Teresa looked at her desk with some unease. It was like something was missing.
“Am I ungrateful?” She thought sadly.
James was coming to pick her up and she didn’t have time to dawdle. He hated when she kept him waiting. Her emotions could wait.
“Six months ago I met James. Then why does it feel like I know him for ages?”
She smiled at the thought. The only thing that gave her satisfaction these days was to see April being a thriving senior in high school and having James in her life. She felt her family was complete. April and James made her so happy.
James Holmes had been her boyfriend since a week after she had met him at the church. And so much else had happened since then.
She had been made junior partner in one of the biggest law firms of her city. Granted her city was more like a small town but she felt a sense of achievement. And contentment. She felt contentment.
Or did she?
Teresa knew she was lucky to be made junior partner. She knew it was a coveted position. She knew that the legal world was a predominantly male world and she was having a reasonably easy time making her place.
“But I work hard for it”, she thought angrily. ” I work harder than most men have to. I have had to give up a lot to have a job. I have had to pick up a lot of work when I go back home in order to have a career. It’s not easy for me. It’s actually harder for me. I’m practicing law while being a single mom. How many people could be in my shoes without permanently breaking down one day? I deserve every single win that I’ve ever had”.
Pep talks! How far do they get you? Not very far. While she’d be pep talking herself , making herself believe that gratitude will carry her through, another man who started much later than she was promoted. Another man who didn’t put in anywhere close to the number of hours that she did got ahead. Every day she was passed up for another man. It stung and hurt. But she couldn’t leave one employer after another because she wasn’t getting promoted or not being acknowledged for her hard work. Or could she?
James arrived as she was lost in thought. He gently touched her shoulder,
“Save some worries for dinner. Don’t worry about everything now.”
She laughed and followed him into his car. It bothered her again that she was always the one who got a ride from him. That he picked her up. That he paid for the food and the evening. It bothered her even though she knew that James wasn’t the type who did these things as some form of societal rule. He truly cared about her.
At dinner she remained lost in thought. James looked in her eyes,
“If this food can’t bring you back to the table then nothing can. Spill it!”
Teresa heaved a deep sigh and then said,
“I’m not sure if I’m happy that I haven’t been promoted once in the last six months even though I have been handed a certificate of excellence and efficiency and proficiency every single team meeting. When it’s time to move someone up, a man miraculously materializes for that job. Am I being unreasonable and ungrateful?”
James looked at her thoughtfully. He shrugged his shoulders finally and said,
“I wouldn’t think six months is a long enough period to ask for a promotion. What would you ask for anyway? Independent cases? You’ll get them after you have earned their trust. Money? They signed you on with a very generous salary. Senior partnership? Again, six months is too short. It takes years”.
She looked at her food morosely. For some reason she had thought he’d understand. He’d validate her. For some reason she had thought that they were closer. That he valued her more.
But she still ventured,
“I have a feeling it has something to do with my gender. May be if I wasn’t a woman. I think they don’t want a woman up there”.
James raised his eyebrows.
“Really? Please don’t play the woman card and become a victim. It’s very unbecoming. Women who chant discrimination and disparity are desperate women who want some attention. They want things in life just by being a woman. Don’t do that. It doesn’t suit you. You’re a strong woman. Try to make a place for yourself with your work for the company. You have to see where you’re slacking that people who come after you ascend to a proper partnership before you. Do you think it’s the way you dress?”
Teresa’s head jerked up.
From many years ago a scathing memory started scraping on her bruised self-esteem. Nadia’s mocking voice about her clothes and personality came alive. She couldn’t believe she remembered those words so clearly. But more than that, she couldn’t believe that James had just reduced her to nothing, like many men before him. She felt a hot tear in the back of her throat as he casually excused himself to make a phone call.
In the days to come Teresa found herself longing for James. Then she remembered his words at that dinner. Then she’d feel better about her break up.
She resigned after two more men were offered partnership without any consideration for her. She didn’t have a talk with her employer. She knew she couldn’t take whatever it was that they were thinking about her. She had started to believe that there was something fundamentally wrong with her. How could Nadia, Patterson, James and many other people have the same opinion of her without her having a fault? She felt like she was losing herself in searching for the answers. She found herself going to the church more. She avoided April. She couldn’t make eye contact with her.
But April wasn’t a child anymore. She knew her mother was worried and distraught. She could see Teresa’s swollen eyes and tear-stained face in the morning. Some nights she heard her softly sobbing.
She tried talking to Teresa. Teresa wouldn’t talk. She tried reasoning with Teresa regarding going back to her boss and asking why a promotion escaped her each time. Teresa didn’t have the courage. She was badly burned by her experience with Patterson. She knew confronting people wasn’t something that ever bore good results. April gave up.
But she had to work. So she found herself, one fine morning, outside yet another legal office, waiting for courage to come to her magically so she could go in and face the men who’d interview her.
Men, she thought bitterly. Men had disappointed her, rejected her and depleted her. Men had stepped over her to reach where she deserved to reach. Men had made her wary, guarded, scared and nervous. Men had stripped her of the confidence she got working her supermarket job, the joy she had known when doing small office chores in Patterson’s office and the pride she had felt to have been made junior partner at the legal firm where she was an only woman. The only woman junior partner.
But she couldn’t help but get sucked into her junior partnership role at her ex-employer’s law firm again. She was an office secretary for those ten months. She had been reduced to someone who was an attorney but worked as less than a paralegal. She saw men facilitated everyday and she was given certificates and accolades but no real promotion to show for her skill and talent. It hurt. Everyday the loss of time and dignity hurt.
She continued to walk towards the office. Her legs were heavy. She had trouble keeping her breathing in order. She felt like the sky would fall on her. She couldn’t face yet another man. She couldn’t take another man patronizing her, offering her crumbs when she deserved a slice of the pie, making her relive self-doubt, planting questions of self-doubt in her mind.
Another man, another test.
Another man, another trial.
Another man, another quest to uselessly prove herself.
Another man, another lesson in humility and swallowing her pride.
Another man, another battle of wits that she’d have to give up if she knew what was better for her.
Teresa stopped in her tracks as she entered.
There was a woman sitting in the high-backed chair behind the large, intimidating desk.
She looked up and smiled as if out of habit. There was little warmth in her eyes.
She came forward, extended a perfectly manicured hand and said in a booming voice,
“Hi! I’m Laura Manning. Welcome to Manning and Manning. Please sit. My mom will be here in a moment. She’s the other Manning. We are partners in this firm. Her name is Jillian Manning”.
Teresa felt her head swim. She felt the sun shine brighter, warming her. She extended a steady hand and said,
“I’m Teresa Andrews. Nice to meet you”.