Written January 14, 2003
It is bitter cold outside. I can’t believe I’m walking around downtown on a day like this at a time like this. I just can’t believe it. My pants are way too thin. So I walk faster and bite down hard on my back teeth and push towards the little corner store.
It’s too bright in there. And the pastries are overpriced. They give you a croissant and then drizzle it with frosting and call it gourmet, so I have to pay $3.00 for it. I buy 8 pastries. One for me, and seven for the executive committee who is meeting in an hour or so.
I take it to the counter. I’m still cold. It’s like this cold got into my bones and is coming out of me.
I open the boxes so the girl at the counter can count them. “We’re tax exempt,” I say. I hand her the letter. She sighs. “Let me go get the manager,” she says. She disappears for a long time, and some man, obviously a manager, walks out to me asking, “Have you been helped?”
“She went to find you, I say. “I’m tax exempt.” I see a sign that says no credit cards. The girl comes back. I sigh and ask where the ATM is. She points down a long hall, and I make my way down. I slide my card through hoping that I actually have $20 in my account, because it’s very likely that I can’t actually afford to buy these danish out of pocket for the people who are coming to the office to meet.
But it gives me my money. I give my money to the girl. “You’re not tax exempt, “she says. And I say, “Yes we are. See?” And she says, “It’s expired.” And I look down and see I brought the wrong letter. The old letter. I ask if they will just trust me. They say no.
So I pay the money, and the tax, and she says, “You want a bag?” And of course I do. Cause I’m carrying a lot of food. And she sighs and puts it in one. I say, “Do you have a garbage back there? Can you throw this away?” She doesn’t answer but just looks at me. So I repeat myself thinking she didn’t hear. She snaps loud, “I heard you. Give it here,” and snatches the paper from my hand. I leave. She took my receipt when she did that, so now I am wondering if my office will reimburse me, or if this just means that I bought the executive committee overpriced breakfast.
I walk down the street and before I reach the first stoplight, I’m crying hard. And, because I think it will make me feel better, I look at the first person I see and tell him, “I hate my job.” Then the real tears come. I’m trying to see so I can cross the street and get out of the godforsaken Chicago cold. But some guy is barreling through the yellow light and baring his teeth at everyone even remotely near the crosswalk. So I stand there. Waiting. And thinking. What if this is all I ever am? A poorly paid over-educated waitress. A brilliant mind, or at least a vibrant soul, wasted? What if I am 40 years old and all I ever do is help other people do what they want to do? What if I just keep trying this stupid theatre thing and never figure out that it is not my calling? What if my true calling is to bring people overpriced pastries and wake up at 5 am for the rest of my life with the first thought every time being: I know I have more to give than this? What if that happens? Where will I find my worth? It keeps on tumbling down and down and down until I’m so overwhelmed that I stop crying.
I get to work and almost wish that my boss would criticize the food set up, as he usually does. I almost wish he’d give me that opportunity. But he doesn’t. I set up the food. And the coffee. And even though I know that it’d be this small creative outlet to arrange the baskets the way I want to, on angles and curving in towards each other, I push everything in neat little rows, cause that’s how they like it here. I know because they’ve told me how to line up the baskets, the food in the baskets, the cups, and plates, and napkins, and even suggested more efficient methods for separating silverware.
I sit down at my desk, where I have a clear view of the clock and I set my emotional timer to OFF for the next eight hours. I feel my chest squeeze tight as I breathe in the air that is my life.
Dear Current Self-
There will be a time when you miss coming to work.
Listen. The only thing you can count on is that everything changes. It just keeps changing. Keep up.
Love, Your Old Self