Being Inspired, maybe - 91

A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, then, the words:

When someone tells you to meet them at Bryant Park in New York it's never a good idea to say "Where?".

Particularly when that person is a woman you have worked with for nearly two years, was way out of your reach because of both her social and business standing and one that you have had feelings for but could never tell her.

It was not that she was involved and then not, for reasons that we're never fully clear, it was not because she never complained about how she was treated by both peers and contemporaries in a company that didn't appear to practice gender bias, but did, and it was not because we worked often closely together at all hours of the day and night.

It was simply because she didn't need that sort of relationship.  I respected that, and I liked to think that she respected my support.

There were enough other men in the building who were a cross between subtle and sledgehammer in trying to win her affections, men who were as shallow and condescending as any I'd known.  I never understood how it could be that she seemed only worthy of the chase, and little more.

That much I had discovered when speaking with a group of junior executives, who were talking about her at a recent executive get together to mark a 30-year celebrant, in terms that made me so angry I had to leave.

It had been a week since then.

She had been absent from work, and I had been told that she was taking some personal time. 

I had seen her briefly but not spoke to her, on the way out of that gathering, and It had been abrupt and ill-mannered of me.  I had intended to apologize the next morning, but she had not come in, or been in since, and as each day passed it seemed less and less likely I'd get the opportunity to explain.

It was why the request to meet her at Bryant Park was such a surprise.

It also caused momentary panic because I'd never heard of it.  It just goes to show that you can live in a city for years and still not know much about it.

I guess that was because I came from a small town in the mid-West with every intention of making it big in the big city to the detriment of all else.  I had intended to show my father I was actually more than the lazy indolent fool he thought of me as, but in reality, all I'd done was fulfill his prophecy of failure.

Perhaps all I should have aspired to was being a farmer's son, like my brothers, but I'd always had dreams.  Right now, those dreams were very fragile and likely to be shattered. 

It was not a new thought or something out of left field, but something I'd been considering for a few months, and more so since the party, where I had been reassessing my options, one of which was to go home.  Success was difficult in a city where you knew very few people, much like relationships.

Not hearing from her and realizing that she was just another of those dreams that would never come to fruition, though I was not sure what my expectations were, had firmly focussed my thoughts on leaving rather than staying.  Her absence proved that without her, there was no reason to stay.

Bryant Park was up near 5th Avenue and 42nd street, tucked away in a corner of the city that had market stalls, and, in winter, a skating rink.  I knew about the one at Central Park, and at the Rockefeller Centre, and I was sure there were more.

From where I was standing, I could just see the top section of the Empire State Building, the spire where once an airship had moored and was originally going to be an airport.  I’d been lucky enough to visit the departure lounge, and it had been an eerie experience.

It made me think briefly that perhaps I might just miss that sense of belonging that I always had, far more than in the one street town I'd come from.

"Hello, George."

Jacqui always had a way of saying my name that could send shivers down my spine.  This was another of those occasions, though if I was honest, it might also be the cold.

She was immaculately dressed as always. But with a difference, she looked a lot like Mary Christmas in the fur-lined red coat and fur hat.

"Jacqui.  You're looking well."

It was a dumb thing to say, but when it came to ordinary conversation. I always found myself tongue-tied in her presence.  I think she knew this and tried to make it easier for me.

"And you look somewhat bewildered that I would ask you to meet me outside the office."

Could she read my mind?  It was a question lurking there and perhaps my expression was not as non-committal as I thought.

"It crossed my mind, but I figured you might want to know what's been going on at the office because you haven't been at work.  I hope the reason you were away was nothing serious."

Personal time was one of those nebulous statements that could mean almost anything, and when you care about someone more than you should, it conjures up any number of terrifying scenarios.

"It was nothing to do with my health.  I felt the walls closing in on me and I had to get away for a short time and clear my head."

It sounded like she too had been reassessing her options.  What I'd discovered when we were together, and when work-related discussion faded into the background, I got the sense she wanted a normal conversation, and during those precious few moments when she let her guard down, little parts of her life slipped out.  In a sense, both of us had reached the same conclusion about life in the city but were equally torn between wanting something else but not wanting to forsake what we had.

This much I knew.

Jacqui was from Wisconsin, a large small town that was once reliant on agriculture as it's reason to exist, and when that reason started slipping away the town began a slow death, and she, like many of the children of that generation, who would have ended up on the end of the unemployment line, dispersed to other parts of the country, some even further, and in the case of her sister, to another country.

In a sense, I came from the same background and had not wanted to follow my father and brothers down that same track.  I had seen what it had done to my father and his father before him, and I just didn't have that form of stoicism.

When she said she needed to get away, I realized now she had gone home, something she had been contemplating for a month or so, not because she was homesick, but that her mother was ailing.  Sometimes going home and the familiarity that comes with it made what seemed to be insurmountable problems so much smaller.

"I guess you know I was becoming increasingly frustrated with work, and that party brought it to a head."

"Max.  What did he do?"  I knew it had something to do with him.

"Surprisingly nothing.  He thinks he's God's gift to women, but, he’s little more than a buffoon, and I told him that.  He wasn't impressed with being turned down.  But he did say something, in anger, that I realized was true, something I hadn't realized, and should have.  It’s part of the reason I came back.”

Did that mean she had already made up her mind about leaving the company and ultimately New York?  It seemed so.

“He was being an ass that evening.”

“He was an ass all of the time George.  You shouldn’t take any notice of him, I certainly didn’t, and I can’t understand why the other girls did.  More fool them, I guess.  But there’s something else I’d like to talk to you about.  I saw a café just over the way.  We can go there."

Dark clouds swirled overhead, and I shivered.  The snow was about to fall, I could feel it in the air, and the shiver I felt was more of foreboding than the cold.

It was, I thought, the beginning of the end, the gentle letdown, and the proverbial parting is such sweet sorrow.

I never felt more alone than I did at that moment.

© Charles Heath 2020


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