On April 26th, 2006 I submitted my last geotechnical report to my boss in the greater Washington, D.C. area. I was out of dress in sandals, surf shorts (baggies) and a shirt that my mother had given in me when I graduated from high school in 1990. I still had sand in my hair from the surf the day before. I waited impatiently for him to give me a nod, a goodbye, a job well done, a thank you for your effort, a word of gratitude for sticking around a month longer than I had agreed to after I turned in my resignation. Something. Anything. Even a big fuck you, so long, sayonara or a big kick in the ass would be welcome. Just something to recognize that I existed and had been there in that office for three straight years and more or less been in his employment for six would be nice. So, I waited. He continued drafting a letter by hand on letterhead as his secretary stood obediently behind him waiting for him to finish. His pen scratching was driving me insane.
Not for the first time, I wondered exactly how many resources were currently being wasted because this guy is stuck in the 1950’s and stubbornly refuses to learn how to type. His solution to reviewing a report is to pencil in corrections on additional sheets of paper, code them to underlined sections in the draft and then submit all of them to typing, where they get passed to various temporary employees or secretaries that then type his suggestions, give them back to him to review and type further revisions for him to review once more. All changes are included with the originals, including the handwritten reports, which are then returned to me in all their senseless glory to assemble. People wonder where there money goes when they hire a consultant.
Giving up on an acknowledgement of my existence, I head for the door. I hesitate and take a look back. He still has sunburn rings from his goggles obtained on one of his recent skiing trips in the Alps. Or the Rockies. Or somewhere that I had likely been, but I would not have been someone that he would have noticed. I would have been the guy he mistook for a bartender or waitress, or perhaps a chef or maybe a member of the house staff. Someone anonymous, in the background, a person there to pick up a phone for him or shine his rented SUV so he could arrive back at the airport in style.
He looked briefly up from his musings. “Can I help you?” He’s pleasant enough, but I know when I’ve been dismissed. I start to begin an angry retort, something peppered with words far beyond his limited understanding of the English language, but I’d learned long ago that there was nothing whatsoever gained in a battle of intelligence with these people. It’s like mud wrestling with a pig. Or throwing shit at monkeys. They both love it and either way, right or wrong, you lose.
So I grin my most charming and obnoxious smile, the one that has knocked females off their rockers for as long as I can remember, the exact same one that my son will wear many years later and close the door behind me. Forsaking the elevator, I wave to everyone through the glass reception area. My co-workers flood out for a moment to say goodbye, wishing me luck and godspeed, reminding me to keep them posted. One of them, no doubt a beauty in her bygone years, flashes me yet another glimpse of her massive breasts, barely contained within the confines of her top and tells me to stop by and say hello. Please, any time. I agree, knowing that while they may remember me today, tomorrow I will be a ghost in the shadows, yet another human animal passing through on their way to somewhere else, someone who will, in spite of all their pent-up resentment and rebellion against the mythical machine that drives our lives, crumble before it.
But not yet. I meet my wife-to-be in the lowest level of the parking garage, flinging my green backpack into the rear of my old Suburban that has been quietly rusting in the dark for the last three years. Our belongings, such as they are, are stowed away, given away, trashed or sent in front of us. My mattress, camp stove and essential tools necessary to keep a thirty year old relic running are where they should be in the ruck and a first aid kit is stowed properly in between the front seats. Rocky, older now, rocks the truck in his flying leap over the rear tailgate. Laura dives into the front seat of her car and follows me out of the darkness of the parking garage into the light of day.
As the sun sets over the mountains in the distance and my left arm slowly colors back to normal from the sunshine and wind flowing into the open window, I almost weep in relief. I suddenly feel free, unfettered and released. Rt. 460 West stretches before us, free of traffic, blaring horns, shouting people and hurry. Stress turns to tranquility and the sound of a tractor reaches us from far away. Rocky has his head so far out the window that he’s nearly out of the car.
We have no idea then what the years may bring. We don’t know that they will be filled with joy, sorrow, longing, resentment, anger, tears, happiness and the full spectrum of human emotion. What we do know is that on this day, on this journey, we can leave one place behind and begin life anew.
Over eight years later, we start a similar journey east. Rt. 50 is our way, our vehicle of choice a Cadillac. We our older, wiser, somewhat damaged, banged up physically and emotionally. Our son holds his feet in his car seat and lets us know that he has indeed learned to yell. Loudly. Rocky has passed out of our lives, along with a great lab with a heart as large as the universe. Too large, it turns out. We have laid to rest grandparents and loved ones, and a small gray Manx Cat with impossibly green eyes keeps watch over our river home from her resting place under a great oak, piled with alluvial stones deposited millions of years ago when the New River was a great, roaring, unimaginable torrent of water carving its way through the ancient bedrock.
My wife slides her hand into mine and smiles at me, more radiant than ever. We head east into the future, propelled into the future by the most human of all emotions: Hope.
July 10, 2014. – R