When I was in my early twenties I got a job as an editor at a gourmet food magazine. I wrote about this a while ago—mostly so I could explain my fondness for men named Rico—but lately I've been thinking about someone else from that time in my life.
I don't even know the woman's name, but she was a freelance designer for the magazine, and I hated her with a passion.
Every month, she'd mail me a disk with her intricate food drawings, and even though I kinda sorta knew what I was doing, she'd insist on talking on the phone and walking me through each drawing, and where it was supposed to go, and how it should be labeled, and what side of the page it should be on, and how many pixels it should be.
She was a major pain in the ass about her work.
The whole time we were on the phone, I could hear kids screaming in the background. She'd cup her hand over the phone and hiss, "I'M ON THE PHONE," but the kids would keep screaming. Sometimes she'd talk over their screams, and I'd have to hold the phone away from my ear.
I always imagined her standing in her kitchen in a ratty pink bathrobe. Pancake batter stuck to her sleeve. Kids climbing her legs. Her beautiful drawings created a strange dichotomy in my mind. Was she haggard or poetic? Dingy or magical?
Until today, I hadn't thought about that woman in years. Then there I was, on the phone with a new client—why hello, new WAH life, where Sundays are actually part of the work week—when Junior decided to pitch a fit about something absurd.
I think he found a brown spot on his banana.
I covered the phone and hissed, "PLEASE STOP." The client didn't laugh when I made a joke about children and bipolar behavior. Actually, I didn't make a joke, I shouted a joke over his fit.
I picked him up, handed him to Chuck and raced outside, where I finished the conversation on my front steps—in my pajamas.
After the call was over I sat there a while. I looked down at my crummy pajamas. The peanut butter on my pajama pant leg.
Stupid freelance woman.
Here's the thing. I thought I hated her for such simple reasons: she was anal and her kids were annoying. But now I understand. I hated her because she was who I someday dreamed of being: a mom and an artist. I hated her because she didn't seem to know how her children fit into her professional life. I hated her because she wasn't perfect, and because I was young and idealistic and wanted her, a working mother, to be perfect.
She probably hated me too. I was curt and impatient. She probably wanted to say, "Look, I have kids and I'm trying to be true to myself professionally. It's not easy, so fuck off."
Ah, now that. That would be a satisfying thing to say. I mean look, the last time I was outside in my pajamas, I made a run for it. I actually ran.