My heels click on the brand new industrial flooring as I walk with deliberation towards the restroom, legs slightly wobbly, rehashing my responses. My hand grasps the cold metal door. A wave of nausea, then relief, as if two years of waiting have brought me here. A mother ushers her little one out of the stall and balances her on her leg to wash her hands. I am not her today. I stand there a moment, staring at the reflection: well manicured fingers smooth ironed gold hair, polished, pristine. Prepared. Like the old days. I run my hands over invisible wrinkles, square my shoulders. This is mine. A seven day search after two years of waiting. Here I am. I did this. I am a woman who does not apologize. I am a woman who does not beg. It’s my turn.
I notice a hangnail as my dishwater hands grip the wheel, we’ve made it through another day. His crumbled snack bar remnants adorn his lap, the sticky shrapnel affixed to the seatbelt. The phone rings shrilly at 5:01, and it startles me. I jump when other days I don’t answer. My hands grip tighter, a car horn blares. My throat is hot, tight. My ears burn. I hear my pulse. Today is different. This is it. This is Kate. An eight-way unanimous vote in my favor. She wants my salary requirements. Why don’t you start the conversation, I strategize. I am calm. Collected. I will not lowball myself. I am worth too much. It’s my turn.
Yo Gabba Gabba blares on the television. Jack Black is wearing an orange costume and riding a motorcycle. I am alone at home and it is arsenic hour. One boy has no pants, the other no shirt. Both are wielding sippy cups and trucks. I am a human shield protecting one from the other. This is not me for much longer. Here I am. I did this. It rings again at 5:01. Curious, this time. Confident. I absentmindedly run my ragged, dry fingers through my two year old’s curls. Do you have a moment? I have some bad news. The children’s show dulls. The child straddling my lap is asking me something. I don’t understand. Is there any feedback? There is none. The child in my lap is asking me why I am crying. The other child is crying now, afraid. It is arsenic hour and I am alone. The future dulls, spreads and seethes like an endless dirt road’s heat haze in late evening summer.