Short Fiction #1: The Last Weekend.

1996

The quickest decisions always have the best results. This had been proven to Shelia many times in her life. Deciding to take a trip to Washington DC didn’t take long. Shelia couldn’t recall the last time she made a decision this fast. The impetus for the trip was fueled by the momentary excitement of Obama’s re-election and a chance to spend time with Molly, her dearest friend.  Shelia’s husband urged her to make the trip on her own and she hit “book it” before he even hung up.  Her mini-break was in the works. Shelia felt elated. She needed to get away, she could feel it in her bones. The timing felt right too. After the madness of the holidays, the new year felt like a clean slate and a cold weekend in January fit her mood. Even if there was pomp and circumstance in the air, it was not the glittery materialistic laden pressure cooker of the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Besides, she had never been to a true blue Inauguration in The Nation’s Capital. Political theater was as thrilling to her as the Superbowl for football fans. Really she loved the idea of something new and unfamiliar. Spending time with Molly, a companion for all time, Shelia felt sure the weekend was going to be momentous. She was ready for a change.

Her vacation was crammed into her very busy life.  She only took Just 2.5 days off to make a nice long weekend.  It was still enough to make the few days at work a hectic game of downloading, organizing and checking in. Just 2.5 days, she thought. What is the issue, why all the stress? But she assured everyone she would be checking email on the road, even though there wasn’t anything urgent to check. She made sure to keep it cool at work. It was not the time to act frantic.  At first her plan was to work from home, then catch her flight out of SFO at 1Pm.  But her boss really wanted to review the marketing plan for a client launch. She stayed up the night before, finished her PowerPoint with a very detailed strategy and tactical plan. Crammed in some housework. Cuddled with her daughter. And packed her small bag with the efficiency of a flight attendant. Shelia woke up an hour early to make it to work at 830. Met with her boss to review the marketing plan.  Answered emails, checked in with colleagues. Set her out of office reply. And walked downstairs to catch BART.

On the train she made an appointment with her therapist updated her Facebook status and officially tuned off of her role as mommy, employee, student and wife.  Shelia knew the time was short and she was an expert at making the most out of a few days. She wasn’t going to worry about a thing.

All the flights were on time. Bags were not lost. Molly was waiting full of hugs and excitement. Driving in Washington DC never made much sense to Shelia, it always felt like looping circles and criss-crosses. But they found a great place to eat dinner. They chatted and had cocktails and at 1AM realized bed was probably a good idea if they wanted to get up in time to drive to New York City.

Yeah, a quick trip to New York City. That’s what two good friends conjure up at the last minute. A 26 hour jaunt, to see a play on Broadway, unsure of lodgings and playing it by ear. Only people who knew each other well and can travel with ease can pull off spontaneity. They managed to wake up on time.  And hit the road.  Along 1-95 Shelia clapped as she crossed each State-line.

“Yay”, Shelia screamed, “my first time in Delaware!”

“I’m on the New Jersey Turnpike. Sing it!”

The trees were bare and the conversation was deep. Five hours to catch up with a good friend can go by quickly. Shelia lamented about her new job, how she was trying to make it work.  And how the balancing act of motherhood and career was getting to her.  Molly talked about her wedding and first months as a newlywed. Her worries centered on future plans and new in-laws. They compared notes, gave each advice, admitted their fears and shared their dreams. They consoled and even strategized how to show off their talents. Then at the drop of the hat, the two friends sang along to “Like a Prayer” on the radio, trying to harmonize parts and evoke Madonna. The perfect road trip.

New York City started with a mad dash from a friend’s apartment in Jersey City. From the PATH they bolted up the stairs at the 13th street station, running blocks down Broadway lamenting the lack of lunch and a curtain call in 15 minutes. They made it to 48th street, with just a minute to spare before the curtain call. A magnificent performance about an heiress set in the late 1800’s. It brought up rousing conversation about fathers and daughters and the expectations of family and true love. The two friends waited at the stage door, more sheepish than most of the enthusiastic crowd. Out came the stars and they both pushed their way to front.

Later the plan was to meet a friend in the East Village. After a quick subway ride and a slow walk down St. Mark’s Street, they met at Ukrainian National for stuffed cabbage, periogies and copious amounts of Vodka. Of course. They walked into The Sly Fox for another drink where all three women concocted another last minute plan to dance at a gypsy festival in a vintage ballroom in Brooklyn. Why not? That was the attitude of the night.

The gypsy festival proved to be a hit, full of food and circle dances. Shelia felt connected to something new, clasping hands with strangers, trying to get the footwork correct.  She was filled with a gracious feeling from sharing happiness with others, something that was missing in the fast paced world of start-ups in downtown San Francisco. Finally, both friends were ushered into a car service well past 3 AM and they were grateful their side trip turned out better than expected.

