Yesterday began just like any other day. I woke up early, drank my coffee and went to my exercise class, where I successfully completed several burpees. After a thorough shower, I went to work feeling good — perhaps too good. My small victory in class had imbued me with the kind of confidence that’s normally only found in straight white men who graduated from elite colleges without honors. For the first time in a long time, I walked out into the world feeling like I could do anything.
I was wrong.
It happened just after lunch. I was at a meeting, still riding my endorphin high, when a familiar colleague walked in. We work in different departments and, though we see each other rarely, I’ve always liked this woman. I hadn’t seen her in a while, but when she approached me to sit down, I was almost overwhelmed with a feeling of goodwill for her, and I wanted to somehow convey those warm feelings. The best way to do that, I thought, was to prove that I knew her name.
I was so wrong.
As she sat down, I looked her right in the eye and said, “Hi Meagan!” She smiled awkwardly and said, “Hi Mary.” Looking back, there was a moment of hesitation before she responded to me, a nearly imperceptible pause that I didn’t pick up on at the time, so confident was I with my arms so capable of doing pushups and legs so skilled at jumping and squatting. It wasn’t until a moment later, when another colleague sat down next to us and said, “Hi Mary. Hi Molly” that I realized my error.
Oh my God.
Oh my GOD.
I froze, resisting the urge to swivel around in my desk chair and jump right out the window, and sat there silently as Molly and our other colleague, whose name I’m confident I don’t know, made small talk. The meeting began, but I didn’t hear one single word of that proud intern’s presentation.
As my mind replayed the moment over and over, my confidence plummeted further and further. By the end of the meeting, I felt like I was 12-years-old again, getting tagged out at home plate after trying to turn a triple into a homerun. I walked out of that conference room with my head held as low as it had been as I walked off the softball field that day and slumped down on the bench wondering why I, a wholly unremarkable person, had ever thought I could fly so high.
I spent the rest of the day hiding in my cubicle, too ashamed to even venture to the bathroom, lest I run into Molly again. Molly! Such an easy, memorable name, and so similar to mine! When the clock struck 6 p.m., I sneaked out of the building into the prematurely dark night and retreated as fast as I could to my apartment, which I plan to stay in for the remainder of my shameful, shameful existence.
When I was growing up, my brother had a friend whose mother was agoraphobic. He spent a lot of time at this friend’s house because he had a Sega Genesis and we did not. I never met this friend’s mother because, again, she did not leave the house and I certainly wasn’t invited to play Sega Genesis with my much older and cooler brother and his much older and cooler friends. I heard a lot about her, however, and especially about her refusal to leave the house which was, as you might imagine, her defining characteristic. At the time, I didn’t understand. Like most children, I spent the majority of my time trying to escape my parents’ surveillance, which meant getting out of the house. In fact, my brother’s friendship with this particular boy coincided with my hitchhiking phase, when I could often be found standing in front of the hedges aside my best friend, our childish thumbs waving in the air, begging to be kidnapped ( fortunately no one wanted us).
Now I understand. My brother’s friend’s mother didn’t want to be stuck inside all day, pacing the same hallways and interacting with the same small handful of people — she didn’t have a choice. One day, years before my brother met her son, she had probably been just like me: a regular woman making her way in this overwhelming world. And then one day, perhaps after completing a challenging run or drinking a particularly strong cup of coffee, she’d boldly called a casual acquaintance by the wrong name and well, that was that. She was forced to retreat from society and live out her days in the privacy of her own home, safe from the possibility of ever making such an embarrassing error ever again.
I wish I could remember the agoraphobic woman’s name…I think it was Deborah. Or Donna. Oh no! I’m doing it again! Well, it’s clear that the internet isn’t safe for me either, and so I must retreat from the cyberworld as I’ve retreated from the real world.
Goodbye, everyone. My name was Mary, but I don’t expect you to remember that.