It’s the first day. I’m wearing a pink polo shirt, flared jeans, and New Balance tennis shoes. My teeth are sore from the orthodontist appointment I went to three days ago, and though I’ve only seen 13 years, I am already weary from life. I am unsure at best; everything has changed. I am balancing on a tightrope made of fear and hope, suspended between the way life has pinched me and the possibility of something new.
And today’s the first day.
I open the door to get out of the car, and then I pause. I look at the woman who’s not yet my mom, who doesn’t yet know how to coax out of me what I’m hiding right then. “I’ll see you at three?” She nods, and she must know more than I think, because she tells me it’s going to be OK. I must believe her, because I climb out and go inside by myself. “If I survive this,” I think, “I can survive anything.”
That year–eighth grade–I ate lunch by myself at first.
My best friend from home has just finished stacking towels in the bathroom closet, and then she comes back into the dorm room. My mom looks around and announces that that’s everything, then. It’s 4:24 p.m., and they’re six minutes ahead of schedule; all day, I’d been preparing for 4:30. Panic begins to shake inside of me, and I open my mouth to fight for my six minutes. But instead, I say, “I’ll walk you down to the parking lot.”
After they’ve left, I return, sobbing, to my room. I have a meeting in 15 minutes, where I’ll be introduced to the other recipients of my scholarship, and I can’t meet them in shorts. I pull on straight-leg jeans and a black cashmere v-neck. I am certain, as I assess my appearance, that you can see the goodbye all over me, but I don’t have time to try to wash it away. Instead, I put on deodorant and I walk across the street. In the moments I spend climbing the steps, I remind myself that I’ve done this before.
I walk inside and sit down. When it’s my turn, my clear voice surprises me. My “Hi, I’m Lindsey, and I’m majoring in journalism” slices through the goodbye that is six layers thick in that room.
For years after those introductions, I’ll marvel at who else was in that room.
“Tell me about yourself,” she says, and I am unsure of what to put on the table. I want her to know right away that I am more than she thinks, but then I remember that I don’t know what she thinks. I decide on “I only have six freckles,” and that seems to be the right thing.
I don’t know it then, but the desk I’m sitting at will become the one where I pen my first published magazine article, my first feature piece, and then, a story that is featured on the cover. I don’t know it then, but more than two years later, remembering a time before the desk was mine will be difficult. I don’t know it then, but in the days ahead, I’ll lead this girl into the shadowy corners of me, telling her story after story on rainy afternoons when we should be working.
But that first day, the desk seems bigger than my bravery, and yet, I know that the thing to do is breathe and smile. “I only have six freckles,” I say, and she smiles back at me, because it wasn’t what she was expecting.
It’s the first day. I’m wearing a black pencil skirt, a blue-and-white-striped blazer, and high heels that get stuck in the cobblestone sidewalks as I make my way from my car to the right door. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this; in fact, it seems that recently, every single day asks me to step into something with which I’m not familiar. I know full well that my hands will sweat, so I should wipe them just before I shake any others. I know full well that in a few weeks’ time, this walk will be routine. I know full well that the door has been set for me to walk through, that this day is the one that’s been lavished upon me.
I think back to that first day of eighth grade–which is the first first day I remember being so terrifying that I doubted my survival–and though I have lived nine years’ worth of life since then, I am no longer weary. But I am nervous.
I pause outside the door, and wish for just a moment that my mom was there to say, matter-of-factly, that it was going to be just fine. I know that if she were, she would see through me with one glance, past the blazer and the curled hair, and she would know that my hands are already sweating.
But I live in a different city than my mother, and I am 22, and this is the first day of my new job. And I am almost ready to go inside.
I do a quick wipe of my hands on the back of my skirt, and I open the door.