My father’s voice on the other end of the phone, sounding serious and strict, telling me, no, don’t quit that job, but his voice is far away and I am going to quit this job. I was so extremely happy yesterday morning, striding down Broadway in my sneakers and flowing blue skirt, so sure and excited – yes, I’m going to quit this job, this office, this desk, this path to nowhere, and I’m going to freelance, do odd jobs, and sit down every morning and write. I’m going to live in New York City in my square, high-ceilinged corner room and every day I will write – something, I don’t know what, but surely something will come.
My father does not respond to my excitement. His voice is heavy and stern. No, do not quit that job. And I think again how silly he is.
In high school I gave him a copy of Babbitt. I’d just read it for English class and I thought it described my father, or at least that part of him that was ordinary and worried about things that didn’t worry me.
My father told me stories for years and years, stories of the bombs in Budapest, living with other families from the apartment building down in the basement, stories of him sneaking back upstairs with his friends to play records and dance.
His stories though are not real to me, not as real as this office I will leave in two weeks. It feels good to just walk away. “Why?” asks my boss, sitting at his desk when I tell him. He is a nice man, round, tubby, grey-haired, Irish, who originally wanted to be a ballet dancer which of course was not allowed, nor was being gay, but he was gay anyway, with a young handsome boyfriend called Andy. “Why?” asked Patrick.
And I really tried to answer him, tears coming into my eyes with the effort. Something about this life where the bookcovers had to please the salesmen more than anyone else, something about how if I stayed here I’d be doing the same thing for 40 years, over and over in a tiny world of editors and publishers – it felt claustrophobic and middle-aged and bland. I didn’t say that. I said something with the word “meaning” in it.
I remembered what another boss had said to me. “All editors originally wanted to be writers.” I must not let that happen to me. And my sneakers flying down Broadway promised me it would not happen, and my sneakers flying down Broadway kept me far far away from my father’s desperate voice, “Don’t quit that job. That would be a big mistake.”