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Not So Suddenly September

There’s nervousness and excitement in the air – it’s like the first day of school and the opening credits of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ all in one – and as tribute to that anticipation, let’s put a proper soundtrack into the background of this post: ‘Suddenly I See’.

New clothes. New accessories. New attitude.

A new Trapper-Keeper.

Every new school year was a chance to premiere a new persona. Back then I cared less for such opportunities for transformation; I was more worried about whether I’d get the same lunch hour as my friends, or whether somebody would scream out ‘faggot’ as I walked by. The chance to be someone new and start all over again was something I wouldn’t appreciate until much later, but the nervousness of being the new guy is something that we all experience at one point or another.

That’s also when I tend to make the most lasting memories. Trauma does that. In a heightened state of awareness, the minutes seem to elongate and stretch out into a first-day-of-forever. I can recall almost every first day of a new job, even if I can’t remember the last.

I still remember the first day of my New York State career. It was at the Department of State, and I was hired as a Grade 5 Data Entry Machine Operator. I had no idea what it meant to be a state worker (some days I still don’t). All I knew was that I needed a job that had benefits and retirement and all sorts of accompanying bells and whistles, so I took the first one that was offered and found myself in the elevator of 40 State Street, riding up to the fifth floor. It was August of 2001, just a few weeks before 9/11 would change all of our lives, and all my worries pooled in that single elevator ride. I did what I always do in times of worry and doubt: I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and channeled Madonna, picturing her entrance to the ‘Drowned World Tour’ in which she greeted a hungry audience that hadn’t seen her perform live in eight long years. Raising my chin and erecting my posture, I stood tall in that elevator – at least as tall as my short frame could stand – and when I stepped onto the floor of my new job, I put on the guise of self-confidence, forced a smile, and faked it until I made it.

On all my first days, I’d invariably have a moment of doubt, when I freaked out a little and wonder if I’d ever make friends or be at ease simply walking through the office. And I would do the same calculation in my head – the comfort calculation – when I’d try to remember how long it took me to feel at home in each new position. It averaged out to about eight weeks. If you can last eight weeks, you can last any number of years. That was always the turning point – by then I’d have made a few friends or at least people around whom I could be myself and not worry about being ridiculed or ostracized. Isn’t that everyone’s worry underneath it all – the notion that we might not be accepted? Some of us are more frightened of it than others. I pretended not to care, and eventually it came to be. But not in those early days.

At the end of my first day, sitting at my desk, I examined the stark little cubicle. A corner of dusty wires hid behind the computer screen. A container of pens stood beside the phone. The calendar marked the end of August and the start of my state career. I would only stay at that department for a few months before taking a promotion, and I would do that over and over until settling into a career in Human Resources. Every time I took a new job, I felt the same doubt, fear, hesitancy, and excitement – along with the promise of something new. Every fall the feeling returns – and a chance to start over again is born.

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