I worked in a horrible place. I lived in a horrible city.
I believed in reincarnation, sacred contracts, balancing our karma, accomplishing our soul’s purpose, Edward Cayce, Seth/Oversoul Seven, and the One Being. Admittedly, I was a newbie about the concept of reincarnation. I had just discovered the possibilities that we had all lived before, and that our lives, our paths, and purposes were all connected, that they had crossed elsewhere and else-time in the infinite universe. I believed that karma was not so much about payback as it was about balance, and our purpose in each incarnation was to balance our karma this time around. I looked for every opportunity to balance my karma.
I moved back to the horrible city to balance some uneven karma that I believed I had created in another lifetime a long time ago. I lived with a cousin, the same cousin with whom I shared a cramped, high-rise apartment several years earlier when we went to college together. She made it all the way through college, while I was “required to withdraw” before the mid-term of the first semester.
I sort of ditched on her when I left the horrible city and the apartment we shared. I left her with the bills and the furniture payments, not to mention a large, unpaid portion of a year’s lease.
Not sort of ditched. I left her in the lurch.
My cousin now owned a house in the chic part of downtown. When I told her I was coming back to even the score, she said she hoped it worked for me this time around, but she didn’t sound optimistic. I shipped my possessions to her in grocery store boxes on a Greyhound bus, and she drove to the station and picked them and me up a week later. I was actually surprised that she took me back after I left her holding the proverbial bag several years earlier.
I took the horrible job to prove to my cousin that I was a responsible member of society who could make and keep commitments for longer than half a semester. I paid my portion of the rent, shared the groceries, and paid for gas when I drove the car. I was definitely balancing the economic responsibility part of my karma.
I eventually moved out of my cousin’s basement and found a one-bedroom apartment in a two-story house in the Greek part of town. I felt curiously at home in the neighborhood although I have no Greek heritage. I thought that, too, was karma.
I was sure my Greek landlady and the Greek merchants of the markets were all part of a past-life experience with which I would reconnect by living in this neighborhood. I thought I would make all sorts of soul connections and add balance to my cosmic records. Most of the merchants thought I was Lebanese. They also thought I was a loose woman for wandering the stalls buying only enough meat, produce, and dairy for myself, not for a husband and family waiting at home for me to cook dinner. To legitimize my being in the neighborhood, however, I did receive a proposal from my Greek landlady who tried to marry me off to her forty-something butcher-son who still lived at home.
The horrible job was in a Jewish family’s jewelry business which I also thought was part of my karmic lesson. Having bombed with the Greeks, I thought perhaps I had something to learn from the Jewish sector.
My job as a computer operator in my new karmic role amounted to nothing more than an accounts-receivable data-entry clerk plugging in numbers into an oversized adding machine. I shared my office space and my adding machine with a lady whose name was Marge or Madge or Mildred, a name that came right out of that roaring generation just before the Big Crash. She didn’t know much more about the adding machine other than plugging it in, flipping the switch to the “run” position, and organizing the piles of papers on her desk that she would hand to me to key-punch into the ledger.
Marge/Madge/Mildred, obviously a long-time employee, had garnered favor with the boss, himself probably born at the turn of the last century. Although she knew jack-shit about this giant-sized adding machine, she knew her books. The old man was Jewish-father-proud of his faithful bookkeeper and by God, he wasn’t going to trust his profits to the keys of an IBM adding machine, or the keystrokes of a twenty-something gentile who might know lots about computers but nothing about the business.
“She used to do the books by hand before this new thing came in,” the old guy grunted as he jerked his head toward the IBM. “But don’t worry” he crowed, “she’ll find any mistake.”
Marge/Madge/Mildred straightened her back in her office chair and smoothed the papers in front of her. The tight smile that pinched her lips told me she was very proud of her reputation in the company, and she used her high standing as license to hover over me for a full eight hours a day, verifying that I was doing the job right.
For thirty minutes a day, however, I was free from her scrutiny because I had to clock out to eat my lunch. At my desk. The old guy didn’t believe in coffee breaks or in off-site lunches. The blended smells of my bologna, and Marge/Madge/Mildred’s peanut butter sandwiches nauseated me in my cramped office.
“We want to have employees that are focused, not running out to a café for lunch then trying to get back to work on time. When you finished with lunch, it’s back to work. No wasting time or money.”
He reminded us that punctuality and frugality were moral issues for this business.
The business had two parts. The front end was the office where staff members took orders over the phone, and I punched numbers into the giant adding machine. The back end was the shop where the goldsmiths completed the orders. A wall of Plexiglass windows divided the factory from the office. The old man did not think that the two classes of workers should mix.
I didn’t have an outside window in my office but I had a side window which provided a vista of the hallway leading to the only restroom in the building. Never mind separate provisions for men and women at this place, the sum total of the facilities was one stall only behind a door which tripped a light in the hall when it closed. The old guy felt that having separate facilities with more than one stall in each would encourage employees to gather and chatter needlessly, when what needed to go on in the workplace was, well, work.
