I am inspecting myself in the mirror after my pee. I used to daydream about clothes like this, business casual, paralegal-type pinstripe suits and skirts and button up shirts with classy button arrangements at the wrists. My lips are red, a look I made my signature back in 10th grade. Back then I was entertaining notions of being a world-traveling author by now, practicing how I would posture myself for interviews and how I would answer personal questions from cheeky late-night-show hosts.

Nowadays, my hands leaf through magazines for those pesky, little ads that fall out and litter the plush carpet of the medical office where I sit in the front like a friendly (but-not-too-friendly) host and greet a throng of very, very rich patients. My head still swims with phrases that bully me into putting them on paper, but I have to put them on hold as I ask myself, “How many copies of Men’s Health does my boss want in the lobby?”

This is life now. Yes, I earn a decent wage. I have two cats, and they are lovely. But sometimes I stop and wonder how I won’t kill myself if I still have to do this 30 years from now. Immediately after, though, I chastise myself for the pretentiousness of forgetting I am not the only human on the planet that is way too qualified for my job. My grandmother, my parents, and my boyfriend line the backdrop of my desk like guardian Easter Island heads. I look at their photos and remember to breathe.

When you were born in another country you often think about the parallel universe where you stayed in the motherland. I look at my cousin’s Facebook and see a beautiful girl still in college, traveling to her heart’s content. She stayed and I left to go to fancy America where sunsets are golden, jobs are thrown like confetti, and nothing hurts…but I am jealous of her life.

In Romania, the cops make more money than doctors. The best job you can hope for as a college graduate is to be a bank director. As the shining offspring of a cop and bank director unit, albeit a divorced one, is to be veritably rolling in it as far as Romania is concerned. She is young and pretty and distracted, dashing off to ski in Austria and whisking off to Venice when the fancy strikes her. Yes, she puts on more makeup than a cougar, but she has been to exponentially more places than me. I shelf my jealousy and go to my other open tab to see what purse deals I can get on thredUP because mine is aging more visibly than gracefully at this point.

And so am I. I am closer to 30 than I feel comfortable and it shows no sign of slowing down. I recently lost some weight and I have to hold my chin down so no one looks under and sees the slightly saggy skin. I practice holding my head in a flattering way for those interviews that seem less and less plausible. I furrow my brow at my computer and have a stubborn wrinkle across my forehead that screams, “Yes, I take your appointment times very seriously.” I wonder where things went wrong. I open another tab to check my email and see another rejection letter from yet another literary journal. I knew I shouldn’t have added that poem about fucking in church; that one probably made someone uncomfortable.

“I’ve never seen that spelling of your name; did you parents think they were special or something?” This time the question comes from a bellicose woman who ranted at her last visit about having a Muslim doctor (gotta love working in the South). I explained, for the 3rd time this week, that I am actually foreign, and no, my parents aren’t trying to be “quirky” or “different.” When she leaves I throw my nameplate into my drawer and go out the back door. There’s a large, fake rock that covers an electrical box and it is my favorite place; I am secluded by trees here. I take a cigarette from my purse and my Zippo that a friend engraved with, “Fire cannot kill a dragon.” Most days it feels accurate, but not today–today I feel scratchy pink and tender and flammable.

I pretzel my legs and close my eyes, letting the scent marinate me. I don’t even like cigarettes, but it smells like the restaurants and cars back home. I miss a feeling I cannot capture the way one misses something primal. Back in the days when large ships made arduous Atlantic voyages, those on board would hold a ribbon that someone on shore was holding the other end of, and both did so until the length ran out. I wonder where all those ribbons are. Probably nestled on ocean floors or in the intestines of aquatic life. I wonder what litter is inside me as well, and what they will find when they cut me open. “Her lungs are kind of black, but not so bad…this is the smoking for nostalgia shade, not the cancer shade,” they might say. I flick my cigarette with red on the filter into a puddle, like a signature but less permanent. TC mark

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