Hot July

We’re with K in Camden, sitting on a bench waiting for the PATCO westbound to Center City.

“I’m afraid I’m going to get raped,” says a brown-haired girl, who has suddenly, immediately, appeared in front of us.

“Are you okay?” I ask. “Do you need help?” She says she doesn’t know how to get home and asks me if I’m going to the Berwyn area. “No,” I say. “But I know how to get there. That’s where I’m from.”

She’s wearing converse and cut-offs, an over-sized black t-shirt, with her long hair straight and parted to the side. She looks about twelve, but her bloodshot eyes and smattering of whiteheads on her forehead says otherwise.

No one has a pen. I start giving her directions out loud. She looks nervous, leans in and shushes me. “I don’t want anyone to hear you. I don’t want anyone to follow me.” I take her phone and type step by step into her Notes. PATCO westbound to Center City. Get off at 8th Street. Walk three blocks west on Market, you’ll see Market East Station. Walk downstairs and look for the TV that says Paoli-Thorndale. “Thank you,” she says. “Thank you so much.” Her two friends, a quiet boy with mousy brown hair and a loud girl with blonde curls gravitate toward us.

“Were you guys at the Wiz show too?” asks the blonde-haired girl. She looks tired, older than her friend. Wearing a crop top and high-waisted shorts.

“Nah, we were at the WXPN festival.”

“What’s WXPN?”

“A radio station.”

“Oh. That’s cool.”

The two girls are giggly now, no more anxiety. The blonde-haired girl starts flirting with Zack. He reaches into his pocket and hands her his trusty bottle of Visine.

When we discover that the blonde-haired girl goes to Conestoga, and that the boy is a new step-sibling of a family I used to babysit when I was fourteen (?!), I feel ten times my age.

“Oh my god,” she says. “What teachers do you know? Wait, how old are you?”

“26,” I say.

“28,” K whispers.

“Oh my god,” she continues. “Are you guys like real adults? Are any of you married?”

I point to Zack. “We’re getting married in a month.”

They balk. They want to see my ring. “I thought you guys were like, 21. In college,” says the brown-haired girl.

K beams.

The train comes. “Will you please stay with us as long as you can?” They ask. “Sure,” we say. We shuffle on in pairs: me and K, the teenage girls, then Zack and the boy, who’s gangly and awkward and looks way in over his head.

“I want to give the brown-haired one her first pap smear,” K, the CRNP,  says longingly when we sit down.

I take out my phone and bring up my own Notes, trying to type up a few things before it’s all a blur tomorrow.

“Are you writing this down?” The brown-haired girl calls out to me from across the aisle. “I feel like you’re a storyteller.”

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The train lurches forward.

“You know when you take the Amtrak around Disney World?” She asks out loud, this time to no one. There’s definitely no Amtrak at Disney World, but I know what she means. “That’s exactly what this feels like.”

From One Thing To The Next

I’m not sure if it’s normal to ask your boss for his opinion before you give your two weeks notice, but that’s what I did anyway. I had been extremely uneasy for the past 24 hours, ever since I got the job offer while I was in the middle of a meeting the day before. At the time I felt like I was going to either throw up or cry (three months later I realize it was undoubtedly a gross overreaction). Tim told me to sleep on it, and I shouldn’t make any quick decisions, and he didn’t think I should leave Tech Start Up, and I wasn’t sure I should either. Tech Start Up was my first real job, and I had became very comfortable and at home there over the past one year and ten months. Tim was my boss, but he was also my friend, and when I pulled him into the break room the next day to tell him I was going to accept the offer at Ad Agency, we cheers’d with our water cups.

Working at Ad Agency is a completely different lifestyle than working at Tech Start Up. It’s not better or worse, exactly. Even though I have the same job title, I’m doing very different things at a very different pace and with a very different attitude. At Tech Start Up I was on a marketing team of one for a long time, with no one to really tell me what to do or how to do it. I became self-taught, in a way, and made the rules up as I went. I was the voice of the company, and I truly cared about what that voice sounded like and how we presented ourselves to our customers, and the world. A month into working at Ad Agency I still referred to Tech Start Up as “we” when my new co-workers asked me about my old job as if I was still employed there. I missed it. I obsessively checked Tech Start Up’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to see what what was happening and if my replacement had started yet. “They didn’t fire you,” Zack would remind me. “You left them.”

The view from the 25th floor.
The view from the 25th floor.

The thing that made me most nervous about Ad Agency was that I didn’t think I was creative or driven enough to actually be hired there. My interview was at the Royal Tavern over a beer and we had talked more about my love life and what I like to do in my spare time than my actual work experience. Ad Agency has a reputation for long hours and quick turnover and I wasn’t sure I was cut out for such an environment. At my Tech Start Up goodbye happy hour, Tim asked me what my career goals were.

“I don’t know. I don’t really have any career goals.”

“What do you mean? Don’t you want to become a partner at Ad Agency some day?”

Our team had just done a round of lemon drops and I was feeling it. My eyes brimmed with tears as I looked down at my shot glass.

“I don’t know. I kind of just want to see where this takes me. And I want to learn a lot. Then I want to raise babies and stuff.”

“You wanna be a good mom. That’s cool.”

I felt stupid the next morning, even though I know Tim respects that sort of decision. It’s not that I don’t have “career goals,” I just honestly don’t really have a plan. And yeah, I do want to raise babies. I also want to write a young adult novel.

It’s been about ten weeks since I started at Ad Agency and for the first time, “climbing the ladder” has organically appeared on my radar and doesn’t seem nearly as scary as it once did. I’m learning so much, so fast, and the pace at which Ad Agency works is thrilling, if not satisfyingly exhausting. My office hours have shifted. Zack and I eat dinner later and I work out in the morning. I’ve adjusted.

The new plan is to seize opportunity, take it, and move along. It works or it doesn’t. In this case, it’s working (for now). I have a new boss named Annie who’s been in the biz for more than half my life and she’s teaching me everything there is to know. (Advertising language and tech speak are two very, very different things, by the way). She wants me to think as big as possible, and I am pushing my brain in ways I forgot existed.

Every once in awhile it hits me that ten years ago I was a sophomore in high school. Sometimes I think about my sixteen-year-old self who used to stare and prod and contemplate in front of the bathroom mirror and wonder, with a great sense of both fear and happiness, if she ever would have expected any of this.