“I have great news for you! A real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’re going to love this.” The hiring manager folded his hands in front of him and leaned forward, eager to get me on board and to sign the contract.
And I should have been grateful, even if I didn’t love the offer. At the very least, I should have been excited by the brand new prospect that was being presented to me. Here I was, just four months outside of graduation, and I was getting a pretty incredible job offer. Everyone I knew from school was still working at their crappy retail jobs, sending out résumés left and right with crossed fingers and silent prayers. I, on the other hand, was one of the few fortunate ones to get an actual job offer—one that would start my career and use my hard-earned Master’s degree.
This wasn’t some entry-level position, either. This was a real job that people with years of experience would be lucky to land; and here I was, a lowly twenty-four-year-old, sitting in a large office with a tantalizing and tempting offer dangling right in front of my face.
The hiring manager added, “We’ve considered a lot of applicants, but we’ve decided to go in a different direction. And you’re it.”
How many candidates, all of whom certainly had more experience than I, and who had actually applied for this job, were being passed up for this? It sounded like a good many. I was jumping rungs on the ladder of success.
Admittedly, I had always been ambitious. As a child, my father’s favorite word to describe me was “precocious.” Add to that “determined” and “persevering,” and I made for one wrecking ball of ambition. What I lacked in innate talent, I made up for with hard work and effort. I had really striven to be put in this position: to be recognized and celebrated for everything I had accomplished up until this point. I thought that I deserved to get some slack.
But instead I was outraged, not thrilled or grateful or happy. Now that I officially considered myself to be an adult—since I was a college graduate, which I assumed was the last stop on the road to adulthood—I had hoped to escape the superficiality and bureaucracy of higher education. I had hoped to enter a real world where intelligence, hard work, and a successful, proven track record held more weight than any hare-brained scheme dreamt up by a businessman to cater to his market and increase his revenue. Unfortunately, I was quickly learning that meritocracies were nonexistent in current American society. I was being given an offer, but that didn’t mean that I had to like it.
As I sat across from the hiring manager, my hands closed tightly into fists in my lap from sheer frustration. Luckily for me, he couldn’t see that gesture; my hands were hidden from sight by the large, oaken desk between us. He had lured me back to his office with the promise of this amazing opportunity, but I was less than amazed. While I didn’t want to ruin my chances of working for his company, I had no interest in what he had proposed. “But I don’t know anything about hockey!”
Waving his hand in the air, he muttered, “Nothing you can’t learn.”
“And if I turn it down? Would you have something else for me?”
He sighed, obviously disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm. His eyes, which had sparkled with excitement just moments before, lost their gleam. Since he was so gung-ho about his brilliant idea, he felt that I automatically should have been, too.
“We feel like this would be the best fit for you on our team. If you choose not to accept it,” he explained with a very pointed look, “then I’m not sure we would have anything... else for you.”
Pursing my lips, I glanced down at my balled-up hands. My knuckles were white. I stretched out my fingers and smoothed out the pleat in my black dress slacks. When I had gotten the callback for this follow-up, enticed by the promise of a worthwhile proposition, I had allowed myself to think that I’d get a great job offer. It turned out that I was right, but this wasn’t the job for which I had been hoping. Hell, it wasn’t even the job for which I had originally applied: an investigative field reporter.
His words were easy enough to interpret: if you don’t take this job, then you’re shit out of luck. I didn’t want the position if it were something I hadn’t earned or deserved; I was pretty sure that he was offering it to me for several reasons—none of which had anything to do with the qualifications or credentials on my résumé. Nonetheless, it was a real job, and I needed a real job. Tips were barely covering my grown-up bills as it was and would never allow me to afford my own apartment in the city.
I scooted to the edge of my seat, trying to be charming and persuasive. “Are you sure you don’t have anything else? Perhaps something more local?” I didn’t want to appear to be too ungracious, so I tried to pretend like I was concerned about traveling so far to begin my career. In reality, I would have been willing to relocate anywhere for the right job.
Again, he sighed. If I were a different candidate, someone he didn’t want as badly, then he wouldn’t have had this amount of patience with me. “The advertised position of field reporter has been filled. I wish I had something more convenient for you, but unfortunately I do not. I can, however, offer you relocation compensation—which, I’ll have you know, is not something that I’m always authorized to give out for new hires.” He leaned forward in his seat and rested his weight against the top of his desk, like he was laying out his hand of cards. “Miss Hunt, we would love to have you on board in Columbus. We have an immediate opening there, and we believe you’d be a perfect fit with the team already established in that branch. I’m willing to work with you to make that happen, to do whatever it takes to get you to say ‘yes.’ Once you put some time in, you may be able to transfer to something back in this area. But that’s all I can offer you at this time.”
