I work at a desk in a room with a cathedral ceiling, at the top of which is a skylight. I can look up and see what the sky looks like, or at least a piece of it. It’s my favorite thing about the room -- the high ceiling, the way a little piece of the sky is visible.
The room I am in is divided into four desk spaces, partitioned one from the other and a corridor down the middle that everyone passes through. My desk – or counter, really – is made of wood. That too is good. I hung a bright red sari down one wall and pasted a mad collectin of prints from old art calendars I had saved, so I threw color into this working space. I tried hard to overtake the bland grimness of workspace. Still, it’s hard to get enough color into even this space with its benevolent blonde wood, enough color to feel alive.
It makes me think of all the desks I’ve sat at since I was 18 – over 30 years. I’ve sat at so many desks in so many offices. Man, if karma exists, then I have desk karma. With all the desks for some reasons certain ones remain in memory.
My mind often drifts to a large room full of desks. I think it was some kind of banking or insurance place. I was a temp there for a week or two, 21 years old. I had just moved to California, to L.A. I had a desk in this big room of desks and the whole place has the color of grey-green as if everything there including the air had been misted with the grey-green color of filing cabinets.
There was a man I rarely saw, a boss of sorts, whose office was behind a closed door. One co-worker told me the boss was having an operation for hemorrhoids. The only think I knew about hemorrhoids was from Preparation H commercials. I didn’t really know what they were. I’d see the yellow Preparation H box in my father’s bathroom. I hadn’t known it was something people had operations for and I wondered how such an intimate detail about this man’s life had made its way into the public giggle space of the office.
It was at this place at this desk that Eric called me from New York City, an exciting thrilling call.
Eric was the lawyer I’d had a brief unconsummated fling with six months earlier, back in New York. I’d been a temp in his office too, just over the Christmas break, and there was nothing appealing about Eric except that he was utterly out of my league: a boyish high-powered lawyer with a Porsche that he’d let me drive once by myself through Central Park. Me, who loved driving. It felt good to have this man hunger for me especially since Jeffrey, my live-in boyfriend of several years, had just had a three-month affair with a woman who was also way out of my league: a published author with an eight-year-old kid.
It was an ongoing debate with Jeffrey who insisted that just because he wanted to sleep with other people didn’t mean he didn’t love me, and my inner struggle to let him have what he wanted because if I didn’t he’d resent me and take it on the sly, which was even scarier. So when Eric called me in the sea of grey-green desks and asked if I could come to the Virgin islands for the weekend I said yes.
The timing was perfect. Jeffrey was just about to head back to New York for a few weeks. I’d gone on anti-depressants, hailed as miracle drugs, and I had felt no results until the Friday night of Jeffrey’s departure when suddenly the movie we went to was one of the best I’d ever seen as we sat over delicious Chinese food I could not stop talking. I had so much to say. I felt great. Jeffrey didn’t enjoy it. “I can’t believe the drugs are kicking in just when I’m leaving,” he said.
It was such a joy to be able to talk. I had stopped talking somewhere around thirteen years old. It had only gotten worse all through high school and college. I couldn’t not speak with my peers. I could speak with my parents and sisters only as a jokester, someone who kept the mood light when dark clouds threatened which was often. But mostly I stayed quiet, felt out of place in the chattering crowds of school where I walked around mostly feeling like a knife was twisting in my stomach, feeling like I was locked inside some awful impenetrable place where no one could see me, where I was crippled. That Jeffrey, the boyfriend, had picked me out – a boy who was rich and had friends and knew how to get drugs and have sex and had a huge record collection – a boy who had so many things that were out of reach for me – that he had come to me and made me part of his world was a huge opening and I had grabbed at it. Our closeness too was unique in my life – how we knew each other’s every expression, how we seemed wrapped so close one was inside the other. And when it hurt it hurt real bad, and when he was mean he was vicious and I walked out, slamming the door, many times. But I had always returned because I had nowhere else at all to go.
So my sudden chattering that Friday night when the sound of my voice didn’t make me cringe was a pleasure I wasn’t familiar with.
I visited my mother last week and again sat quietly while she talked and things happened around me. I hadn’t seen or talked to her for six months. I noticed my quietness. there was just no impulse to talk while I was with her, except once or twice, briefly. But mostly I felt as I sat there at her little table by the window, not animosity, but that anything I might say did not matter, had no place.