Fluorescent Lights

Life’s failures come at you when it’s quiet.

Another day.

She wakes at 6:30 a.m. to leave for work by 7:30. Forty-five minutes later she’s parking in the basement garage then taking the elevator up to the 24th floor. Ten steps through the glass doors then make a right. Go down past the first door and make another right into the kitchen to put her brown bag lunch in the fridge and grab a coffee. She walks to her office, turns on the lights, and closes the door. Six months at a new job in a new city. It felt like 60 years.

Sit on a vinyl chair made to look like leather at a fake desk made to look like wood. She wishes her desk were wood. There is a warmth to wood. The desk - laminate covering particle board - feels cold and unnatural. Her skin wasn’t formed to touch these things. The fluorescent lights cast shadows over her face, magnifying every crease and aging her 10 years compared to the glow of daylight. The tiny lines in her forehead look like canyons at sunset. Her eyes look defeated. Bags that could carry the world. She appears pale despite the mid-summer tan.

If an environment changes how you appear, does it also change who you are?

She finishes some reports and eats lunch at her desk. The sandwich and crackers leave her unsatisfied. This was followed by meetings and drafting a memorandum discussing the liability of some corporate client who screwed over some employees. She sends it to her boss for review. The boss returns it shortly thereafter, demanding a discussion of some irrelevant law.

Near the end of the day she makes all the necessary changes, forwards it to the necessary people, and ducks out of there. She hopes to make it home by 7. Management says her future looks bright. If she continues with the long hours and the dedication to the firm she can make partner in as little as 8 years. That was the encouragement from her boss not long after she was hired and moved here.

Partnership: the pinnacle of success. You might work Sundays and have multiple failed marriages, but at least you made partner.

Home was an apartment in an old part of town that was being, as the city put it, “revitalized.” This meant that beautiful old buildings were being torn down for condos and retail. Bricks replaced by steel and glass. The old oak trees that made a vaulted ceiling over the street were cut down and paved over to add extra lanes. Generations of growth removed to save drivers a few minutes on their commute. Progress.

She opens the door, ignores the mess in the kitchen, takes off her shoes, and lays on the couch. Mental exhaustion.

The weekday routine: turn on the TV and watch something that doesn't require thinking. She stays there for a bit and checks her phone before heading to the fridge. There's nothing for dinner. Not enough time to get groceries during the week and too lazy to get them on weekends. She orders delivery and changes into sweats. They arrive late and the food isn't warm.

She sits back on the couch and eats as she searches for some show to play in the background as she looks at her phone for the next couple of hours. One app to the next. Online shopping for stuff she doesn’t need. Workout tips from women with bodies she’ll never have. Friends posting photos of their babies. The bodies make her jealous. The babies make her sad. Better to look at the latest celebrity gossip and latest celebrity fashions. If she distracts the mind she doesn’t have to think.

But it catches up to her in the silence. The TV and phone disrupt her sleeping patterns so she’s wide awake when she slips into bed past midnight. Laying down and listening to the ceiling fan. She wants a cigarette but that would only make it worse. Maybe she can sleep if she moves to her right side and adjusts the pillows. No luck. Typical.

Too much on her mind. The bad choices, the inaction when she couldn’t figure out what she wanted. The relationships that didn’t work and the relationships she regrets ending. Looking backwards things seemed so much better. The anxiety of nearing 30 and having nothing to show for it.

Every night taking that short step from introspection to blame. Life’s failures come at you when it’s quiet.

She opens her eyes and it’s another day, a repeat of the last. Waking at 6:30 a.m. to leave for work by 7:30. She drafts the same reports and attends the same meetings with the same people. There’s only a change of scenery if she decides to go somewhere for lunch. What doesn’t change is the dread of just showing up. Work pays well but at what cost?

Stay late and grab some fast food on the way home. One more night of nothing. It’s tough to be in a new city. It’s tougher when you’re an overworked introvert. She thinks about getting a dog, as if that’s a solution to a problem. Sometimes she takes a drive to just get out of her place. Not that she has anywhere to go. Anonymous in a new city. The nights away from the job might be quiet but they don’t bring peace.

There’s a problem with all of this and she’s slowly starting to realize it, though she can’t quite put her finger on the issue. It’s like when you know what word you need and you can’t quite remember what it is, except multiplied to the thousands.

There is something to the point I’m making:

“The minds of all of us are haunted by thoughts which have not yet found expression.”

These are often the thoughts that need to be expressed the most. Not to others but to ourselves. It’s like the pit at the bottom of your stomach. It may not have a voice and you may not know what it represents, but its presence itself has a meaning that we must recognize and define and ultimately address.

But she’s not there yet. And so she justifies continuing with the job she hates because she needs the money for a lifestyle that leaves her empty. The boredom of the night and the monotony of the day. The vegetation of her body and the atrophy of her mind. The creeping feeling that time was catching up to her, that one day soon it would all be too late.

For her, the unsaid is quite simple: kill your ambition before it kills you. We hope she realizes this before it’s too late. There are so many like her.