Apparently we have a new employee. I was just introduced to her. Or, I guess I should say, reintroduced to her.
Yes, I knew her once. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say “she” knew her once. She being the before me.
I knew her back when I was about 23. All of us were. We were starting our careers at a prestigious accounting firm. We were the lucky ones to have secured jobs in the down economy. 2008. We worked hard for our grades and graduated with honors and landed the open positions after interviews against stiff competition. Despite the economic climate we were optimistic about our future career success – we fought to audit the firm’s flagship clients, and we positioned ourselves for promotions. There was no tragedy. Not even a thought of it. Not yet.
In fact, she witnessed my then biggest “tragedy” to date (at the time)… I was away with three others on business in Houston, Texas, and one night, we ate a late dinner in the Galleria area. Upon exiting the restaurant, as we approached our rented SUV, each of us dissolved into a puddle of tears as we, one by one, began to process the meaning of the shards of glass littering the ground beneath our vehicle. Our work computers had been stolen. All four of them. And most of our files hadn’t been saved. We’d have to call the partner in charge of our firm, tell our client their information was potentially being sold on Craigslist to some sketchballs, fly home early, and re-perform most of our fieldwork. And, in our worst case scenario, we’d be fired.
I cried all night. As if it were a life or death situation. HAHAHAHAHAHA.
This was seven or eight years ago. She left the firm shortly thereafter. I left the firm shortly after she did.
Never did I see her again.
By the time I knew it was her, it was too late for me to do anything about it. Too late for me to address the fight or flight response that kicked in so strongly immediately upon my realization, as she and my boss blocked my door, my only viable escape route.
“Hiiiii-yeeeeeee!” she sounded excited to greet me.
“Ummph,” I grunted as I forced a smile and nearly spit out my soup.
“Do you remember me?!” she asked excitedly.
“Uhhhhh. Yeah!” I tried, and failed, to sound somewhat enthused.
“I just started working here!!!” she explained.
“Oh, congratulations. That is just great. Congratulations. How neat. Congratulations,” I attempted, unsuccessfully, to think of things to say, because I’ve lost social skills.
“Thanks!” she replied excitedly. “I’ve tried to come see you a few times, but you’ve never been in here!”
“Oh, yeah…” I trailed off.
I wondered if she knows. About all that has happened to me. That I lost my first child. That I have a second child. That she couldn’t find me because I work mostly from home, because I told my boss in the midst of a panic attack that I couldn’t leave Joel for more than three hours at a time. That my heart has been shattered, and my life has been wrecked, and I’ve attempted to put some of the pieces of it back together, and sometimes it feels like I’ve done so successfully and sometimes it feels like I haven’t. That the picture of the baby she probably saw on my desk is of Matthew, and that he is dead in this picture, but he doesn’t look dead, because he’s so beautiful, and the photographer retouched the photo, but he is dead. That she isn’t even talking to the person she thinks she is. Because she is dead too.
I try not to remember who I was before. I know it’s impossible to run from grief, but I ran from my past, only taking with me those people/things I could reach out and grab or who/whatever stuck to me. Some people/things traveled with me from the past to the present, but who/what’s remained in my past has remained firmly there, in its own place, a place I seldom visit. Because to visit this place is to remember her. And she is just another loss now. Another secondary loss.
This is why when I’m confronted with someone or something from my past so abruptly and unexpectedly, my reaction is so visceral. It forces me to remember who she was, and then, as I attempt to return to the present, I must relive the events that brought me here, including the moment Matthew died, which is also the moment she died too.
“Well, good to see you,” I told her shakily.
And I’m still sitting here reeling, trying not to spontaneously combust.