I lumber into the kitchen at 8:36 and begin my life. Everyone is already awake. I am a small black bear among humans: wild and askew. “Fiiirst daaay of woooork!!” Naomi says to me. She’s unpacking her groceries: cold brew, chickpeas, organic shampoo. “How do you feel?” “Okay. Just staring into the void,” I joke. This is not a joke. I don’t know whether these new humans I live with metabolize sarcasm. I no longer feel certain that kitchens are a place for performative grouchiness.
I fumble for coffee in the fridge. I prepare oatmeal the way Maslen taught me (she seems far away now, a bear friend I left behind in the forest, dozing next to a rock). The stirring and the rinsing and the putting away takes a long time because of my bear paws, and because I keep getting distracted by whistles of chatter. I hate the GRE, did you hear she got into law school?, no I can’t do happy hour, I have a Women in Banking meeting tonight, oh, yeah, I heard he’s been working at a startup–something about sustainable plastic? The workday discourse has begun: it passes through my ears without stopping at my brain.
I take a glass from the cupboard. It’s dirty. I inspect the glass and realize that the layer of white powder at the bottom is excess dishwasher detergent. The glasses are dirty because someone wanted them to be clean. We have been abandoned by the laws of causation. I don’t say anything to these humans about the premonition of incoherence I have seen at the bottom of my glass, because I don’t want to sour their faith in reason and order. But the loneliness of knowing makes my lungs jingle in my rib cage; I clink like two champagne flutes at a New Years’ party.
I take a seat at the table, and it is 8:52. Margot smiles at me from the window seat. “Can you believe we’re entering the workforce in the middle of a global pandemic? Wait, your oatmeal looks so good.” Margot has toothpaste on the corner of her mouth. I smile but don’t show my teeth. “Wait, do you have work in 8 minutes?” she asks. I nod. I hold my oatmeal spoon in my unpracticed bear claws (bears do not have thumbs) and make a self-deprecating joke about how I’m still in my pajamas. I’m trying to communicate that I’m a bit of a mess, which is better than being a type-A snob. It’s also not untrue that I’m a bit of a mess. I make a note in the back of my mind to wear something cool and chic later today (leather pants), so that they will also know that I am cool and chic. I am multifaceted.
But for now I am a bear in a Ben and Jerry’s t-shirt (covered with cows, purchased at the factory gift shop), and I don’t know how to communicate to Margot that, yes, it is 8:52, and yes, I have work in 8 minutes. But no, I am not stressed about making preparations for this new life I’m beginning, obviously, because I am a bear. Stressed is not the right word. It’s more that I’m bewildered: by humans talking to me about my job at 8:52 a.m., by the fact that cleaning a glass can make it dirty, and by my sudden desire to step out of this furry body and into one that these new friends – who care about my work and my breakfast routine – will find more appealing. Here I am now, in a city full of dishware, wishing I had the option to go back (in a moment, will I crest the hill and see the forest? Wake my friend, who is still dozing, pick bits of moss out of her coat?). But it is my first day of work, so I stay where I am.
Sabrina Bustamante is an emerging writer who studied creative writing and history as an undergraduate at Yale University, where her non-fiction essay won the Henry P. Wright prize. She lives in Washington, D.C.