I pursed my lips together again, contemplating my answer. Despite the salary, benefits, and additional perks that he was using to entice me to take the job, I was still reluctant to accept. This was exactly what I didn’t want: an offer for a position to which my qualifications didn’t match for the worst reasons. However, it was the best offer I had received to-date—and the longer I waded around in the job market, the more I realized that something better than this wasn’t just going to plop itself in front of me. In the end, desperation won.
“Okay then. Columbus, here I come.”
He smiled widely and promptly slid the appropriate paperwork across the desk for me to read, fill out, and sign. I should have had a sense of autonomy or satisfaction in finally starting a position in my field after graduation, and doing something more than waiting tables and mixing drinks, but I felt like I hadn’t earned it so there was no reason to revel in the moment. I merely went through the motions, smiled, and then shook the manager’s hand like I was happy to be on board.
He almost had me fooled; I almost believed him when he said that he couldn’t wait to see my work in Columbus. But when his eyes flitted down to my chest as I leaned forward to pick up my briefcase—just a split-second peek, but still noticeable—my suspicions were confirmed. I didn’t get this new job. My breasts did.
“I don’t see what the big deal is. I think maybe... just maybe... you’re overreacting.” Janie moved the pieces of lettuce around her plate, not bothering to stab them. It was both my congratulations celebration and my goodbye send-off, all rolled up into dinner and a night out on the town, since everything was happening so quickly. My last interview had been on Monday, and today was Friday. In the span of a week, my life was changing drastically. I was already packed and ready to leave the next day.
“The way I see it is that the girls,” she explained, pointing the tines of her fork at my chest, “are getting your foot in the door. It’s still up to you to put in the effort and show them what you’re capable of. You need to learn to use what you have and take advantage of it.”
“So you think it’s okay that the only reason I got the job is because I’m a woman? A pretty woman with big boobs? Because that is the only reason, you know.” I set my fork down and wiped my mouth with my napkin, my appetite gone. I ticked off my points on my fingers. “Forget that I’m smart or capable or hard working. No, I’ve got tits and long hair, which apparently compensates for any real talent or ability.”
“You realize that this is the way it works, right? It’s all about image and persona, especially in broadcast journalism. If you wanna get on TV, then you have to look like someone that the audience is going to want to look at. You knew that when you chose the major sophomore year.”
“No, I did not know that,” I responded curtly, slightly annoyed that my best friend could not so readily understand my stance on the issue. She was supposed to automatically take my side. “I assumed, like any other field in the real world, that any applicant would be evaluated based on QPA and experience and a kick-ass portfolio. I mean, yes, you do have to look nice and presentable and relatable, but you have to be able to actually do the job, too, you know? I’ve worked really hard for the past four years to show that I’m more than just a pair of tits and a pretty face—but those’re the only reasons I’m getting shipped off to Columbus. It’s ridiculous.”
“It is ridiculous. I’m not arguing with you there. I’m just saying that if it’s the way things go, then you better learn to accept it and go with it, or else they’ll eat you alive in Columbus.” She took another bite and then spoke around her food. “What’s in Columbus anyway?”
“Uh, the Blue Jackets.”
“The Blue Jackets? What’s that?”
I sighed and shrugged. “The hockey team I’m going to be covering, apparently.”
“Hockey? You don’t know anything about hockey.”
“I know!” I huffed, fully venting my frustration. I threw my hands up in the air and gestured wildly, forgetting that I was in a public place. “I know nothing about the damn sport. I’m not qualified for this position whatsoever. I’m an investigative journalist, not a sports beat reporter. I’m a researcher. An interviewer. I know how to get down to the nitty-gritty, to the facts that matter. I have no idea how that all translates into analyzing a sport that’s so... barbaric. Did you know they fight each other?”
Janie nodded, a dreamy look washing over her face. “Yeah. It’s kind of hot, don’t you think?”
“No.” I ignored her sentiment and continued on my rant. “It’s stupid. Fighting is not acceptable in society, yet these guys get paid thousands—if not millions—of dollars to fight. I find that disgusting.
“The worst part about this whole thing is that no one in Columbus even watches hockey, let alone cares about it. I did my research, and the market out there for the sport is horrible. So I can tell you exactly why they’re bringing me out there: to get more people, and by people I mean men, to watch the game. They just want some blonde bimbo to stand in front of the camera and smile so more guys start watching and hopefully get interested in it so they can make more money. Well, I’ll tell you this much, Janie—I may be blonde, but I’m no bimbo.”
She nodded again, a slight smirk on her face since she was amused by how upset I was. “I know you’re not.”
“God. It just infuriates me. Morally, I didn’t want to take the job. I already turned down two positions because I could tell that that was the only reason they wanted me, too. But my parents are driving me crazy, and I’m ready to move into my own place. I couldn’t afford something of my own on my current paycheck, it’s hard enough to pay the bills as it is, so I had to take something.”
