I park the sedan in the driveway, too anxious to maneuver into the tight garage spot amidst bikes, roller skates, and hula hoops. The air is trapped in the car having been heated from sitting in the un-shaded parking lot from 9 to nearly 5. I drove home without rolling down the windows to release the dense, still air. I turn off the car. The radio continues to play something I can't recognize.
In the back seat is a box overflowing with years of stuff that personalized my office space. There are the framed photos from our trip to Disney World, 10 years ago. The girls proudly twirled in their princess outfits after their breakfast and pampering with Cinderella. At the time, I rolled my eyes and reluctantly allowed the indulgence. Now stamped in time is a picture of my then 3- and 4-year-old daughters in complementary dresses with ruffled pink and purple skirts. Oh, how my mom shook her head at this, having raised me better.
"Prince charming is a booby prize for women," the bitter housewife repeated throughout my childhood.
She wanted to raise an independent woman. Romance was something foolish girls pursued. She insisted I get an education and use it for something other than coming up with intelligent cocktail-party conversation.
The radio times out. The glow of the digital clock numbers fades leaving no way to track the time. As I sit with self-inflicted paralysis, my husband and daughters likely are preparing a baked or grilled variation of some boneless, skinless chicken recipe. Because of my mother, I resolved to have a career and turned up my nose at stay-at-home-moms. I lived in a family with reversed roles, my husband the primary caregiver.
I stare straight ahead, years of posture lectures have me trained to avoid a slouch no matter how defeated I feel. Through the rearview mirror I see the couple next door walking their pair of Shepherds, Jack and Jill — pets to replace the void of children that never came.
It was 4 when I was called back to meet with our district manager Bob Teebone. He has manicured square fingernails and wears a thick standard gold wedding band.
"Bob, nice to see you," I said trying to hide my suspicion of the unannounced visit.
"Please, call me Mr. Teebone," Bob said.
I blushed and mumbled, "Yes, of course."
I stood with my legal pad folded across my chest hiding an elongated tear-shaped coffee stain on my white blouse. He reported the sales records for the month of June, which I had compiled for him.
"We need to make drastic changes in the way we do business in this market," Mr. Teebone said. "While we cannot afford to subsidize this location any longer, we think it’s premature to close."
A sigh of relief released from my chest. Since the Family Dollar opened in the strip mall across the street our sales had steadily declined. I thought with time the customers would return to Shopko's store aisles. I thought we could beat them with customer service, but with staff reductions customers are waiting in longer, slower-moving lines. I thought a redesign would set us apart as a more upscale shopping center. Turns out the redesign just pissed off our regular customers who had to relearn the location of their favorite products.
"I can turn this around," I said.
"We decided we need someone to competently move us forward. We have hired your replacement," Bob said. "I need you to sign these termination papers. You will find a generous severance package, the options for continuing your health coverage, and the procedures for payment from your paid-time-off balances. Questions can be directed to Tina in HR."
Inertia, my mind reeled back to high school chemistry, the tendency for an object in motion to stay in motion. This action, unbeknown to me, started long before our conversation took place. I was unable to argue, debate, or plea.
"We need you to sign and date here," Bob said sliding a document to my side of the table.
I accepted defeat and scratched my first and maiden names.
My identity is gone; I carry the copy paper box past our rose bushes, which are remarkably healthy, much to the jealousy of one particular neighbor who haughtily said they would never survive a Wisconsin winter when she saw me planting them last spring. These plants have survived; they are defiant and bloom without reserve, against the alleged odds.