Monday, November 4, 2013

This is a Memoir: Week 9

At Work
I stand at the window in the concrete emergency stairwell of my office building. While walking to the bathroom the mist caught my eye through another window in a fire door, and my feet began to ache. I pushed my way through the red steel that shut loud behind me, a satisfying slam before echoed silence. I pressed my hands against the glass. I am not thinking about dying, but I am thinking about jumping.
I have just come from the "Diversity Dialogue," a Harvard event where a large group of new managers supposedly learn how to have difficult conversations surrounding (among other things) internalized cultural and racial prejudices. Unsurprisingly, few people of color attend, although there are more than I have seen at any Harvard staff get together prior. Usually the audience consists of a sea of white women's faces. The speaker asks us all to pair off, and we each receive a sheet of paper. On the paper are five circles, one in the center and four others connected to the center circle with ruler straight lines. In the middle you write your name. In the four surrounding circles you describe yourself, one-word answers only. I stare at the white blanks. I write, daughter. I write, liberal. I write performer. I write, artist, but cross it out. The woman next to me has written quickly: Manager, American, Woman, and Wife. After we share aloud, silence. Until she yawns, telling me she is tired, "From last night. World Series Champs! Gosh, that game was exciting." “Oh, yes,” I say but I did not watch, do not tell her I was in a class wearing a cowgirl costume (Halloween), letting a friend update me and my classmates on the score, happy for the lead only because of the energy that would pulse through the group of adults wearing musketeer hats, yellow suspenders, vampire teeth, and Hipster scarves each time another run was announced. This americanmanagerwifewoman wears her Red Sox T-Shirt with skinny jeans, a taupe blazer, and riding boots. Her long legs crossed at the thigh, she admits to workaholism with a glint in her blue eye.
I am pressed against the window because the wind is ending the world, and I can’t look away. Red leaves rush on wet blasts, branches bend, tree trunks groan, and the sky opens wide its maw to gulp at earth. The roofs of neighboring buildings shine slick and unmoving. I feel surprised we still stand. There is no rain, but there are promises in the air.
Tomorrow I will have another conversation with my employee, and she will cry. I will use phrases like "crucial situations," "decision making skills," and "time management," all to help her understand the importance of properly setting up a laptop for any lecture attended by our Faculty members. I will tell her this, face stony, eyes concerned, with unfeigned gravity, and she will cry. I will push the tissue box towards her and avoid saying, "It's all right." She will cry like something is broken. After she leaves, I will close the door behind her and cross my arms, pressing myself back together.
I lean into the thick paned glass, palms pressed, fingers spread. I rest my hairline, tilting my gaze, counting the cars in the parking lot from six floors up. There is no hinged opening, no way to step through. My thoughts are most likely chaste in comparison to the others who have wanted for this. No one is out walking. It isn't time to go home.
My office has no windows so my therapist gifted me a sun lamp: a small rectangular box, 12 inches on the long side, six inches on the other that beams something resembling sunlight into my brain all day. "The light from the HappyLight Energy Lamp must be directed at your eyes; therefore, your eyes must be open to achieve the full benefit. Note: Tinted glasses reduce the amount of light reaching your eyes," says the manual. The first day even the lowest setting is so bright I find myself squinting. But I adjust. I stay awake at my desk now. I stay awake through the night. I am vigilant.
If I were a tree I would be a rain shelter, a place for prayer, solid, seasonal, dark, and alive. My thin wooden fingers would scrape hellos on remote windows, and at night I would be almost invisible, a shadowy outline of leaves against a starlit sky. How much wind would it take to knock me over, to tear me from the ground? What if I grew on the roof of this building, wood birthed from cut wood, roots winding into heating vents, choking lab equipment, grinding chalk to dust? How much would it take then? Would a gust be enough to blow me over the edge, spinning wildly towards my splintering?
But I am not a tree. I turn abruptly and walk back through the fire door, past the bathroom long forgotten, by the finished wood of the reception desk, beyond a closed office door to a closed door of my own. I sit at my desk. I type an email using words like "critical," "expectations," and "deadlines." I press send and stare directly into the sun lamp.
I do not want to jump.
I want to fly.

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