The morning began with a mediocre breakfast at a Cuban Restaurant with a nice drive back to Washington DC. Inaugural Ball revelries were in the plan and neither of them was sure how they would make it to anything, but they persevered. Their presence was expected, after all. Shelia finally got a hold of her family and her daughter was upset to hear that mommy was in New York City. She had just seen the ball drop on New Year’s Eve and saw people throwing confetti on TV. Surely that is what her mother had been doing the whole time.

But through it all, she really felt alive and relaxed. Thinking little of work or other responsibilities. Even when she talked with her friend, it was cushioned with a sense of relief to let things out and to express anxieties. Their friendship had always been based on sharing their innermost thoughts. In year’s past, they had spent weeks upon weeks together, almost inseparably. When they met now, it felt like no time had passed and that something missing had been returned. It felt familiar and the new at the same time.

After another long night of parties, full of art and fire dancing, exhaustion finally set in and everyone slept well. There was still The Inauguration to attend. The morning was clear and cold and their minds were foggy. The smallest joke sent them into hysterics, like the Metro driver with the drawl of James Brown announcing each station. They expected him to scream “Get down now…yah” at any moment. They arrived on time, another uncanny moment as it had seemed that everything had fell right into place all weekend. They sat with the crowds, unable to see President Obama but his message still resounded and the energy from the crowds was palpable.

Admittedly, the day was long. Sitting on cold bleachers, waiting for a peek at The President or really anyone famous had its moments. The crowds were friendly and amicable. They heard that Eva Longoria was in the cavalcade or maybe Beyonce would walk around and say hello, the friends waited patiently. Both of them agreed that star-gazing was a kind of silly waiting game, with a short burst of giddiness ending with a sort of nothingness. But they still waited and waited. Finally, the moment arrived. The President and The First Lady were en route, the crowds were on their feet, cheering loudly! In a quick second, both friends leaned forward to get a passing glimpse of Michelle Obama waving cheerfully from behind her bullet proof glass. It didn’t matter, the moment was electric.

Tuesday morning arrived, Shelia had a flight to catch in the afternoon. Molly had to go back to work and barely made it on time. The weekend was over and Shelia had that sad feeling inside, but was also eager to see her family at the same time. She thought, like being thirsty and having to pee. The warmer weather of the weekend finally came to an end and the cold air came back. Shelia was glad to get out of dodge, minus seven degrees did not suit her well.

During the flight, Shelia had a lot on her mind. Mainly how real the weekend felt. She got to enjoy each moment and opened up and said what she wanted. She was not guarded. Shelia remembered who she really was again. She wondered how she could keep this feeling with her when she got back to San Francisco. It wasn’t her marriage or motherhood that brought her down, she loved those roles, they saved her. What bothered her was the career path that “chose her” and how it pulled her further away from her dreams. Yet she had no choice, she had to work and she had a great career. It just wasn’t her own. It felt empty to her. Her whole life she dreamed of starting a business, something that could help people. It sounded thrilling and scary and out of reach. She dozed off, trying to ward off the thoughts, the ideas that came alive when they were not repressed. Now they were buzzing around again.

It was time to step back into her daily routine and Wednesday morning started right back where the week had ended before her trip. It was such a great idea, the short trip was just what she needed. Shelia woke up appreciating everything just a bit more, especially her family. She even felt more connected to her job, it allowed her a good lifestyle and was fun at times. The break put a little pep in her step, she felt a bit more inspired, surely a good thing to get the creative juices flowing.

Shelia came back to the office, her coworkers with noses glued to their computers, nobody said good morning. Typical though, her office wasn’t so big on greetings or noticing the existence of another humans. First things first, catching up on emails and getting back to her marketing plan. She wrote to her boss, asking about feedback on her project. Pretty quickly her boss came over to her desk and asked if she could speak with her. They walked together, to the big conference room and Shelia felt her stomach give out, something was not right. As they entered the room, Shelia knew this was it. The human resources director sat there with stacks of folders and paperwork, maybe other people were getting let go or promoted, who knew?

Her boss said one sentence.

“So, we are sorry, but it’s not working out and we have decided to let you go.” No eye contact, nothing more, she got up abruptly and left the room.

Shelia felt frozen. Numbness spread over her whole body. Shelia remained all business and asked for specific feedback. But she just received the same robotic answers, so she gave up.

She did not cry in that conference room. Shelia had nothing more to say, signed papers and packed her desk in front of coworkers who didn’t even say goodbye. She called her husband and he immediately came to pick her up. Shelia texted Molly next. Molly was so sorry, felt so bad for her and told Shelia it was going to be okay, it was going to work out for the best.

Shelia had still not cried. She could only think about how much the last weekend really meant to her now.

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