When I got home this afternoon there was a letter waiting for me. From La Trobe. I felt sick opening it. I was thinking, hey what kind of fuckery is this? what more could they possibly want from me? What pissy little pound of flesh have they scrabbled up a demand for now?
But what the envelope contained was a letter, actually quite nicely and politely written for La Trobe, noting that my affiliation as an honorary fellow had lapsed at some point in the confusion created by the recent unpleasantness, and inviting me to complete the enclosed paperwork to have it activated again for the next three years.
I loved La Trobe. So much. The campus is what I loved, but over time the campus meant what it meant because of the library, the lecture theatres, the tutorial rooms, the explorations I made there, the shared imaginations, the stories people told, the meandering conversations, the friendships, the fights, the laughter, the power struggles, the gossip, the work, the frustrations, the deepening of all these things with the passing of time. The Leonard French glass at the bus stop and Inge King in the moat. Menzies. The tall windows open to the setting sun and the birds in the trees. And the Agora, the brown bricks, the ducks. It felt like home, and it was. More than home in some ways. I loved it from the first, 1993, to the last, 2015. Belonging there always invited a confusion between reality and dreams. It was the easiest place in the world to fall into a reverie and stay in it all day (yes, even through several hours of teaching, once you got good at it.)
The last time I was on the campus it was a weekend. I was there, alone, to clear out the last few bits of my stuff (I'd worked there for fourteen years - there was a lot of stuff) and to push my office key under the Dean's door. I did what I needed to do, and went for a walk outside before getting in the car and driving away. I remember looking at the sky through the trees around the Dante sculpture and feeling dazed with pain. I'd cried so much in the days leading up to this one that the tears leaked out any time I thought about what was happening. I still couldn't believe this was the end of the road for me and the university. I couldn't think about what it would be to not come here and work any more. I'd seen enough people go, after good and even great careers, in grief and bitterness, to know that being thrown away happens to lots of academics and it doesn't say anything about the value and meaning of what they'd spent all those years of their lives in doing. But this felt orders of magnitude more cruel, not just because it was happening to me this time, but also because my departure was just one insignificant garbage bag in the vast and incomparably ugly rubbish tip of a restructure that was going down. It lacked even the dignity of a personalised insult.
I felt like I'd lost everything. Doesn't that sound melodramatic? I was over-invested in the place, this is the truth. Also, I should acknowledge that La Trobe paid me a shitload of money to fuck off, and if I'd resisted that and fought harder, maybe I could have stayed. I also want to remember that the life I led as an academic entailed poisonous levels of stress and anxiety, especially after I became a mother, and I am still amazed at how much nicer life is on the outside of that cycle of abuse. But, I left, and for a long time afterwards, this was incredibly hard to come to terms with.
I think opening that letter this afternoon might have drawn a line underneath something, namely a long phase of feeling betrayed and rejected by La Trobe tailing off into not thinking or caring about it any more. The letter itself just seemed so free of angst and loadedness. So pleasantly neutral, so civil, so unheated. I'd known for ages that my honorary status had broken down somehow, and it has been very inconvenient not having easy access to a research library, but I'd assumed that it was withdrawn deliberately as part of some sort of baroque strategy for putting honoraries into their places. (This is in fact how honoraries were treated while I was working there, so not as paranoid an assumption as it might sound.) And I thought I would have to grovel and beg, and moreover have to trundle figuratively around the university grovelling and begging to many different people, to have it reactivated. Turns out not to be so. It feels pretty OK to have received a letter from La Trobe and not to have to hate the place after reading it, it really does. Maybe I'll even go out there one day.