Last week, after over eighty job applications, I finally had an interview.
“We’ve heard a lot about you,” she said, cradling an armful of binders and report covers as we swept down the beige-carpeted corridor to the cafeteria. “You’ve come very highly recommended.”
“Well, that’s nice to hear,” I said, awkwardly. “I really enjoyed my work in that office.”
“A large coffee, please,” she said to the cashier at the coffee stand as she grabbed a handful of sugar packets. She glanced at me over her shoulder as she fished a granola bar out of her briefcase. “Want anything? Coffee?”
We sat at a table by a window overlooking the Hudson River. I told her that I’d moved to New York for school and was in the process of deciding whether to stay in the city. She spread open several files on the table and launched into an explanation of her department and the role they were seeking to fill. After about ten minutes of sales pitch, she stopped to take a sip of coffee.
“Do you have any questions?” she asked.
“Do you know when you’re hoping to make a decision?”
She looked at me blankly for a moment. “A decision?” she repeated.
“About who you’re hiring,” I explained.
“Oh,” she replied, obviously thrown. “Well, I mean… you came very highly recommended...”
“I don’t think we’re meeting with anyone else.”
She told me a little more about the department and her expectations for the role until I finally interjected: “I know there’s been a lot of talk here of… reorganization. Do you expect that to affect this department?”
She hesitated for a moment, picking at her granola bar, and then looked out the window. “To be honest,” she said, not looking at me, “I don’t know if my own job will be here one day to the next. I think this department is safe but I don't have a crystal ball...”
She took a breath and turned back to me. “But we all just come in every morning and we do our job, you know? That’s what you have to do.”
"Right," I said. "That's what you have to do."
At the end of the interview, I was handed a weighty stack of informative PowerPoint presentations and a business card and then she walked me downstairs to sign me out of the building. We stepped into the elevator and were plunged momentarily into silence.
“You’re going to be okay, you know.”
I looked up at her reflection in the mirrored wall, surprised. “I know.”
“You really will be,” she said, as the doors slid open. “You have a lot to offer and you shouldn’t settle.”
I’m moving back to Madison on Sunday. This decision came to me rather suddenly but that’s the manner in which most of my decisions arrive. I left New York today and as much as I love the city, I’d reached my personal limit of gray, crowded, and dirty. I’m ready for a breath of fresh air and some wide open spaces.
Sunday night I had dinner with some law school friends in my old dorm and at the end of the night the conversation turned to school. They gossiped about classmates and I found that I couldn't put a face to any of the names. I'd never even learned their names.
I didn’t write about this in here but I had a rather disturbing experience a few weeks ago when my friend Malka was in town. We were walking down 3rd Street when I looked up and said, “Oh, this building is pretty! I wonder what it is?”
It was my law school library.
I didn’t recognize my own law school library.
Sunday night after dinner, I stepped out of the warm building into a heavy winter rain. “Laurie!” I heard someone say. I squinted through the rain and the girl in front of me tipped back the hood of her raincoat.
“Oh, hi, Keren!” I said, stepping back under the eaves.
She told me she'd heard I was moving back to Wisconsin. “We’re all going to miss you,” she said, “but it’s good that you figured out what was right for you. Now you can always know that you gave law school a try and it just wasn’t right.”
This is what people always say and part of me always wonders if it's true.
We promised to keep in touch and then she turned and stepped into the warm, bright lobby. I took a deep breath and stepped into the cold, dark rain.
The ride home to Queens was a long one. The rain had soaked through to my skin and I was shivering and exhausted. I’d experienced a lot of difficult emotions this semester—stress, anxiety, confusion, doubt, fear—but, for the first time, I felt a sense of profound loss for everything I’d pushed away. For everything I’d ever pushed away.
An hour later, I was unlocking the door to my dark apartment. I lay in my bed, cold and wet, and listened to the house creak and whisper, watched shadows creep up the walls, and suddenly it was all too much. I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I gathered up my things and went downstairs and hailed the first cab that passed.
Twenty minutes later, I was on Kat’s doorstep with two heavy suitcases and a growing tightness in my chest. I sat quietly on her couch. She offered me tea and tried to hide a yawn. It was late. She sat on the other end of the couch and waited for me to talk.
“I had dinner with some of my law school friends tonight,” I started to say and then suddenly I was sobbing. I could hardly breathe. I just sat there on her couch, staring at the wall and sobbing. "It didn't really hit me until tonight that I quit law school."
She moved next to me and put her hand on my knee. "You're going to be okay."
I slept in her bed for the next two nights and today I left New York. I’m moving back to Wisconsin on Sunday and I’ll be honest that I don’t know if it’s the right thing. I don’t even know what the right thing looks like but I hope that I'll recognize it if we ever cross paths.
My first years in Wisconsin were spent falling in love with the world and with my grown-up self. These past seven months have been spent learning how deeply, incredibly flawed I am and how deeply, incredibly cold the world can be.
But the transatlantic roller coaster ride of the past seven months has taught me something else, too: No matter what, I’m going to be okay.