Very Important People by Gina DeMillo Wagner

Featured Artwork: “MichelleDaydreams9” by Michelle Nguyen

The elevator opens onto a reception area with a long, sleek mahogany desk, and behind the desk there’s a hallway that leads to another reception area, and then another hallway, and if you get that far, a petite woman with curly, merlot-colored hair will emerge from behind a frosted glass door and ask you if you’d like something to drink, water or coffee, perhaps?

You say, yes, I’d love some water, because to say no feels rude, and to request coffee, which is what you really want, feels too demanding, and besides, what if you spilled some on your crisp oxford shirt?

You remember this feeling, staring down the long empty space between you and the person you most want to see. Your whole life you’ve tried to be perfect, tried to be everything you think he wants you to be. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. You’ve learned to move forward anyway, to pretend like you belong.

Things are moving faster now, like you’re walking downhill. She hands you a sweaty glass, ice cubes clinking as you follow her, a marble through a maze. You see the destination there, at the end, the doublewide door with bronze handles, the office of the Very Important Person you’re here to see.

You’re here because he has power. You’re here because you need a job, and because your father said, I may know someone, and because you’ve learned over the years to accept anything your father offers you, because, how long will it be until he drops the next crumb?

Have a seat, the man says. I have fifteen minutes to spare. You sit in battered leather club chairs at the south end of his corner office, the windows flooded with sunlight, with possibility.

The man skims your resume. You fidget. You study the creases in his forehead. You notice how the gray hairs mingle with the black in his eyebrows, how the gray creeps up his temples.

He is not your father. You must remind yourself of this, because as he begins to speak… his voice, his questions. It will be easy to mistake his curiosity for love. Remember, he is just doing his job.

The day your father left, you hid in the coat closet and memorized the coarse texture of his tweed blazer. You ran your index finger along the rim of his wooden pipe, recognizing the oily feel, the warm, sweet smell. Tobacco. You were five, too young to know what it was called.

You remember him in his green recliner, the way you used to tuck under his arm just so, your head on his chest, his heart tha-thumping in your ear. You remember how strange his voice sounded when he shouted, the slam of a door, picture frames vibrating on the wall, the putter of a diesel engine as he drove away. And later on, his voice muffled through the phone’s receiver. He was never close or loud again.

This man is not your father, and still he is remarkably like your father. You can’t help but be distracted by this, the sudden swell of affection and longing. You want to scoot closer, to touch his sleeve, to inquire about his health, his new life, to ask him if he ever thought about you, about what might have happened if he had stayed. You want to tell him you wish you could have gone too. That your mother never picked up the pieces. That there was never enough after he left. Not enough love, not enough safety, not enough food. You survived by teaching yourself to need less.

Twelve and a half minutes. A different woman, not the beverage lady, knocks softly, enters, and reports that his next appointment is waiting. Put them in the conference room, he says, we’re nearly finished here.

He stares at you quizzically, where do you see yourself, he asks, what do you want to do? You are watching the clock, the second hand lapping the hour. You lean forward. You are about to say something very important, perhaps the most important thing you will ever say.

Tick. Tock.

He sighs. He stands. He waits. His question hangs there, unanswered. I’ll be in touch, he says. Of course, you know this is a lie. You glance out the window — the light, the wind bending the treetops, the world exhaling.

You stand.

Shake his hand.

Thank him for his time.

And you finally say, goodbye.


Gina has worked for national magazines, websites, and corporations. She enjoys taking complex ideas, distilling and conveying them in a way that’s accessible to a wide audience. In addition to her personal essay work, she writes about fitness, lifestyle, travel, health, and parenting.

The extremely talented color pencil artist began drawing for the first time two years ago. She was going through a difficult period in her life and turned to art to express those feelings. She found solace and comfort in creating portraits. Michelle says they are a self reflection of who she is.

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