“You can chatter all you want on your lunch breaks if you have to. We’re not paying you for that.”
The old guy and his wife and son kept a sharp eye on the light above the bathroom door. They were not above knocking on the door if they thought an employee was in there longer than necessary.
Sound business practices.
As I sat in my bologna-and-peanut-butter-sandwich world balancing the company’s accounts- receivable ledger, I would catch glimpses of the goldsmiths through my hallway window as they went back and forth on their lunch breaks. The old guy believed that the goldsmiths could leave the property for an hour for lunch because they were men and they worked harder. I didn’t think much of that other than I wish I had learned to be a goldsmith along the way, and perhaps my lunch breaks and my karma at this horrible job would have been much different.
I still loathed the horrible city. I hadn’t been able to take a bite out of its ass yet. I wasn’t sure this job was worth the anticipated balance I was seeking, and as I drudged along in my promise to my cousin, I wondered what the hell karma had to do with this horrible job. I loathed Marge/Madge/Mildred, I loathed the old man and all of his family. I loathed the promise I made, and I loathed myself because I didn’t look for another job.
I probably loathed karma more than anything.
Until I saw Tony.
Then I believed in karma all over again.
When I glanced at the goldsmiths returning from lunch that day, I hesitated just a tad longer than normal as they passed by. One of them seemed to be moving in slow-motion and our eyes locked. The impact was immense and I half-lifted my hand to him in some sort of feeble greeting. My breath slammed against my chest. I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Everything else went still, yet I could hear his footfalls resounding in this frozen silence. Then the moment was gone. Still locked in the gaze, our eyes followed each other until I watched him disappear behind the factory door.
I turned back to the pile of accounts-receivable slips that now seemed irrelevant in the grand scheme of the karmic connection I had just experienced. Maybe this horrible job wasn’t so bad anymore. Seeing him was meant to be. Maybe this was exactly the mechanism I needed to meet my destiny in this moment of perfect universal timing. I was renewed. This was karma.
In exponential notation.
When Tony and I met on the corner after work that day, we pretended it was an accident. We were waiting for a streetcar that neither one of us needed to take. Except into perdition. We appeared normal waiting on the corner for the streetcar, like every other urbanite on their way home after putting in their fair share of labor for the day. Tony and I were the last to board the streetcar and once inside, our hands touched as we grasped the overhead rail to steady ourselves after the car jolted into gear; naked fingers grasped and fondled in desperate wanting. Tony got off at the first stop from the factory; I pulled the cord for the following stop a few blocks away.
We met halfway in between the two stops like lovers who had been separated since World War Two. We crashed into each other, our hot breaths puffing little clouds of winter air around us as our lips devoured the hunger of the ages. My purse slipped carelessly off my shoulder and as it swung close to the ground, the strap crooked into my elbow. I could feel his hands drawing me close to him through the bulk of my winter coat. We pulled apart and he grabbed my still-naked hand and we ran to an alley. Away from the mash of traffic and the clanking of streetcars, he backed me up against a brick wall of a building. My arms went around his fleece-collared neck and we kissed with a fury and a need that I didn’t know existed. The sky was steel gray, the winter sun was low and unforgiving as it robbed the day of the meager light it had provided since sunrise.
“Do you live alone?” He rasped into my ear, his breath hot and promising.
“No.” I lied.
I thought of my Greek landlady and her hopeful son who lived in the upstairs apartment. I didn’t know if affairs with men other than her son were grounds for eviction.
“Do you?” I breathed back.
“No.” His lips grasped mine again as we locked into another long and hungry kiss. “I have roommates.”
I wanted him. I could feel it and I knew it was a dangerous need. But it was delicious.
“What’s your name?” short breaths around probing tongues.
Tongues and moans and hot breath mixed in the chill dusk. The tip of my nose was cold. His face was slightly rough with stubble. His hands braced against the wall behind me, his body pressed into mine, my arms wrapped around his back, bare fingers clutching the worsted wool of his jacket. We stayed locked in the embrace, locked in each other’s kiss until our breath was dry from the cold.
“We can’t stay out here. Let’s go somewhere else.”
Months later, I was in deep. Tony was from Venezuela and I cursed myself for falling for another Latin. I knew I was in trouble because I surrendered every time his dark eyes swept over my body and his hands, skilled and strong reached out to me. Ravenous and greedy, we used his friend’s apartment every opportunity we could. I was sure that in some karmic experience, lifetimes ago, we were star-crossed lovers whose affair ended too soon and now we needed to balance our then short-lived and forbidden love.
“Have you told anyone?” Tony stroked my naked back as he traced the line of my shoulder with his tongue.
“Uh-uh. Have you?” I was dreamy after our lovemaking.
The night was long; we had been in bed since dusk. I flung the sheet off me. The gas fireplace in the corner of the bedroom gave off a slow and steady heat. Outside the window, puffs of snow gathered in the corners of the window panes. Silently I thanked Tony’s “friend” for the use of his apartment while he worked the night shift. I never met the friend, and I never knew what job kept him in the midnight hours. I didn’t care.
