Monday, March 05, 2007

An Interview Story

1:45 pm. I was ready to meet with two professors back-to-back, starting at 1:50pm. Neeta, whom I had met at the previous week's interview, walked with me out of the second floor, into the stairwell. She went up, and I went down, each wishing one another luck. Rounding the second flight of stairs, my heel slipped. I began falling forward, and managed to grab the railing before I tumbled all the way down, but not before my left shin and knee scraped across the concrete stairs.

"What happened?" Neeta yelled down. I must have screamed or made some noise that alarmed her.
"I fell down the stairs."
"Oh my god! Are you ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine," I assured her, as I pulled myself back on my feet, wincing. "Are you sure? Do you need anything?" I inspected my leg. Quarter sized spot of blood on my knee. Nickel-sized on my shin.
"Yes, I'm ok. Don't worry about me, just go to your interview, I'll be alright." Though I wanted someone to be there with me, I knew I could handle this by myself. The last thing I wanted was for Neeta to miss her interview on account of me. Survival of the fittest. Leave the injured behind, don't look back, just do what you have to do.

I remembered the bandaid in my purse and found a first-floor bathroom. I ducked into the handicap stall and stripped off my hose. After placing the bandaid on my knee, I inspected the beautiful textured hose that I had bought for my friend's New Year's Eve wedding. There was a huge hole ripped into the left knee. Dangit. Oh well, there were more important things to worry about now. I almost lost it right there. On any other day, this wouldn't have been such a big deal. The scrapes wouldn't have hurt as much, and I wouldn't have been as frazzled. But today, on interview day, with my heightened anxiety and my need to make everything go perfectly, this could have been enough to break me. The tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to break down right there in the stall, and just start sobbing.

"Having some hose issues?" Another student had walked in.
"Not exactly. I fell down the stairs, and I needed to put on a bandaid."
"Oh no! Are you alright?" No, of course I'm not all right. I want out. Just let me run away to somewhere small and dark.
"Yeah, I'm fine, it'll be ok. I have an interview in a couple of minutes," I stated as I put my hose back on.
"Oh, ok. Well, I hope it goes well."
"Thanks, yours too."

I exited the bathroom and was greeted by smiling Carlyn, the second year student who had helped plan this day.
"Hey Kelly," her North Carolina accent rolled off her tongue, "How's it going? Anything I can do for you?" Finally, an appropriate person to show my anxiety too.
"I'm alright. I just fell down the stairs, and I feel stupid, but I'm really frazzled." The smile lines around her eyes disappeared as her brow furrowed with concern.
"Oh no. Do you need ice or anything?" Ice, I hadn't thought of that.
"Yeah, ice would be good, but I have an interview right now."
"Ok, let's get you to your interview, and I'll bring you some ice."
"Thanks, I really appreciate it."

Carlyn guided me down the hall to the small interview room, which on most days is probably used to see clients. The adjunct professor who works for the counseling center hadn't arrived yet, so I sat down in a cushiony chair as Carlyn disappeared. I was thankful for the quiet moment before the interview started, thankful for Carlyn and her motherly concern over me. Deep breaths. Inhale through the nostrils, fill up the chest. Exhale slowly through my mouth, feel my chest deflate. Mike, a third year student who was also helping run the interview day, arrived with ice and said that Carlyn was on her way with bandages. I thanked him, and placed the ice on my still slightly throbbing wounds.

My interviewer arrived. He asked how I was, and I told him about the fall. "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about that. How about we start chatting a little while we wait on those bandages? Tell me some about yourself." I began talking and he began asking questions, as if this was a normal getting acquainted conversation and not a high-stress interview. This was probably the best thing for me. I just needed someone to acknowledge that I had been hurt, and then to carry on as if nothing had happened. As we talked, my leg stopped hurting, my breathing became normal, and I felt much more at ease. There was something comforting and familiar about this professor. Though we had just met, I felt like I could be open and vulnerable with him. By the time Carlyn had dropped off the bandages, the explanation for this familiarity hit me. He had many of the same mannerisms and speech patterns as one of my ex-boyfriends. Bizarrely, here he sat, legs crossed, fingers linked over his knee, that thing he does with his lips when he's thinking, the tilt of his head when he's really engaged and listening, his rate and tone of speech, my ex, thirty years older and now a therapist, come back from the future to interview me. I tried not to let this futuristic doppelganger intimidate me, but the similarity was hard to shake.

"Now, how would your friends describe you?" Whenever I'm asked this question, my memory immediately travels to a xanga entry that Cara had written about me two years ago, in which she described me as compassionate, inspiring, skookum, bohemian, and keen.
"Well, my friends have said that I'm very empathetic and caring. They've also described me as inspiring, quirky, bohemian."
"Bohemian, huh? What exactly do they mean by bohemian?" Hell if I know. Dangit, why did I say a word that I don't even think describes me? Because it sounded impressive and unique. Because I want the professors to remember me, "Oh yes, that was the bohemian girl that I interviewed." I muddled through some answer about having unique interests, unique tastes in fashion and music, and that made me bohemian. Bee-ess. Even if other people say it, I'd never want to say, "I have a bohemian style." Except that I had just said just that. Oh well, I answered the question, "How do others describe you?" Bohemian was an honest answer.

The interview continued with questions that I answered much more smoothly. The second faculty interview went even better, and the pain actually disappeared, and I didn't even have to distract myself by examining the mannerisms of the second interviewer. By the end of the day, I was actually having fun. I went to happy hour with the other interviewees, current students, and two faculty members. I talked and laughed with the current students and felt like I connected with most of them. As I was leaving the restaurant, I spilled a cup of water all over my legs and feet. For a brief moment my emotions flashed back to the fall down the stairs, but I quickly threw my hands into the air, "Whatever, the day is over!" and we all laughed. I smiled.

3 comments:

Martha Elaine Belden said...

i'm so proud of you, kelly! i hope that doesn't sound patronizing. but it's true... you were so strong and really kept your emotions in check in a time when it was certainly more than a little difficult to do so.

and it sounds like it went SO well. i can't wait to hear what happens!!

if walled in climb up said...

Wow, what an up and down day! Sounds like you made the best of it, though, and that there were plenty of ups to balance things out. Glad to hear you had fun. I like the narrative style of this post--it really comes alive to the reader! Can't wait to catch up more and to SEE YOU!! Yay!!!

Cara said...

i second those comments. great writing style in this entry. like martha, i really am proud of you, kelly. and two years later i still think those words describe you.