Scene: The basement of an upscale restaurant in a hip Chicago neighborhood
Cast: Her. And a throne of other women. It would be accurate to add “mostly young and attractive (and white except her and one other woman, though this has nothing to do with anything really…)” Being young adds 20% at least to the overall attractiveness btw. Youth is something the young does not know to appreciate.
Setting: A “women @ company” event aiming to “unite” women in the company. Tonight’s event is for a popular Chicago chef to share with her exclusive audience how she overcame the male-dominant restaurant business.
There have been several emails going out to all the women in the office promoting this event. Come meet your co-workers, listen to someone who’s braved the male-dominant world and made it, be empowered (well, they have never actually used the word “empowered” in any of the communications. It’s like we are so liberated now, and all these “women @ company” events have to be coached in a non-militant, non-aggressive way), and oh yeah, have some cocktails and food while you do all of the above. She was not planning to go because she does not have any friend in the office. She just joined the company this past year and for all her work duties, she works with a different office remotely. For all intent and purposes, the space she occupies may as well be a rental space. Proof? This office location had two holiday parties and she was not invited to either. Sorry.
Somehow she decided that it’s her duty to support this bourgeoning group, “Women @ Company”. It’s simply not nice to poo-poo these events and cry about women not being valued (or valued less) in the company. With the sense of duty and “Oh, how bad can it be?” thought, she walked the 3 blocks.
She was relieved upon entering the room reserved for private parties to see one of her cubicle mates. Great! Someone she knew. She quickly got a vodkacran from the bar tender who listened sympathetically as she recounted how the office holiday party in another city that she went to last week had only a not-open open bar. The bar tender, probably feeling sorry, gave her a heavy pour of Ketel One.
She stood around awkwardly with her cube-mate and a couple of women whom her cube-mate knew. She instinctively sensed that one of the other women would rather not be in this circle that they formed. You just know these things, right? You could tell from the body language. The angling out. The slight turning-away. The “Oh I am so relieved you are here because now I don’t have to be talking to this woman whom I don’t know and have no interest in knowing” expression when someone else showed up. So now the circle was broken into two. Inconspicuously. But not, unfortunately for her, imperceptibly. Leaving her and her poor cube-mate whom she suspected was cursing her own bad luck, “Wait. I want to be in that other circle. The new one!”
Cube-mate quickly announced, “Well, I have to leave. I have to be home by 6 to relieve my nanny.” Yes, cube-mate is one of the few other women in the office with kids, even though cube-mate is probably almost a decade younger than she is.
With cube-mate gone, she’s left in an awkward position. “No matter. I will go get another drink!” Bar tender was happy to see her friendly face again. “Another one?” “Yes.” It’s amazing how almost all the bars she’s visited she never had to tell the bar tender what she wanted after the first round. She turned around with her new drink, and was faced with one of the most horrifying realizations. She did not have a circle to go back to.
She went back to the vicinity of the aforementioned new circle, just to test the water. No. Nobody made that slight movement to welcome her. She’s now faced with a tough decision: “What the fuck should I do now?”
She took out her phone and pretended to check her messages in the midst of women engaging in delightful conversations. “This probably looks really rude. People are going to think that I am being a-social.” Chastised, she put away her phone quickly and braced herself. She turned around, took a deep breath, and slowly made her way to the bar. With a FULL drink.
The few seconds felt like eternity and the short walk felt as if it’d never end. Sorry for the cliche. But it is what it was. Nobody. She did not know anybody. Nobody acknowledged her presence. No circles opened up. She positioned herself by the bar, with a FULL drink, pretending that she’s waiting in line. For what? Her drink was fucking full. Yes, she could have finished her drink quickly so she could get another one. But she’s going to be faced with the same hell with a 3rd drink in her hand. She quickly decided that drinking heavily and fast by yourself in a small, and worse, well-lit room where it’s easily seen that you’re drinking heavily and fast by yourself was probably more pathetic than the situation she was already in. She moved back to the new circle and she forced herself into the circle by physically tresspassing the invisible line that formed the circle.
“Excuse me. Sorry to interrupt. Hi, I am XXX. Nice meeting you.”
Now, this was not her imagination: If people want to include you, they will move slightly to make room. If not, they will simply turn around in order to address you, without moving.
It was made very clear to her.
“Fuck. This is even more awkward than before.” She quickly thought. “Do you know what time the chef will start speaking?”
“Oh. She’s supposed to start at 5:30.”
The women went back to their conversation.
She moved away from the force field and looked at her watch. 5:15. She turned around to survey the sea of circles and felt her eyes getting warm.
She needed to get out of there now.
On her way back to the office, her tears started swarming out of the corners of her eyes. Luckily it’s winter and it’s already pitch dark. The turn of the event caught her off guard. This was one of the selves that she was not prepared to confront.
She resisted looking at the darkened shop windows as she walked by, as her vain self was wont to, afraid that she’d see someone from the past.
“I thought I’ve left you behind many years ago.”