This story is by Patty Altis and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I got it, the last parking space! I am so off schedule. Wait, where are my keys? Yes, there they are. Grabbing my breakfast and my purse I open the door. My shoulder strap slips off my shoulder and knocks my coffee mug out of the cup holder. It goes flying. I try to grab everything at once. What must I look like?
What is wrong with me? There is my mug on the floor. Stretching, I almost got it. My fingertips barely touching it, I stretch further falling deeper into the car. My feet stuck up in the air. But I got it.
Scrambling up and out, I check to see that I have everything. Oh crud, is that my phone? I do not have time for this. Walking quickly, I am almost to the gate. My shoulder strap slips off my shoulder once again. I almost lost my coffee mug again. Wait, did I lock my car? Where are my keys? Turning around I head back. Did I lock it? I am sure I did. Yes, I did turning around and heading back to the gate. I cannot help myself, I better make sure. Turning around again I try to see if I can lock my car from where I am at. Yes! It works. Pushing my strap back up again, I head to the gate.
I am hoping the gate will open. Yesterday I had trouble with my key. I had to play with it for several minutes. If the pattern continuous, today my key should open the gate right up. Here goes, it should open. No! I jiggle the key, pull it out and try it again. Finally, its opening. Stunned I watch in slow motion as my coffee mug slips from my fingers. Clunk! Clanking as it rolls away from me.
It rolls into the planter. Picking it up and brushing the dirt off, with shoulders tight, I straighten up and head to the office. Time is ticking away. Strong is my routine that I mentally tick off my list. Bathroom first, check-in with daily struggles with the finger sensor, and checking my box before heading to class. Calmer knowing this part of my morning is as it should be. Time to get to work. As I am walking, I check my phone to make sure it is on vibrate. All is well. Then I see it. I have a message. Me feet stop but my body does not. Teetering, I try to balance myself as my thoughts bounce back and forth in an argument. Do I listen to the message or not? Surprisingly, my curiosity overpowers reasoning. I listen to the message…
“Ms. Patterson, this is Cheryl Atkins with Brentwood Publishing. We would like to offer you the Assistant Editor position. As was stated in your interview, it is important that we fill the position immediately. It is vital that you let us know by 5:00 pm.
In that moment time has stopped and then I hear a small voice, “Hi Ms. Patterson”. Shaking my head, I realize I am standing outside the classroom. There is no time to dwell on this. I need to get inside. The morning progresses as usual. Outwardly, it is like any other morning at work, business as usual. Inside my head is another story. There is a ping pong game taking place in my head. My thoughts are the ball, bouncing between the phone message and interacting with the students. Somehow saying the right things. At least I think I have. I hope I have. I am thankful for routines, that is what is saving me this morning.
Finally, time to go. I feel so tired. It is as if I have been running a marathon. My steps are slow and methodical. I am on automatic. As tired as I feel, my mind returns to thoughts of the phone message. I replay that interview. I really thought I had messed up that interview. I even felt relieved that I did.
Somehow, I get inside my car. My car is running, and I am just sitting there. I mentally give myself a good shaking. Got to get it together. There are things to do and a decision to make. Just not now. “Focus on your driving,” I hear myself saying aloud.
Routines save me once again. I feel like two minds in one body. I manage to drive home. I even stop at the store and gas station. The whole drive home a part of me is going over all the pros and cons for taking the job. By the time I get home the pros outweigh the cons.
That is that. I am going to take the job. Writing down the phone number, I feel my stomach cramping. The room is feeling smaller. The walls are so close I could just reach out and touch them. I feel hot from the center out. The light fades like I am walking into a tunnel. I cannot seem to catch my breath. It is as if time is frozen and I feel like I am drowning. Drowning in my own fear. My hands are shaking, the pen falls to the floor. I see my phone, but I do not care. I need to lie down.
The panic grows. It has been ages since I felt like this. Breathe, I tell myself. Slow breaths. It is not working. I am not moving but I feel as if I am racing around like a mouse in a wheel. Struggling with myself I have a glimpse of a thought that tells me to breathe, to start counting, and to focus. I could hear two separate voices in my head. One is rambling making no sense at all. The other is calm telling me to take slow deep breaths and count backwards from 10, keep doing it.
Finally, my breathing starts to feel normal. The walls are not pulsating anymore, and everything is quieting. The sun light is shining brightly through the window. I am still counting backwards 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. There is now a calmness surrounding me. My mouth is dry. I need some water. Sipping my water, I look at the clock. How? Why? I ask myself. It is…
I cannot help myself. I start thinking about the message again. This time I push myself to pause my thoughts. Deep breaths and counting backwards 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I can do this. I need to stay calm and think this through. I say out loud, “Patterns and routines are a part of my life. Change is okay.” It is your choice, only yours. This has helped before. It seems to be helping now.
In my head, I go over the reasons why I did the interview, the benefits, and the pros of taking this job. I go over the cons of which are very few. Even though my pros outweigh the cons, it is still my choice. “Now what to do? I say this aloud as I realize I have been pacing in circles for, but for how long?
I must look like a crazy person talking to myself and walking in circles. I smile thinking about it. I cannot help myself, I start laughing. Now, I really feel like a crazy person. It is just me, no phone or TV to cover for me. I do feel better now. I could just forget about the message, the job, and go on like it never happened. Ignore it all.
Then the what ifs creep into my head. My shoulders droop, my lightheartedness fades. The house seems darker, daylight is fading. Past regrets pop into my thoughts. I automatically turn on the lamp and at that moment…
It’s like a switch goes on inside me. I feel like me, but I am different. I feel calmer than I have ever felt. I get my phone and finish writing the phone number down. I tap it into my phone, and press the green icon. It is ringing. Everything is happening as though it is scripted. I am too calm. Next, I hear myself saying, “Ms. Atkins? … Cheryl, Yes, I am accepting the position… I will be there … Thank You.
I look up, it is 4:59 pm.
Michael Raven says
Interesting story Patty. Your character really seems real/believable. You really had me convinced of her authenticity.
Good Luck in the Contest!