She was a plain-looking girl with a plain name to match. An American name. She never wore makeup. No one would have ever claimed she was a beauty. The best you could say for her was that she was practical. Outworked everybody. That’s how she got herself noticed. Outworking everybody at the office. Before you quite knew it, you wound up working FOR her and not the other way around.
Even the food she liked was practical, like the never-ending portion of breadsticks at the Olive Garden. He fought the natural urge to be snobbish around her. She knew she wasn’t one of those fancy girls who attracted men. Her husband had left her and she acted as if she deserved it. Never complained. Maybe that was what was so endearing. The way she embraced her plainness. The guy had left her with a son, who was troubled in unspecified ways. But it was obvious that he was old enough to contribute to the household. From the things she said about him, any contribution he made was purely some hope off in a never-to-be realized future. But she held no bitterness toward him. He was her son and that was reason enough to protect him. Stand by him.
She had two sisters. Got both of them jobs working for the government with her. He never got to know them. For some unknown reason, he felt a strong sense that her sisters were not worthy of her. It was perhaps unfair that he felt that way. He didn’t know enough about them. But it didn’t prevent him from imagining a stern home environment where they held some kind of hold over her. And in response, all she could do was work harder than the others to try to gain their grudging respect. She had married and left the terrible household, yet she could never abandon them. Her mother was probably a single parent, he thought, who knew that she – her oldest daughter — was smarter than the other two. No matter how much they despised her for her superior intelligence, they were dependent on her to get them jobs. She always did, which made them hate her all the more. He made the entire scenario up in his imagination. For what purpose?
Her name was the same as his wife’s. Was it possible that goodness and virtue could reside in a person because of their name? He didn’t think so. He was certain that if he looked hard enough he could find a bad person with that name. But he liked to think he couldn’t. He liked to imagine that the name was magical. Preordained that both women with the same given name could work so hard. Love so nobly. Have not a malevolent bone in their body. And that if you found two such women, you could surely find hundreds, thousands, millions more.
Back in the day, the workplace was different. In the midst of drudgery, you could find joy. People cared for each other. Office partitions had not been erected yet. There were no barriers to their friendships. No enforced silences. He even got away with playing his music on a small DVD player. He played all kinds of music. She worked at a desk nearby. Her head buried in her work. Oblivious to the music coming from his workspace.
And then one day, March had suddenly arrived and with it, he found himself playing Celtic music to celebrate the arrival of St. Patty’s Day. She seemed to come alive to the music. She stopped by his desk and complimented him on the lovely sounds. You could tell that she was surprised at his love of Irish music, especially since he wasn’t Irish. She was the kind of girl who was proudly Irish, who tended to wear garish green outfits on St. Patty’s Day complete with corny buttons that proclaimed KISS ME I’M IRISH. The getups seemed wildly inappropriate for a plain girl with a quiet personality. That afternoon, she borrowed his collection of DVDs. “The Irish Poet” Van Morrison and the Chieftains and the album IRISH HEARTBEAT. She returned the music the following week, again expressing her wonder at their beauty.
Less than a year later, he retired from his job as a defense contractor. Bored. Frustrated. Disappointed that he let the job beat him down. She replaced him as Project Manager. She made some heartfelt apologies to him for her replacing him. Perhaps thinking that she had betrayed him in some way by her success. He shrugged it off. Amused that she could misread him so badly. The last thing he saw on his way out the door was her hunched over her desk. Hard at work.
Two years passed. Not a thought about her. People pass in and out of people’s lives easily once the work connection is gone. And then one day, a friend who still worked at the old office casually mentioned to him that she had died. There are people whose impact on your life cannot be fully known until they are gone. So it was with her. He had trouble imagining her no longer hunched over her desk working. Whatever the reason she was driven to work so hard would remain unknown to him. The mystery of her optimism would remain a mystery. She had died as quietly as she had lived. A girl whose eyes lit up on St. Patty’s Day. Whose heart was uplifted by the romance of Celtic music.
And he thought he could see her. Sitting in a chair at twilight. Waiting for a lover who would never return. While a voice sang The Dimming of the Day.