Last Monday, I stepped out of the sunshine and into a fluorescent-lit office. Overwhelmed by the smell of newspapers and black coffee, I nervously introduced myself to the editors and writers. I sat down on a squeaky rolling chair, quite similar to the ones I used to spin around on in OfficeMax. I’d get too dizzy if I did that now.
Every fall, my mom would take me to OfficeMax for new school supplies. The location we frequented has been out of business for years. But I remember the butterflies I’d get in my stomach when picking out Lisa Frank folders like it was yesterday. I loved how every small decision I made during those shopping trips directly impacted my entire persona for the next 9 months. That annual transition into school always signified a fresh start and a feeling of growth that never failed to thrill me.
I could become anyone I wanted to be.
On the first day of my internship, however, I couldn’t seem to grasp that familiar feeling of excitement. In my cubicle, I took a break from my first assignment of addressing postcards to untwist my braids. My ankles felt cold and the brightness of my clothing made me feel like a fish out of water. I was two months away from graduating with my master’s degree and one step closer to the stability that school prepares us for. My life was changing more than ever before.
But I’d never felt more stuck.
As the next eight hours passed by, my thoughts became deluded with wistful daydreams and visions of previous versions of myself, who I suddenly felt far away from. From 9-5, joys I’d taken for granted during my childhood, teenage and college years floated around in my mind.
9:48 am: playing kickball during morning recess / filling up my coffee mug
1:01 pm: registering for next semester’s classes / outlining articles for next week’s paper 10:11 am: holding mom’s hand at the pumpkin patch / sitting in an all-staff meeting
2:16 pm: dressing cute for a first date at an obscure coffee shop / combing my hair in the office bathroom 11:56 am: laughing in the parking lot with my freckle-faced friend, Sam / coming up with story ideas 12:27 pm: having a spontaneous picnic, strawberries & lemonade / eating alone in my car
3:33 pm: trying not to laugh out loud in the library / rubbing my eyes beneath blue light glasses 4:07 pm: eating a PB&J with a side of Cheetos, watching High School Musical / checking the clock
When the clock struck 5:00 p.m, it sunk in that I would never again have access to those weekday freedoms. I was no longer a child, who could spend mornings on the playground and afternoons with Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez. Nor was I a teenager, who would get asked to homecoming in algebra class or scream Taylor Swift songs with friends in school bathrooms. I was still in college, but my new onthe-clock lifestyle took me away from midday drives to the beach with cute boys and gossiping over lunch with my spunky neighbor, Grace.
I was somewhere beyond all of those phases, trying to understand where the years had gone. But on my drive home, I realized that even though this transition would take some getting used to, this stage of life could be beautiful as well, whether I’m working a 9-5 job or not.
I thought of a quote from Ling Ma’s book, Severance: “To live in a city is to take part in and propagate its impossible systems. To wake up. To go to work in the morning. It is also to take pleasure in those systems because, otherwise, who would repeat the same routines, year in, year out?” Her words comforted me in the way that High School Musical used to.
It was then, when I turned onto 18th Street, that I realized I was finally becoming the kind of woman I’d always wanted to be: wise, independent and confident in my own skin. I entered my studio apartment, feeling accomplished and dare I say… excited for the future. Just because I’d spent my day in an office didn’t mean my life was becoming boring. I loved to write and was getting the opportunity to do so for a living. All of my classes, field trips and hours spent in the library had led me to this. Right then and there, at 5:42 p.m., I treated myself to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And for the first time, I cherished my past memories instead of wishing I could relive them.