The sunlight hit his face as he bent over the coffee pot to pour himself a cup. He glanced up at me, smiled, and grabbed another coffee cup, my coffee cup.
"Creamer," he asked, not looking up.
"Sure," I said, trying to sound confident. He poured a bit in, and brought it over to me, setting it on the edge of my desk.
"Thanks," I muttered, hoping no one had seen. I could get my own coffee. I didn't need anyone else to do it.
Ever since I was a child, my father taught me the way the world worked. "Men don't show feelings," he would say. "Men have control." I wanted that control, and more than that, I wanted my father's approval. Still do.
So, when my parents divorced, I acted like a man, and didn't shed a tear when anyone could see me. Alone at night, though, my pillow grew damp. That is how I knew that I wasn't a real man yet. That, and the few times I messed up.
My father's lessons filled most aspects of life. School, free time, extracurriculars. He taught me a lesson in every situation I told him about. When I had a crush in school, he told me to act like I didn't care, and then ask her out. If she said no, I was to ask again. When I wanted to go into an after-school art class, he told me that football and soccer were better uses of my time. When I thanked a waitress for bringing our food out, he told me not to. It's her job, he said. She gets paid for it. Why would you thank her?
I was walking to give a report to my boss, but my shoelace was untied, and so I tripped and the papers I was holding flew everywhere. Thankfully, no one saw me trip, but the same person who poured my coffee rounded the bend before I could pick up everything.
Without a word, he knelt down next to me and handed me the last few documents. The fluorescent lights made his black hair shine, and he smiled again as we both rose. I hurried away, hiding my embarrassment, but I was annoyed that I couldn’t remember his name.
He was new, I knew that. He had joined our team only a few weeks ago. His last name was Namari, but what was his first? Something with a J?
I sifted through my filing cabinet in my cubicle once I got back. There it was. Jeremiah Namari. He was twenty-two and this was his second job. He quit the first.
I shook myself, realizing I was staring at the picture on his resume. I needed to get back to work. But it was a slow day, and my mind kept drifting back to my father.
I soon realized he didn't only use the ‘no gratitude’ rule in restaurants. He never thanked my teachers, never thanked my coaches, never thanked my mother when she brought him his beer or gave him the remote.
My father was the manliest man alive, so as I grew, I decided to be just like him, in every way possible. I graduated from his high school, with average grades and lots of friends. I wasn't good enough to play anything in college, but I did the next-best thing and got right to work at his car dealership as a salesperson. I climbed the ranks, and soon, I got a management position that kept me safe and comfortable behind a desk.
Comfortable and miserable.
It was insane how much his lessons had changed me. I could no longer cry when I wanted to. I cringed every time someone talked about feelings. Why would they be so vulnerable, so freely? Every time a guy caught my eye, I deliberately looked away. I never told my father how my stomach fluttered when a handsome guy looked my way. I already knew what he would think about that.
This mask, though, wasn’t me. It was him. His influence. I wanted to change.
I wanted to change.
I was not going anywhere with this job. Sitting behind my desk with the coffee I didn't pour, I finally let the truth in. I didn't want the life my father had.
I tried to look into my future, to find something there, but all I could see was him. His path. His life. Holding a desk job and getting paid decently, but not well. Getting a wife and loving her a little, but not a lot. Having a child and giving him an okay life, but not a great one. Giving him the advice that would send him down the exact same path of mediocrity.
I didn't know what was wrong with me. The life I was headed towards was safe and comfortable, but not mine. Just like the desk I was sitting behind and the expression I was wearing and the way I couldn't plainly thank a coworker for doing something nice, it was my fathers. All of it.
And because of his conditioning, I didn't do anything rash. Because of his advice, I stayed behind the desk. I finished my work for the day, and blocked the truth from my thoughts, and I didn't show anything. Nothing but the mask.
But the same coworker who got me coffee, Jeremiah, held the door open for me on my way out. The waning sunlight made his green eyes sparkle. In the sunlight, he looked even more alive. I tried to smile, did my best to sound natural. And I said, "Thank you." Not whispered, not muttered, said it, loud and clear.
He smiled too, and said, "You're welcome," and then we went our separate ways, but I was left thinking about his smile, the single dimple showing, about the simple 'thank you' that had caused it. I didn’t block his smile from my thoughts. Not this time.
I wasn't changed yet, but it was a start.
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I liked the way this story went. It shows how a person can feel pressured to act a certain way and its hard to get out of it. Cool, cool.
Cool, cool. Thanks