It was hot that day.
The kind of oppressive heat that wraps around you and makes it hard to breathe, even if you're simply standing.
There was oil everywhere, oil in the water, oil on the fish, oil on the birds, oil on the news, oil on my mind. "Jesus Christ," I'd whispered to my sister earlier that week, "Have you seen those animals? I can barely stand to look."
The way that the office is set up is important to this post; it matters--the details, no matter how small; they matter.
When you walk into this particular office, there is a waiting area for the clients, a heavy half-glass window that a receptionist sits behind, a sign that says, "DO NOT TOUCH THE WINDOW. WE WILL BE WITH YOU WHEN WE CAN." There is a very heavy door, secured by a keypad that you cannot enter unless allowed.
There is also a small office off of the waiting area with a desk and a couple of chairs.
I was told that was where I'd be meeting my clients that day. The receptionist came out and unlocked it for me. There isn't a lock on the inside of the door, only on the outside.
I walked in that morning and it was crowded already. The heat, the humidity, the looks in the eyes of the people there; the hopelessness was oppressive. I was meeting with twin sisters, the M's. They had just attained their C.N.A.'s and were looking for work. I'd never met with siblings together before, and I smiled as they came in.
We sat down and began going over the details (details, details) of what they were looking for when we heard the first noise. Someone speaking loudly, perhaps yelling at someone? I smiled. I continued.
So did the voice outside the door. "What, can't anyone else see this? Does anyone see them? We're all just sittin' here, waiting, those birds, they can't fly. Why is everyone just sitting here?"
I smiled and continued typing and I glanced over to the window. "You can't open it from in here," one of the M's said. They're 18. They'd already looked for an escape route. I made some joke; it's what I do, I joke, I smile.
The M's uncrossed and then crossed their legs the same way, at the same time, their bodies ever so slightly touching. I thought of my sister. I thought of a day under the sun at a beach, Counting Crows playing over and over; how my sister and I would move at the same time.
I thought of my daughters. I smiled and I glanced to the very small pane of glass outside of the office where people had begun to gather. It struck me then, the office we were in was possibly the only place to go? Was the exit blocked? Where was the receptionist?
At the same time, I realized the door was unlocked. One turn of the knob and everyone would be in there, and then truly, we would have no where to run.
I made eye contact with a woman outside of the window. She had on a pearl necklace. Details.
I looked back at the M's and smiled. "Here's what I'm going to do right now. I'm going to get up and you're going to come over here, OK? Then I'm going to let these people in and see what's going on out there."
"You're going out there?" Their eyes were wide. I made a joke about having two well prepared C.N.A.'s to help me if anything went awry. I was very calm; unlike even now--writing this, my heart again is racing.
I arose and they moved over to my spot. I calmly opened the door and motioned those standing out there to come in. I smiled. I looked at my hand, holding open the door. I was wearing a red bracelet.
I walked out to the lobby, where a man was pacing. "This is crazy," he was saying.
Slowly, I reached out to touch him, "Sir," I started. He swung around quickly, his eyes red, something silver in his hand catching my eye.
For a few seconds, maybe five, I didn't look to his hand. In those seconds, I thought, "It's a gun." I joke a lot about losing my mind and how it doesn't work the way it once did. I can tell you that in those five seconds, my brain had never been so alive.
I thought of my girls. I thought of my family. Of my dogs. Of the heat. I blinked and recalled all of the news stories that you see every single day, the randomness, the senselessness. I thought of the beach. "And Anna begins to toss and turn". I thought of training to work with wounded animals. "Keep eye contact. Move slowly."
I was not scared. Even today, as I write this, I will tell you, I would have been surprised, but not scared.
It wasn't a gun; it was his cell phone. I reached again to his arm, softly, "Can I help you, sir?" There were tears streaming down his face. "I've been here since they opened. I just want to see my counselor. Have you seen those birds? Have you? What are they supposed to do; they were just going about their lives and boom, all this shit everywhere and now they can't fly. What are they supposed to do?"
I walked to the desk and pounded on the window and was told that security was on their way. "I just want my job back," he said. I don't know what his job was, but I can tell you that some of the saddest stories, regardless how you feel about unions, are the displaced auto workers.
They've gone about their lives, working in factories, for excellent money and then slowly things begin to unravel. No college training, no computer training, the mortgage is late, the electric is late, the mortgage is late again, the house is in foreclosure, relationships unravel, it goes on and on.
Security arrived and I told them he really didn't mean harm, he was just upset. They agreed to walk him out instead of calling the authorities. As they were leaving, the man turned to me and asked, "Can you help me?" I shook my head and whispered, "No, I can't. I'm sorry."
I walked back toward the room where I'd been with the M's and held the door as people filed out. "I said to them, that girl is crazier than that cracker out there," said an elderly black man. I looked down at him to meet his gaze. His eyes were bright, bright blue. He was missing two teeth. Details. Small things. "He's not crazy," I whispered.
I continued about my day, then finally broke down and sobbed, hard, for hours, when I thought what could have been; mostly because I had no idea what it would have meant. What does any of it mean? What would any of it have been for? I still don't know and I want it to mean something.
I try, mostly, to think of the people that I know that I've helped. I think of the really, really good people that I work with; how they work so hard to make a difference in the lives of the people that they serve--how much better the world is because they are in it and truly, how little gratitude there is expressed. For every person that is helped, I can tell you, especially now, it seems like there are ten others that are not, despite such excellent intentions and efforts.
It seems like there should be more, no? I suppose I believed as a child that eventually all the pieces would add up and make sense and there would be great meaning to all of this; to all of us. I don't know that now and it's unnerving at times.
I want there to be meaning. I want there to be answers. I want to be able to tell my daughters, "This is why and this is what it means." But I think, perhaps, the answer is that we all have to make our own meaning. I can't be sure.
I think about him, still, that man. I wonder what happened to him and suppose it probably isn't good. Each time he enters my mind, I think of the M's, who are now working at excellent jobs and their lives, just taking flight.
I ponder how their lives, if only just for a moment, intersected with his. And I think of the pictures of the ocean; the birds flying above those bogged down, and I think, did those in the air eventually land as well, in that oil, or did they keep flying?