Anatomy of a Breakup

Daisy had worked at the college for over thirteen years, all in a part-time capacity. During those years, she’d begun to raise to her family, added to that family, and thought about whether or not teaching as a profession would turn out to be her calling. The woman who hired her—the bright, gregarious sort with a big smile and great expectations—often told her, “These adjunct jobs are wonderful. They keep your feet in the door. And when you’re ready, you can move into a full-time job pretty easily. It’s what I did,” she added with a nod of her head. “And I’ve never regretted it.”

So when the announcement came that a two-year, full-time position would be added to the department come fall, Daisy knew it was time to face the music. Her children were all nine years of age and older, mostly self-sufficient when they wanted to be. She could do anything for two years, right? If she was really ready to go full-time. And yet, she wavered. Would the kids adjust to the increased hours away if she got the job? Could she even get the job? She ran through her qualifications in her head: PhD, positive student evaluations, fine rapport with the department chair. But she didn’t know what the other faculty thought about her teaching methods and styles, and no encouragement had ever been granted by anyone in the department or in the administration. She’d always just gone in, done her job, and left. Plus, the department was heading away from traditional science and more toward the technology side, something she had little experience, or interest, in.

Daisy thought about her colleague, the one who described the adjunct position as a stepping stone. I suppose I’ve been here longer than most people. Maybe I do have a shot at the job.

She prepped her family. “I’m sure there will be a whole cadre of qualified applicants, so no guarantee about anything, but I’ve decided to apply for the full-time position,” she said one night at dinner, which consisted of black beans, rice, salad, and the expected assortment of accoutrements. If she got the job, she’d need to figure out how to get all the cooking, laundry, shopping, etc., accomplished, something she wasn’t looking forward to. However . . .

“If that’s what you want to do, then do it,” her husband said.

“Can I have more beans and rice?” Hannah, fifteen, asked.

“She’s eating all the guacamole,” Gabrielle, Hannah’s twin, said.

“Well she just ate all the salsa do we have more?” Hannah asked through a mouth-full of somewhat chewed tortilla chips.

The youngest, Mimi, sat there with a smile on her face as she shoveled cheese into her mouth, oblivious to how having her mom around fewer hours of the week might impact her, and her son, Aidan—rarely a child of few words—didn’t react, either.

Well, that’s that. No one seems to care, so why not? I’ll never know unless I try. Pulling her CV together and a cover letter wasn’t difficult, and she applied for the job the next day.

Daisy wasn’t surprised when she got the call a week or so later to come in for an interview. Several days before the appointed time, she grabbed the kids and took them shopping; they’d always been good for giving perspective.

“I need a new shirt and maybe something else. I haven’t interviewed in fifteen years, and even then, it wasn’t a real interview. The college is always begging for adjuncts. Back then, I might have walked in with jeans on, and they’d have probably hired me.” They left the store with a black skirt and casual blazer, two blouses, and a pair of shoes.

“This shit’s about to get real,” Gabrielle whispered to her. Taken aback by the teen’s words, but realizing the veracity, all Daisy said was, “Shhh. I don’t want Aidan and Mimi to hear you.”

Daisy was surprised on the day of the interview, when eight people sat before her, ready to grill her. Eight? When did the search committee get so big? Most of the committee members were newer folks, those that hadn’t been around when she first started, those who probably didn’t know her background, her teaching style, her successes. The make up of the committee did not bode well, and neither did . . . was that . . . why yes it was. The two males on the committee sat at their seats, dressed only in T-shirts and shorts, more prepped for a day at the beach than an interview. Had the women dressed like that. . . . Daisy didn’t have time to dwell on that thought. Her presentation on the neuronal synapse awaited.

In the end, even though she’d shown the committee members a new trick in PowerPoint (shouldn’t she get bonus points for that?), Daisy was pretty certain she wouldn’t get the job. One interviewer had asked her questions that were easily answered by her CV, which sat directly in front of him. Another interviewer asked about teaching a class she had no qualifications to teach. Daisy got the distinct impression that they had called her in for no other reason than to prove to the higher ups that they interviewed several candidates; they most likely had a candidate in mind already. As she pulled out of the parking garage, she asked herself, How did this keep happening? The same thing had occurred at a different institution a decade before. Maybe this was a sign–to step away from teaching.

As July moved into August and the fall semester approached, Daisy heard nothing from the committee, so she went about her business, wrapping up summer’s last tasks before the onslaught of all activities. A weight had been lifted from her shoulders. While she’d been somewhat ready to teach full-time, she hadn’t been 100% ready. Not having to make a decision seemed like the best way to go. She’d continue what she’d been doing: teaching a few classes, volunteering at the school, writing in her very spare time.

