Week Three: Ode to the Most Difficult One

old stone wall

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.

For ten years, you have driven me crazy.

We are at the office. There is a board meeting today. I came in early to get ready and I my eyes dart quickly between the scattered papers on my desk. I’m in that focused zone, I am not sure I have enough time, but I the ideas are flowing. I am sharp and ready. Checking this, discarding that. Confidence is building slowing. Percolating. It could be a good day after all. I verify a figure and pack up my laptop. Everything is in its proper place. I just need to find my phone and stop at the printer for the handouts. Ten minutes to go. I am ahead of schedule. I feel it before it manifests, funny how that happens, but yes, there is a movement outside the door.  Inside my mind, I cast about for a secret power; I will the shape to continue moving.


You say, “are you busy?”


Of course, I am busy. “Just getting ready for the meeting. It starts at 10:00.” I start off pleasant, genuinely cheerful.  I want this exchange to go well. I give it a shot. The benefit of a doubt. I am a glass half full. With a welcoming smile, I ask you in. I trust that you were listening and heard what I said. I assume you know the time. I hold out hope that if all else fails we can resort to unspoken signals. See my body language?  See my bags packed?  Humans are supposed to be sensitive to these things.


“Can I talk to you for a second?”


First, I see you in the doorway. Your appearance is unthreatening.  There is nothing in that muted rust-colored sweater that indicates what is about to happen. Your practical shoes are not grimy. The glasses on your face are not smudged as my own probably are.  I remember you told me years later that my glasses had been smudged on the day I interviewed. You thought this was a bad sign.  But I turned out, “to be okay”. You raise your eyebrows and sigh. Oh how I have learned to dread that sigh.  Yes, this is going to be one of those talks.  You begin with a question. I am pleased. It is straightforward. I have an answer.  I tell you what I think you should do. Simple. But, you disagree.  You want to propose something else. You are not just planning to get an answer, make a decision on a simple matter and get back to work. There is something you need to get off of your chest. I have seen it a hundred times.


Perhaps it starts with a sigh as talk. But, if I do not acknowledge the sigh, it grows. It may turn into a loud clearing of your throat. The sigh escalates to something sharper and noisier. But, I don’t have time for this. I pause only a second and continue. I can see you squeezing your eyes shut, like maybe you have to sneeze. Clearly you can sneeze and listen to my answer at the same time. I don’t have all the time in the world to wait for a sneeze that may or may not come. I see it isn’t going to come.  You are ramping up the dramatic action. I finish my response and start to get up. But, you don’t really want to hear my response. This isn’t about solutions.  A resolution is not your goal.  You will not stop short of total control of the conversation. You swing the conversation back to my original answer. You question it again.


At this point, I am thinking in the interest of time.  I repeat my suggestion and offer to talk in more detail later. I am listing some potential times later in the day when we can have this longer discussion. Your eyes are open now, but you’ve resumed the throat-clearing interrupting me. I pause to let you recover. How long can a person go on making this racket? The throat-clearing segues into a cough. I start explaining that I need to go. At this point I am competing with the cough. The cough gets louder and the hacking sound completely overtakes any other sound in my office.  We are fighting. You are antagonized and angry and you will not let me speak. You will not let me answer and move on with my day. You are not merely coughing.  You are expressing deep displeasure. You are thinking of all that has been unfair. You resent your mother. You have an unhappy marriage. You want to go to see the nation’s capital, but you are too afraid to travel in these dangerous time. You think your best friend spoils her children. These grievances are my fault.  You know they have nothing to do with me, but circumstance has brought us together for forty hours a week. I get paid to put up with this. You will not stop coughing until you have your way.  At this point in the coughing, you raise your hand. Not to indicate apology for the disruption.  You are actively pushing your palm towards my side of the desk. You want…need… to push roughly against your barriers.  Stop. Back. You want to influence something, be recognized for something, heard and felt and maybe loved. You want me to stop talking.  And I do.


I let you finish the coughing routine.  You put your hand down. You sigh again. You have wasted the ten minutes I had before the board meeting and now I am going to be running late. I can still make it on time, but I feel a heat rising behind my eyeballs. You shake your head. You tell me that even though you think it is problematic, that you will proceed as I originally advised.  You are still seated in the chair and there is no sign that you are ready to leave. I pick up my bags and move towards the door. As I make to find my keys to lock my office, you finally start to stand yourself. I am outside my office looking in. I wait for you to stand up and come out so I can shut the door. I lock it and you lean back as I start to walk away. I glance back to see you are still in the doorframe. In the doorframe of my office.


“Thanks, for letting me vent.”


This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.





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