too quickly and who is too obviously performing someone he or she
is not—the mannerisms stiff, as though studied, the laughter loud and
forced. I realize then that I am not imagining but only projecting who I
once was onto an unfamiliar face, a new name.
And now the run-down city cedes to the wealth of the university: the
gleaming apartment towers, the sprawling sports complex. I turn left,
following the path of a small creek that runs between artificial banks.
As I head up the hill, the houses grow in scale and ambition, and while
some are in poor repair—mostly those with large Greek letters tacked
above the door—none are vacant, none condemned. I pass through the
small business district, with its handful of restaurants, its thrift store, its
tiny grocery. I pass the bakery I like. I turn right. I’m almost home.
That night, I have a dream in which I open the door over and over. I
never get to see what’s on the other side. I wake up sweating and running
a low fever and spend the next two days in bed. When I do return to the
office, I wait for some time outside the building, debating on whether
or not to go in. Surely the shades and the forest will be fine without me.
Sitting there, contemplating the building’s entrance, I’m reminded
of my very first day on the job. My wife had made me breakfast, and
I’d dilly-dallied so long over it that I had to sprint to the bus to make
it downtown in time. I arrived at 8: 57 am and then found myself paralyzed. All around me suited men and women hurried up the sidewalk
and disappeared through the revolving doors like particles sucked into
a vacuum. It was late spring, a warm day, the trees heavy with neon pollen. I stood and watched the brass doors go round and round, watched
the rush thin to a trickle, and still I could not move. I knew I had to go
in. But the child mind in me refused, knowing that what lay on the other
side of that door would blur the days, collapse the nights, swallow up my
wants and fears and will entire.
In the end, the adult mind won. I had promised my wife, my father.
I had committed. I took a deep breath. I walked up the steps. And so on
this day, so many years later, I remind myself that my work is not yet
done, door or no. There are still chairs to remove and carpet to cut up
and cubicles to dismantle. And someone needs to feed the fish. I shift my
bag to my other hand and start up the steps. In the office above, all will
be waiting for me, just as I left it. I sigh. The door opens. I walk through.