“I know. I certainly don’t think any less of you for taking this job. But wouldn’t your dad help you out?”
“No. I mean, yeah, he would. He tries to now, but I don’t want him to. You know? I’m ready to be an adult, to do things my way, on my own.”
“Well, this is a good opportunity to do just that, Audrey, whether you think so or not. It’s a foot in the door. It’s a start. Professional experience.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“And so what if you’re getting it just because they want a little eye candy to get them a bigger audience? At least people will be watching you. What about me? I haven’t gotten any calls from all the résumés I sent out for a regular, day job, let alone any callbacks. It hurts to hear you say that you already turned down other positions before you deigned to take this one. I would kill to get any of the offers you’re getting.”
“I know what you’re going to say,” she interrupted. “And like I’ve said, I totally see your point of view. I know how hard you’ve worked. But if being a good-looking woman is opening some doors for you, I think you just gotta go with it. Because not everyone else is so lucky.”
I sighed and frowned, feeling bad for her. Janie and I had met in a drama class during my second year at Villanova. Acting was not my thing; I was encouraged to take the class by my academic advisor in order to get some help with my dictation and delivery. It was there that I met Janie, who was majoring in the performing arts, and I was amazed at her ability. No one could recite Shakespeare like Janie, and she starred in both the comedies and the tragedies equally well—her Rosalind was just as good as her Desdemona. She was inspirational, and I learned a lot from her. We quickly became close friends.
Janie was quirky. She dressed like a hipster with style: cuffed jeans, brightly colored T-shirts with flannels layered over top, and scuffed and holey Chuck Taylors. Her hair never stayed the same color for long, and it looked a little damaged and fried. Currently, it was a fiery shade of red. And she was stick thin, with little to no curves to speak of, tall, and a little androgynous. She was quite pale, and she had dark, thick eyebrows that really stood out on her face. Usually she wore dark eye make-up, which gave her a very striking look. Her appearance worked for her though, since she was loud, outgoing, and fun. We were almost exact opposites, in both looks and personality.
I tried to be as encouraging as possible. “You’ll get a callback. You’ll get lots of callbacks. Jane, you’re the best actress I know, the best one I’ve ever seen. If anyone’s going to make it, it’ll be you.”
“Thanks.” She smiled at me and began to pick at her food again. “My advisor told me at graduation that I should consider moving to New York to get my big break, but I don’t think I could possibly move away from the Philly area yet. I can’t even imagine what you’re thinking, moving all the way out to Ohio.” The way she said it made the foreign state sound like another dimension.
Shrugging, I tried to be dismissive. In reality, I was kind of freaking out, but I thought that if I appeared confident, then that might funnel into my true attitude. “I look at it like it’s going to be an adventure. I knew that this would probably happen at first, as I’m trying to start my career. I didn’t expect to get anything around here, as nice as that would have been. I knew I’d have to move.” I grinned at her. “Plus, you’ll come visit, right? Whenever you have a chance?”
“Girl, you don’t even need to ask! As soon as you’re settled, you let me know. I’ll be there.”
We finished our meal and headed out to Barnaby’s for drinks and dancing. It was the best nightlife scene in West Chester, which was more convenient for us than driving into Philadelphia. Drinks were spilled on us. Our plastic cups were knocked out of our hands when nearby dancers bumped into us. Our feet were stepped on by sharp stiletto heels. The liquor loosened me up, and the music started to flow through my body. I loved to dance and feel the beat of the bass pulse around me. Dancing was the most fun way of exercising, and it felt so good to get moving.
Just an hour into the night, we were sweaty, tired, a little hoarse from singing lyrics at the top of our lungs and having to yell to hear each other—but we were having fun. We took a break every so often to get fresh drinks, and we toasted something new each time: a safe journey and success in Columbus for me, and a call back and lead role for Janie.
As we each downed a shot of Southern Comfort, a few guys at the bar approached us. “What are we celebrating tonight, ladies?”
“My friend’s new job,” Janie told them, turning to them. She never seemed to mind attention from guys, but I cared more about spending my last night in Pennsylvania with my best friend.
“Congratulations,” one of those guys replied, focusing on me. The way he was eying me up made me feel gross and icky. “What’s the gig?”
I didn’t speak fast enough, so Janie filled them in. “Hockey reporter. She’s gonna be on TV.”
His smile was perfect, all white teeth and pink lips, but there was something off about it. “Covering the Flyers? I can’t wait to see that beautiful face on my big-screen plasma.”
Oh God, could he be any more pretentious? “No, I’ll be covering the Blue Jackets,” I told him, glad to be outside of his market.
He and his buddy laughed. “Those losers? Good luck there, honey.”
