleagues had intervened on my behalf and I didn’t want to let them down. I spoke to my line manager just before the interview, and he agreed to be my reference. ‘I’ve admired the way you’d held yourself through this whole thing,’ he said. At work, and about town, I was the vision of grace under fire. It was hard, but also easy. I had nothing to lose. And best of all, I knew that I had some opinions that really mattered behind me.

I didn’t get the position back. In fact, the person who won my spot was introduced at the farewell morning tea for teachers who were moving on. Everyone else moving on seemed to be doing something exciting, like having a baby or moving back to the city. I was moving to another country town, and I was kind of happy about it. I didn’t want to stay where I was, and I wanted to be myself for a while.

By time I had moved out of my classroom, moved all of my worldly possessions to another house even further away from my parents — some seven hundred and fifty kilometers — and realized what was happening, I was furious all of a sudden.

I was leaving my kids I had taught for a year. I was moving so far away that my gym membership was null and void, but I was furious about all the challenges of getting out of my contract. I was upset that I somehow didn’t have enough furniture. I was sad about the way people I thought had been my friends had treated me. The moment I didn’t have to show grace under fire, I was gone.

I was sad and miserable.

Best of all, I was alone, and the anonymity of big country town life would eventually smooth my ruffled feathers. I could go somewhere at night without seeing a parent or someone who was responsible for keeping me employed. There was a gym, and two real supermarkets and a Baker’s Delight.

For a whole summer I didn’t have to be a teacher. I could be me. And buying flat pack furniture, and driving around for more than two minutes at a time seemed to do the trick. Whoever that furious Lisa was, she wouldn’t come back. She seemed to give way to a much more placid person who liked bubble baths, and the smell of freshly cut lawn and drank Celebrity Slim shakes for 12 months to wear a wedding dress. I did say placid, not sensible.

And since I was 25 and 23 and 15, I have had lots of times where things have been my fault and someone else has to say ‘no, this isn’t happening’. I haven’t had work contracts renewed, or I haven’t had returning clients, or I have been horrible to someone and they haven’t been my friend anymore. Every time it’s been sad, or disappointing. But I often come back to these points, where everything felt like it was ending, and then, I realized, it wasn’t the end.