Return to Sender

“I’m sending you back to your parents,” my boss said.

It was my last day at The Company.

“Sorry?” I said, “I still live with my parents.”

He chuckled, “I know, but go home and tell them that I say, ‘Your daughter is going back under your care.’ My responsibility for you ends here.”

I laughed, wondering what he meant.

“This whole time, I felt like I was parenting you.”

Portrait of the Artist’s Father, Paul Cezanne 1866 Oil on canvas.

 I recalled an awkward moment at one of my boss’s events, where after he’d accepted an award a mob of people swarmed our table to congratulate him. His wife was seated on his left and I to her left. Their daughter had taken the seat on my boss’s right but had gone to the restroom. His wife leaned towards me, asking me one thing or other as was cutting through my filet mignon. A man appeared over my shoulder, patted me on the back and said to my boss, “So is this young lady your daughter?”

I shook my head a little too hard and said five “No’s” in rapid succession so that the pink slice of steak I had so carefully speared quivered and loosened from the tines of my fork. It belly-flopped like a tiny, shitty diver onto my dress.

My boss’s wife laughed and my boss pretended not to see my little mishap. Though to my surprise, he didn’t falter or vehemently correct the man, who also pretended not to see though it was his stupid assumption that ruined my dress.

“Oh no,” my boss said, “She’s my assistant,” then pausing to think about it for a moment, “Well, yeah she could be my daughter.”

I dabbed at the steak stain, (thank god my dress was purple) and smiled in what I hoped was a winning manner at the man, who seemed less interested in me now that he found I wasn’t a blood relation to my boss. My boss’s daughter returned to the table and was immediately accosted by the man and a few elderly women wearing too much makeup.

“Of course she’s your daughter!” they squealed, “Look at the resemblance!”

My boss’s daughter, ever polite and modest, smiled and said thank you. Thank you, thank you.

———

In his office, my boss leaned back in his chair, “I hope you learned a few things from me. And I don’t mean all these tasks I gave you, but just as a person.”

I mentally ran through a few of our key lessons, but my boss did an oral review.

“You forget this and that, don’t plan ahead, pass information around before processing it…”

I nodded, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll try not to do that in my personal life, or in my endeavors to become a writer.”

“So you don’t need a reminder to brush your teeth, right?”

I laughed and shook my head. One night a few months ago after a particularly terrible streak of forgetfulness my boss had sent me what was most likely his angriest text ever: “I feel I have to remind you to update my calendar when you make changes every two or three weeks. This is your job! I hope you don’t need me to remind you to brush your teeth!” 

I read the message at 10PM on Monday night – only Monday! – and wondered how I ought to respond. Should I even wake up the next morning or would he write an email to me that night asking me not to come in anymore?

In the end, acceptance seemed to be the best reaction. I typed, “No, you don’t need to remind me to brush my teeth. And you remind me much more often than that.”

He didn’t write back, not because he was furious at my response, but because there wasn’t anything else to say. What can you do when the person you are angry/disappointed/frustrated with knows exactly why you feel that way and they accept it? You let them bathe in the frustration and hope they remember the shame and the resulting exhaustion. You hope they never let it happen again. 

“Nope,” I said, “I can definitely remember to brush my teeth.”  

My boss grinned, “Good. You learned something. Hopefully you can remember all the other important stuff.”

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