“Yeah,” Tony mumbled as he licked the back of my ear. “I told Desmond.”
“Desmond? Why did you tell anybody?” A little stab of panic rushed through me. A co-worker knowing about us could be dangerous. I squirmed around to face Tony, our naked bodies soft and warm.
A lazy smile crossed his lips. “Shhh, querida. No pasa nada.” Hush dear. Nothing is going to happen.
He slid down the length of my body.
“The old man will fire us if he finds out,” I warned, but Tony’s lips found me, and I didn’t care who found out.
In those frosty pre-dawn mornings, we scurried out of the apartment in the little house on the corner of Carleton and Burke streets to get to our own homes to shower and change before we went to work for the day. Tony did not know where I lived; he never asked, and he never called me. Our meetings were never pre-arranged, and we didn’t go out in public. We’d meet at the house on the spur of the moment, usually after a furious grope-session after work in the back alley between streetcar stops. As the secrecy deepened, I was more convinced of our need to work out our impassioned karma in private.
At work, Tony and I devised a system for meeting in the bathroom. Because we were so karmically tuned to each other, as Tony passed by my hallway window I could tell by the mere flick of his eyebrow that he would be using the bathroom. I could count the seconds as sure as I could count my heartbeats. I’d follow him and when the light over the door flicked on, I gave the secret knock and he’d let me in. Precious minutes of wet, hot kisses, and frantic groping. I would return to my adding machine still quivering from the encounter, but I could now handle Marge/Madge/Mildred’s hovering and nagging. All I could hear was the sound of Tony’s breath in my ear.
I bumped into Desmond one day coming out of the bathroom. He raised his eyebrow and a slick grin came over his face. I hated that look. It made me feel as dirty as the bathroom where Tony and I had just fondled each other.
“Maybe you’ll have some of that for me later.” His words slid all over me. “Or maybe the old man would like some if you don’t want to give it to me.”
Instinct screamed through me. Tore through my charging hormones. Shocked me out of the water-closet-lust of just seconds earlier. Ripped through to logic. I knew something was wrong. As I turned past Desmond to return to my adding machine, I saw a number of the goldsmiths looking up at us from their posts through the Plexiglass windows.
They knew. They all knew.
Tony did not come to work the next day. He didn’t come back for the rest of the week and he stayed away the week after that. I didn’t have a phone number for him. I didn’t need one. We communicated karmically through our hallway window and at the streetcar stops. We also had the little blue house on the corner of Carleton and Burke, but when I went there to look for him, the doorbell chimed long and lonesome in the empty hallway. I peered through the stained-glass window, flipped open the mail slot on the door and called out. I walked around the house and brushed snow off the window panes and looked into the bedroom where just days before we had writhed and tossed in lovers’ lust and karmic reunification.
Nothing. No gas logs in the fireplace, no bathrobe hanging on the door, no low-lit, bedside lamp. The down-filled comforter was gone, exposing the bare mattress of the bed, and the pillows were tossed to the side. It was like we were never there.
I wandered through the next two weeks completing my adding machine obligations in a fog. I rambled through the Greek markets oblivious to the calls and conversations from the merchants. My television flickered to an empty audience late into the night. I craved Tony constantly. Images of our nights together flashed through my mind and the sounds of our lust moaned in my ears. I hated him because he disappeared without a word or message, not even a sign, but I hated him more because he left me aching for him.
The first week, I fantasized that Tony would show up at the streetcar stop and our hands would touch in the crowd of passengers and the electricity would spark and my heat would be soothed. By the second week, I believed we could still communicate through our karmic connection, so I took the streetcar to my designated stop, got off, and waited for him behind the building where we would kiss and grope before heading to the little blue house. Nothing.
Laying in my own bed in the loneliest hours of the night in my apartment, I wondered if the whole affair had happened at all.
Karma be damned.
Desmond approached me as I was clocking out on Friday afternoon. It had been two weeks since I had seen Tony.
“He’s in Venezuela you know. Gone to bring his wife and son home. They don’t like the winter here. “He’ll be back on Monday.”
“What wife and son?” Icy fingers grabbed inside my belly. “What home?”
“Oh, you know the house. The one on Carleton and Burke.” Desmond was really good at grinning and raising his eyebrow in a way that made me want to vomit.
I was fired before 9 a.m. the following Monday. The old man said that he didn’t have a need for my kind of computer operator anymore. That Marge/Madge/Mildred could take over from here. Said he should have never let my kind in the business in the first place.
The old man handed me an envelope. It crinkled with bills and I could feel a few coins jingle inside.
“Your pay, up-to-date. Marge worked it out, so you know it’s correct. He pierced me with his eyes. “Get your coat and leave.”
“Ah, so, her name is Marge,” I thought inanely as I walked to the back hallway to the coat rack by the dirty bathroom.
As I lifted my coat off the hook, I glanced through the Plexiglas windows and I saw Tony busy at his station manipulating a piece of precious stone with strong, expert hands.