IT'S ALL ABOUT MAKING a good first impression, Kelly thinks as she opens her closet and wonders what to wear. Today is the first day of her new job. Not just any job. This is her first real job. This is the day Kelly Stuart, 25 years old, begins a career.
She thinks about Marlo Thomas in "That Girl." She thinks about stepping out of this tiny apartment and running down the city sidewalks with those skinny legs and white shoes. She thinks she is supposed to feel a heck of a lot more gleeful than she is feeling right now.
She feels like throwing up.
She looks in her closet. What does a production coordinator at a big TV station wear? She figures: artsy. But corporate, too. How can you combine both looks into one outfit? She chooses black. When in doubt, choose black. She wonders if she'll fit in. She wonders if people will like her.
On the subway, Kelly thinks about the interview that landed her the job. They said they wanted a self-starter. Someone organized. Someone who could solve problems on her own and make life easy for them. She said yes, yes, yes, she was all of those things and more. She sat up straight and pretended to believe in herself, so much so that she actually started believing in herself.
She wonders where that belief is now.
In the elevator, Kelly can't find the button for the sixth floor. Wrong elevator, she realizes, as she goes zooming up to 19. By the time she figures the elevators out, she is 10 minutes late. Her co-workers are already in a meeting, which she is expected to attend. She opens the conference room door and sees: black. They're all in there screening a tape. She can't see a thing. It's like walking into a movie after it's started. It's like being in a foreign country. It's like entering a new church.
It's like day one of a new job. You must be the person you said you were. The person you sold them on. You must not let them find out who you really are. You have no idea who you really are.
The meeting drags on and on. "Well, let's order lunch," says Sheila. She flips on the lights. Sheila is the boss's boss, the big kahuna. At least that's who Kelly thinks she is, because she is dressed in corporate garb. A lot of the others are wearing black, which leads Kelly to say a prayer of thanksgiving to all the fashion gods in heaven.
"Kelly, do you know how to order lunch?" Sheila says.
Um. Who doesn't know how to order lunch? She thinks: Self-starter. Someone who can solve problems on her own and make life easy for them. She says, "Of course," and so begins her journey. A journey for three Caesar salads, a toasted bagel with lox and cream cheese, and four bowls of soup du jour. A journey for the lunch requisition form, wherever that is. But didn't this carpet used to be blue? How did she end up in the red hallway? She is having heart palpitations. She is going in circles. By the time she finds the office with the forms, she feels sweat beading on her brow. "Department code," the form asks. Um. And the number of the cafeteria fax machine? Um. And where, exactly, is the fax machine? And how did she end up here on the green carpet?
It feels as though an hour goes by before Kelly feeds the lunch form through the fax machine. Her co-workers are hungry, counting on her. She is a self-starter. She is a problem solver. She is . . . a fraud?
The phone rings. It's the cafeteria. No more bagels today.
Kelly's heart falls with a thud. The bagel was Sheila's order. Kelly considers running out onto the street and finding a bagel store. She feels her career going down the drain because of a bagel. She feels the stress of this momentous day moving from her stomach to her throat to the steaming hot space behind her eyes. She is about to burst into tears over a bagel.
A young woman in black pops out of the meeting, sees Kelly there. "Are you okay?" she asks, leaning in.
"They're out of bagels," Kelly says, in a puny, pathetic voice. She has been found out. She does not know how to order lunch. She is not who they think she is. She is just . . . Kelly.
The woman smiles, says the cafeteria is always screwing up. She says, "My name is Suzanne." She says, "I used to have your job." She says, "Let me tell you about my first day."
Kelly laughs and listens and, in one tiny but definite flash of awareness, thinks she may like it here.
When the day is done, she stays late. To organize her desk. To figure out her voice mail. To prepare her cubicle.
She gets locked in. A big metal gate between her and the elevator. It's nearly midnight by the time security finds her and sets her free.
She will make no mention of this in the morning. Because she is a self-starter. She is someone who can solve problems on her own and make life easy for them. She will save this story for another time, another place, another new employee.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.