I have to pee. Even though I just peed five minutes earlier in the lobby restroom, it is a thought brought on by the sight of water dripping off of my raincoat darkening the elevator’s carpeted floor. Why do they carpet elevators anyway, I think to myself, looking at the trail of coffee stains leading to the door?
I study my disheveled appearance in the shine of the sleek gray steel noting that my bangs are plastered on my forehead in an upward sweep. I frown. Why didn’t I notice this downstairs in the bathroom mirror? Fishing in my purse, I pull out my compact. I smooth down my bangs studying a close up of my damp reflection. If only I had remembered my umbrella on this of all days.
The elevator chimes announce each level. People filter in and out every couple of floors, until only I remain. I watch as the white buttons illuminate one by one as I ascend to the top. I take a deep breath. Only one more floor to go. I straighten my skirt and check my reflection again right before the doors open into a white marble floored lobby. I step out, and walk toward reception. I think I smell lavender.
As I furnish the elderly receptionist with my first and last name, I glance in the mirror above her teased and sprayed head, to check my hair. I am being ridiculous I know, but I don’t care. Everything needs to be perfect for this interview.
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Having been directed to a chair, I sit, but waiting was never my strong suit. I try not to fidget, but fail, unconsciously toying with my left earring. Fortunately my torment is soon calmed as I hear my phony name being called.
“Sandra, they’re ready for you now. Right this way.”
Here we go.
I drive home nervously humming to the song being played, but not knowing what tune I am humming. I am lost in my thoughts, rewinding the recent verbal exchange. Did I blow this interview?
The phone is ringing as I open the door. I listen as the answering machine starts to amplify my voice in response to the caller. I hear the name of the firm as I run to pick up the receiver. It is him. He offers me the job. I am speechless, not thinking that I actually had a shot at this position. But I hear him tell me how although my experience in the field is lacking, that they are looking for a fresh perspective. Would I like the job? If so, could I start on Monday?
My voice betrays me not allowing my brain to first react. I am shocked at the sound of my voice as the words escape me. I feel as though I am in a tunnel hearing my muted response. Did I just hear a “No” in response to his question? Did my subconscious just say that or did I?
I panic for a second not knowing if I just declined the job offer I was receiving and so desperately wanted.
“No?” he replies in obvious disbelief.
“No,” I respond again. “I’m sorry,” I say while slapping my thigh in an attempt to pull it together. “What I mean is, that yes, I could start on Monday, however, I would rather start right away if you don’t mind. I am excited about this position and ready to go.”
“Oh,” he says. I hear the relief in his voice, or perhaps it is a reconsideration. I muse over whether my recovery was successful.
“Well then, why don’t you come in on Thursday? We could get you going on the necessary paperwork.”
I am relieved. I am finally moving toward my goal.
I sit in the boardroom being introduced and nod to each person as they say their name and state their position within the company. Today I am organized and properly outfitted, a portrait of confidence and sophistication. Which am I, I ponder, a great magician or a wonderful actress? Ah, no matter. Well done, I silently think to myself. I’m ready for this introduction. My eyes scan the room wondering if each woman responding will be her. But the introductions are finished now, and she is not here. I am puzzled. Where is she?
Once the meeting has concluded, I rise and continue to smile, make small talk, and firmly shake each extended hand. I have been welcomed, but still not by her. Seriously? Now I am starting to get pissed off. I have gone to all of this trouble to land this job and she’s not even here? I collect my notebook from the conference room table, fuming under my façade. Maybe this was all one big mistake. How stupid could I be? A hand gently touches my shoulder and I jump.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” the voice says.
I turn and see a tall middle-aged woman smiling at me. I freeze in my tracks. She is stunning. I almost don’t recognize her, but I can tell by the faint scar over her left eyebrow that it is her. She introduces herself and my legs threaten to give out on me. My manners are instantly lost as I suddenly turn mute. She looks at me puzzled. “You are Sandra, correct?” she queries.
“Excuse me,” I manage to say. “Yes, I am.”
I shake her hand. It is warm like a sunny spring day, unlike my own which has just turned a clammy cold. We make small talk. She is nice. She is kind. She is everything that I had hoped for and imagined. She does not recognize me. But why would she? It was so very long ago.
She exits, my eyes following her as she walks into the copy room, and overwhelmed with emotion, I now bolt for the nearest bathroom door. I throw up in the first toilet stall I barge into. Someone is in the furthest unit from the door. I wait for them to leave, shivering against the cold white porcelain.
Once I am finally alone, I exit the stall and head to a sink. I splash water on my face and grab a paper towel dabbing the wet trail trickling down my chin. Large wild eyes look back at me from the mirror. I don’t recognize myself. Anxiety flushes through my body. I must leave, and I must leave now.
As quietly as I can, I enter my cubicle. Undetected, I grab my purse and coat, and swiftly retreat through the back exit near the stairs. My lunch is sitting in the refrigerator in the break room, my favorite leftovers of Kung Pao Chicken in my purple Tupperware container, but I don’t care. Someone else can eat it. I wonder if maybe it will be her.
My pace quickens as I run down five flights of stairs as quickly as my four inch heals will allow. Having now put a few floors between us, I exit the stairwell and find myself on the 11th floor. I hop into the elevator to ride the rest of the way down.
Now in the lobby, I run to the glass double doors, unwilling to exit through the lobby’s slower carousal. I fling the door open and a damp cold wind slaps me in the face. Is that what she would do if she knew I had tracked her down?
The TV flickers in the background, but I don’t know what is on. A wool blanket is draped over my shivering shoulders, but I am still cold. I unconsciously pick at the lint on my yoga pants, not knowing how I arrived here. The ride home was a complete amnesic blank. I am grateful now that I listed a P. O. Box as my home address. I don’t want her to track me down if she bothers to connect the dots. Why did I ever think I could do this? Seeing her just brought all of the horror back. The rat infested allies, the cigarette burns on my four year old legs, dining on moldy bagels covered in waste from the trash bin, and the sight of my birth mother just walking away.”