I opened my mouth to retort, but once again Janie beat me to it. “Audrey doesn’t need luck. She makes her own.” Then she linked her arm with mine and said to me, “I love this song. Let’s go dance.” We left those two pricks at the bar and moved back onto the floor. As much as Janie loved free drinks and the special attention, those guys were ruining our night. “They were jerks.”
“They usually are,” I replied, swaying my hips to the beat. “We don’t need ’em!”
And we didn’t, because we always had fun together. Janie was impulsive and carefree, and her attitude was contagious. I forgot to be so serious when I was around her—and she always told me that I needed to lighten up. So I forgot about the stupid guys at the bar and focused on the music and on my friend, and we had a great time.
When one o’clock rolled around, I was surprised at how quickly the time had passed and saddened by the thought of knowing that, come morning, I wouldn’t be able to do this again anytime soon; I would be driving west and running from the sunrise as I headed toward my new home in Ohio, to begin my career and start my first real post-graduation job. Even though I had considered myself to officially be a “grown up” once I had received my diploma, I was finally feeling the weight of adult responsibility. It was heavy. It was scary.
We left when Barnaby’s was at its peak attendance. The floor was flexing and bouncing as people danced and jumped, and everything was vibrating from the bass. Janie had to elbow and push her way through the flow of people trying to get in, and I followed closely behind her before the crowd could swallow me and separate us. The humid, hot, early September breeze was refreshing after being cooped up in the poor circulation of stale club air. We slowly made our way down the street toward the parking garage, my toes throbbing in my heels and preventing me from walking any faster.
Janie unlocked her Chevy Cavalier, started the engine, and immediately put the windows down so the warm breeze could blow in—but we didn’t leave for home right away. She turned on the radio but kept the volume low since our ears were still pounding from the club’s loud music.
She sighed and turned to look at me. “Well, that was fun.”
“It was,” I agreed.
“And I guess... the next time we do that, it will be in Columbus.”
I smiled and nodded. “Oh yeah. For sure.” I tried to sound reassuring. “Just give me some time to find the hot spots in the city, and I’ll take you out for a time you’ll never forget.”
The drive home was silent, just the sound of the wind and the music playing softly. It was a perfect setting for thinking, even though my thoughts weren’t exactly what I wanted to be thinking after such a good night out.
When I had applied for the myriad of jobs I had after graduation, I had been excited by the prospect of moving out of southeastern Pennsylvania. I had thought I was ready for what the world had to offer—and getting away from Philadelphia would have been the best way to experience it all. I wanted a career, so I knew that I had to be willing to do whatever it took to make it happen; I would have to be open to new beginnings in different places. When it was a possibility rather than reality, I had been all for it.
But now that it was actually happening and I was moving west, away from family and friends and the comfort and security only provided by home, I was shaking from nerves. Every time I thought about having to make the drive into foreign territory, I was worried I’d lose my dinner. While I had expected some degree of anxiety before moving, I had never imagined it would be so severe or so debilitating.
Janie pulled up in front of my house to drop me off one last time, and I could see the U-Haul truck in the driveway. It was fully packed, waiting patiently to be driven to Ohio first thing in the morning. Well, in just a few hours. All my things which were familiar to me in Chester County would be taken with me to Columbus, and I would be surrounded by everything that would remind me of home.
I started to wonder if it were too late to turn down my new job and stay here. It would be easier to start off somewhere closer to home, to take a position either in Philly or Baltimore or New York or maybe even Pittsburgh. Then, once I was used to being fully on my own, I could venture farther away from the nest. I needed to take baby steps, because I wasn’t ready for this giant leap.
“Send me a text or something once you get all settled in, just so I know everything’s okay,” Janie said, pulling me out of my downwardly spiraling thoughts. “When do you start the new gig?”
“Uh, bright and early Monday morning. I’ve got the weekend to move and get acquainted with the city, and then I start right away.” I nodded, trying to keep up the façade that I was ready and willing. It was expected of me to go. “I’ll definitely call.”
She reached across the center console as far as her seatbelt would allow and hugged me awkwardly. “Only when you have time. You’re going to be so busy, making so many new friends and having so much fun that you’ll probably forget all about little ol’ me.”
“Never.” I squeezed her tightly. In that instant, I remembered all the fun we had through our college years. I forced myself not to get too sentimental, because this wasn’t a goodbye to last forever—just until we saw each other again. “I promise. I’ll miss you so much that I’ll be calling tomorrow for sure. Thanks for taking me out tonight, Jane. Goodnight.”
“’Night, Audrey. Safe travels tomorrow.” She beamed at me. “I’m sad to see you go, but you’re doing it. You’re making it happen.”
“Yeah,” I replied, opening the door and getting out of the car. I may have been making my dream come true, but I had a sleepless night to wonder if I wanted it to.