Monday, March 19, 2012

Four words and a story....

Jackie sat on the floor of her new kitchen crying.  It wasn't supposed to be this way.  The big move to the heart of the city was supposed to make her feel complete, happy, powerful.  Everything she had been working towards wrapped up in a new downtown condo with great views.

She had earned every bit of her success.  The blood, sweat and tears it took her to make it through college on a combination of scholarships, student loans and work study programs. The unpaid slave labor internships she did through her early 20s. The entry level job she took just to get her foot in the door. The extra hours a week she worked to make sure she was the best, THE BEST at her job. Now at 35 she was at the top of her game. She was in charge of three accounts that brought in 70% of her firm's revenue. She brought in two of those accounts herself.  She was featured in this year's edition of 40 under 40 for Portland Monthly Magazine. She sat on the board of three different professional organizations. She was a highly sought out mentor for young women just graduating college. And right now, crying on the floor of her kitchen, she felt like the world's biggest hypocrite.

Years of preaching that her career was her focus and that there was nothing wrong with that caught up to her in a series of improbable events that might have been comical if they had happened to someone else. To something else. Or maybe on a TV show from the 70s where all could be fixed with the crinkle of a nose or the crisscross arms of a genie...but this was real life and instead of raucous laughter she was left on the floor of her kitchen holding a broken dream she hadn't even realized she had.

Moments before she had been listening to music and unpacking moving boxes. Thinking about what fun thing she might do later. Now that she lived downtown where would she go? Dinner out? Drinks at which club? She was looking at her new neighborhood not just through the eyes of a new resident but as a business opportunity. Which club would be the best for taking out of town clients to impress them with all that Portland had to offer? Which restaurant had the best food? Who would remember her and call her by name when she arrived, impressing her clients with her status? These were all part of the show of advertising and she played her part well.

For the past 10 years she had lived with a series of roommates in a lovely rental off of Hawthorne. It had been perfect for networking with creative people at the beginning of her career as well as fitting the image she was actively cultivating as a young junior advertising gal on the go. It also gave her time to pay off the balance of her student loans and save up for just the right car and just the right downtown condo. She had a plan and she worked that plan relentlessly. This new place with the stunning views and the extra bedroom that wasn't for a roommate but just for her all fit within that plan.

As she signed the paperwork and received her keys she felt like she had reached the pinnacle of her journey. She had no urge to ever own an agency so from here on out it was just more of the same, bringing in new clients, mentoring people as they entered the field, more boards and more events. To some this might not seem like enough but to Jackie it was everything she had ever wanted. She had grown up the middle child in a house full of children. Her parents did everything they could to keep a roof over their heads, food in their bellies and opportunities to pursue interests at hand, but truthfully with 5 children there wasn't ever enough to go around. Not enough time, not enough money. Not enough attention. 

Jackie's two older brothers joined the military like their father and their grandfather before him. They were well on their way towards their retirement. Raising their own broods and enjoying their own chaos. Her two younger sisters had married young and had children of their own now as well. She was the only one who decided that what they had wasn't for her. She adored her nieces and nephews and loved the chance to visit with them all, but was glad when it was time to go home. To get on the plane and fly away from the noise and the chaos back to her orderly world. 

Her orderly world which was right now reduced to her sitting in the middle of a pile of packing papers crying. Playing the "what if" and "if only" game over and over in her head. What if she hadn't put her telephone on vibrate instead of just letting it ring? If only she had put it on the counter after she hung up her last call instead of on the edge of the shelf.  Jackie had been putting away her "not everyday" dishes on the top shelf in the kitchen, standing on a footstool, or more precisely, balanced precariously on the edge of footstool as she struggled to reach the highest shelf.  Just then she got a phone call. Looking down to try to catch the caller ID she noticed that the vibrations of the phone were carrying it across the shelf it was sitting on and it was about to crash to the granite counter top below.  Reaching out to save her phone she lost her balance on the footstool. She went one way, the footstool went another and her phone went sailing off the shelf on to the floor below. As Jackie fell her arm caught the edge of the box she was currently unpacking and off it sailed as well.  

This is where Jackie's world turned into a slow motion movie. She saw her phone falling, the footstool tilting, and then the box falling and the only thing left in the box to unpack flying out of the box in the opposite direction Jackie was going. She tried her best to reach out and save the paper wrapped bundle but knew she didn't have the arm length to catch it. She started chanting, "Please don't break, please don't break" even as she knew the odds of hitting the ceramic tiles of her kitchen floor and not breaking weren't good. Maybe she had packed it with enough paper to protect it from the fall...then the crash as the bundle hit the ground and she knew...

When Jackie had left home for what she thought of as "for good" in the move to Portland after graduating from college her mother didn't have much to give her. The older boys and the younger girls had set up households of their own and Mom and Dad had helped each of them out in their own way. Jackie had told her mother that she didn't need anything. It was just her and two roommates and they had just enough thrift store finds to fill in the gaps in their furnished apartment. But Jackie's mom wouldn't hear of sending her child out in to the big bad world without something from home. So she handed Jackie a box and told her it was all wrapped up for the move and she could unpack it when she got home. Jackie had smiled and kissed her mother and thought it was a sweet but completely unnecessary gesture. Until she unpacked the box later that week. It was the Honey Bear. The big ceramic cookie jar that had sat on her mother's counter for Jackie's entire life. And it was filled not with cookies, but with all of the cookie recipes her mother had used over the years. That night she and her roommates made chocolate drops and mint marvels and filled the jar again. For every potluck from that moment forward Jackie brought the Honey Bear filled with one of her mother's recipes.

Cookies of every shape and flavor had made their home in that jar. Jackie couldn't remember a time in her life when it had been empty. It was the miracle bear. She never knew when her mother made the time to refill the jar but there were always cookies there. And they always seemed to be just the flavor she was craving. The Honey Bear had been the perfect gift from her mother. And now it was shattered in to more pieces than could ever be repaired. And as it broke Jackie's first thought had been...What will I share with my children? and then she sobbed...

She didn't even want children. Why would she even think of them when the jar broke? And as she looked around her new condo, the one with two bedrooms, just for extra space, the one in the best school district in Portland, she had checked just to make sure for resale value, the one that was near the park, she thought maybe she would get a dog. Knowing that she had been checking her phone hoping to catch the caller ID not of a client but of her long time and long distance boyfriend she realized that maybe she hadn't finished her climb just yet. That maybe all along she had been setting herself up for the next step in her life without even being aware of it. Maybe, just maybe she did want a marriage and children and a full cookie jar on the counter.

Right then her phone began buzzing along again.  Her first inclination was to pick it up, it had landed on the floor in one piece, no worse for wear, and heave it across the room.  But a quick check of the caller ID changed her mind...

"Oh, Mom...I fell down and I broke the cookie jar and I think I might want kids and to get married and I am a mess........"

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