But life has a funny way of messing with the best-laid plans, and in mid-August, just before the start of the new semester, the chair called. “Can you take a one-term, full-time position?”

She could. Because one term to find out if full-time teaching was what she was supposed to do was better than two years. And so she did.


Daisy looked at the calendar in the front office of the department. How time flies. She had seven more weeks in this semester, and then summer was upon them. The college didn’t know it yet, but when summer came, she’d be turning her keys in. She was finished with this teaching gig, at least for now. The past had taught her that. She shook her head as she thought back to the term of full-time teaching, almost two full year ago now (when she’d learned just how fucked up the department was) and the part-time term that followed (when she said yes because slots needed to be filled). She’d done that again this term, agreeing to teach even though her heart wasn’t in it. And she couldn’t do that anymore, fill the slot because she was needed. She needed something too, and it wasn’t something that this job could give her.

A voice rang behind her. “Daisy, can you come to my office for a minute? I need to send this email, and I’d like to have a colleague’s opinion.”

Daisy was shocked. Matthew had never asked for her opinion on anything, and he’d been the one at the interview to seem disinterested in her and her capabilities. Furthermore, a few semesters earlier, he’d made a snide comment. “Adjuncts are not colleagues of mine,” he’d said to her, as if because she was only part-time, she didn’t deserve the same respect. She’d bit her tongue then, holding back a snarky comment about how her PhD from an Ivy league school outshone his PhD from a small, state college.

“Sure, I can help.”

The pair walked toward Matthew’s office, where he pulled up an email.

“I just need to encourage this student to withdraw without saying it. We can’t tell a student to withdraw, you know. The college doesn’t like that. I could get reprimanded.”

“I get it,” Daisy said. “I’m in a much better position. If I send an email the college doesn’t like, what are they going to do? Fire me? Ha! They always need adjuncts.”

Matthew laughed and then, his face turned serious. “You know, I remember that interview of yours. That time you didn’t get the job. But we had more openings come up after that. Why didn’t you apply for that job?”

He was referencing the two tenure-track positions that had opened up after her one term of full-time teaching. She hadn’t applied, and was now surprised to find that he had noticed.

“You know what, Matthew? That one term of full-time teaching made me realize that it’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

“It’s not?” he asked.

“No. I realized that time’s short—as cliche as that is—and I can’t waste it on something that doesn’t make me happy–”

“But you’re good at . . . you’re so good . . . you’d be . . .” Matthew shook his head, as if he just couldn’t believe what Daisy was saying.

“Well thank you, and I’m glad I didn’t know how you felt when those jobs opened up, because I might have felt some pressure to apply. But my mom–she didn’t go to college and she never found a job that she loved. And now, she has Alzheimer’s. Her dreams? They never came to fruition, and they will die with her. I can’t become like that.”

A smirk crossed Matthew’s face. “But you should have applied.”

Daisy took a breath through her nose and let it out quietly. Matthew had no right to tell her what she should have done. “I’m glad I didn’t,” Daisy said, her tone friendly and calm. “Because it’s not what I wanted, and furthermore, I want to have time with my kids. I want to be present for them. That one term of full-time teaching? I handled it and I handled it well. I did a damn fine job actually. But I didn’t see my kids enough, and they are just too important to me.”

Matthew sat back in his chair for one moment and then leaned in toward Daisy. “You know, if there’s one thing I think about, it’s that. Did I do things right with the kids? Could I have done something better? Yeah, it’s that I probably needed to be there more for them. It’s something I regret, truly.”

“Exactly. So there you have it.”

He sat back against the chair again. “Huh. Well, you’d be so good.”

“Thanks. Now about that email . . .”

Later that day, after Daisy had finished class, she thought back to her conversation with Matthew. Why had it taken so long for him to tell her he thought she was a good instructor? And why hadn’t he encouraged Daisy to apply for the positions that opened if he was so adamant about her abilities? They would be losing a good, no great, instructor when she walked away in a few weeks. Could it be that they actually knew that before now? It didn’t matter, and this time, as Daisy pulled out of the parking garage, she felt hopeful. Despite the impending breakup, she now had proof that they’d noticed her work over the years. That despite the quiet, the lack of encouragement, she’d done her job well and they knew it. This breakup wouldn’t be painful, at least not for her.

Picture of cracked sand by Lina from Pixabay.

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