Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: STRESSED - Begins January 18 / Ends January 25 (01/18/18)
- TITLE: Free Falling
By Robin West
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The windshield wipers can’t keep up with the rain, and the white haired driver of the Volvo in front of me is driving 55 in a seventy. I’m stuck behind her while the bumper-to-bumper traffic to the left pins me to the granny lane.
I’m late because I slept through the alarm. My brain kept me awake until three replaying the incident with Mona and her posse at the office yesterday. I kept seeing her veiled eyes over that plastic smile, and imagined the toxic words she must’ve used to poison Ted’s opinion of me. I kept trying to figure out what I should have done differently, a tunnel my mind has taken many times and never found an answer. I remembered Ted’s expression while hearing my side of the story, his smirk and narrowed eyes. Even in my ears, I sounded defensive and guilty. These thoughts always led to the same outlet, fantasies of quitting. Then a parade of bills—like rent, heat, and food—would quickly drive my thoughts back to the loop’s origin.
I can’t face this day without coffee. There’s a coffee shop at the next exit. What difference will a few minutes make? On the off ramp, a four-by-four suddenly switches lanes in front of me and stops at the yellow light I planned on running. I pounce on my brake and my purse bolts from the passenger seat dumping upside down on the floor. I shout some words I wouldn’t say in church. Gripping the steering wheel, while waiting out the light, my waistband cinches my gut, and I shift positions to relieve tension in my lower back. I should eat less. I’ve regained 25 of the 15 pounds I lost last year.
Finally, the light turns, and I weave through two blocks of traffic to reach the coffee shop. The line’s a mile long, so I park to go inside. I lean across the console to scoop up the contents of my purse, and my pants squeeze my stomach against my lungs so I have to hold my breath. Once I’ve reloaded my purse, I grip the straps and stumble from the car. Red-faced and breathless, I barge into the coffee-scented haven of brown furniture and hipster music.
While waiting for my latte and the cranberry scone that I couldn’t resist, I call work to say I’m running late. Ted sounds angry. “I expect you here on time.” While explaining my morning to him, he cuts me off. “Don’t bother coming in at all…” He continues with something about mailing a paycheck, but the buzz in my brain drowns his voice.
“Ted. Hello?” He’s gone.
When the barista calls my order, I’m staring out the window. The rain is solidifying into snow. Did he just fire me?
I retrieve my order, take a few steps for the door, stop, and stand in numb confusion. My plan for rushing to work just changed, and I don’t know what to do next. There’s an empty table in the corner. Lacking a better idea, I sit down.
I break off a crusty nob of the scone and set it on my tongue like it’s a pill. Most people lose their appetite when they feel stressed. Stress propels my hunger. The next bite is bigger than the last, and soon the scone is gone, like my job.
The bills that haunted me last night begin stalking me, only now they’ve grown tentacles and fangs. With no payday in sight, I can’t appease them. They chase me to a precipice where there’s nowhere to turn. All I can do is jump, but when I peer over the edge, I can’t see the bottom. The jump will kill me.
I was looking for a job when I found this one.
Those were Grandpa’s words when the lumber mill where he’d worked for twenty years shut down. He had a point, but the sentiment isn’t only about jobs. It reminds me there’s always a way, even when hidden from view. Even when I feel like I’m free falling, I have a choice. I can panic about the unknown, or I can enjoy the weightlessness of flight.
I can’t claim to feel the joy of weightlessness yet, but the feeling of terror is backing off. Clutching my latte, I climb into the car and drive home to polish my resume. Leave it to Grandpa’s voice to talk me off a cliff.
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