The Girl at the Desk


I made it through the first half of The Girl on the Train book on Wednesday. I started reading during my lunch break and was immediately miffed that one of the main characters is named Rachel and makes up stories about the strangers she sees every day. I do this regularly. I've even been known to make up stories about the squirrels in my backyard. And since I already share too many mannerisms (and a favorite tea) with Ana from the Fifty Shades series, I complained to my boyfriend that my life is being stolen without my permission.

"I can't help it if you are a living, breathing, fictional character stereotype," he said.

I replied with a very melodramatic "Why me?" image from Bitmoji. "Maybe I should write about the people I spy on from work."

"The girl at the desk."

So here we are.

When I first moved to rural Tennessee, I knew that finding a job would be hard. The town I live in is predominately a retirement community, most available positions are part-time and pay minimum wage with no benefits, and oh right, I have PTSD after nearly a decade of abuse at my last job. It took me months to get a full-time position, and by the time I was standing outside the office, waiting to start my first day, I was in full panic mode. What if I end up in another abusive work environment? What if the work is grueling and my boss is relentless? What if my coworkers hate me?

Turns out™: it's a great job! I work for great people, from my boss to his boss and everyone on up the chain. They're the kind of people who offer to drive you home if you need to leave work early for illness. They buy you a breakfast sandwich if you are eating pathetic crackers at your desk. They patiently explain to you a hundred times how to calculate this, file that, and pronounce "tornado" like a native. (In the South, it's "ter-NAY-duh.")

In fact, the only complaint I've ever had is that the job is not particularly demanding. There are two administrative assistants in the office, and we were both hired on the same day. The previous assistant quit because there often wasn't enough work for one person. So whole days go by where Christy and I sit up front and do nothing but gossip, knit scarves, and make quilts. Sometimes, we even complain about the pain in our hips or lower back. We're two rocking chairs away from getting gobbled up by the retirement community we live in.

My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can't help it.

When we run out of things to share from our personal lives, we make up stories about the people who walk in front of the office's large front window.

Methy Mary was the first one to get a nickname. She would walk by early in the morning; we could hear her before we saw her. She'd take a few steps and pause, shouting into the sky and waving her hands, before walking a bit farther. We were sure she was on drugs. Now, she has a scooter, so she flies by on the sidewalk in silence. Sometimes, we can only recognize her by her signature red backpack.

One of my all-time favorites is Tall Sock Tom, who walks his two tiny dogs every morning and every afternoon. When the weather is nice enough, he wears a short-sleeved jersey with basketball shorts, sandals, and mismatched socks—one tall, one short. The tall sock is always on the same leg. We have seen him without socks, so we cannot figure out the value or meaning of the lone tall sock, but the mystery never gets old.

The minor characters are just as wonderful:

  • Pelvis Pete: struts across the parking lot with his pelvis thrust forward in the most comedic and exaggerated way
  • Silver Fox: has the most beautiful, long white hair
  • Ella Ella: walks by in the afternoon with a baby strapped to her back and an umbrella for a parasol
  • Napkin Nate: works for the apartment complex and (as far as we can tell) gets paid exclusively for wandering around the parking lot, picking up the same three napkins every morning
  • Coked-up Carl: a one-time visitor who was acting very suspiciously at a very early hour and was kind enough to get arrested in full view of our office
  • Doped-up Doug: spent twenty minutes violently shooting imaginary arrows into the pavement with an imaginary bow before the police were called; to our great disappointment, he was not arrested

Our most beloved character, though, is Discman Dave. I have been known to audibly gasp when I see his silhouette out of the corner of my eye. This young man is a music enthusiast—in a way that seems completely authentic and pure, not as some kind of affectation. He carries an honest-to-goodness Discman with him wherever he goes, and he sings and dances with reckless abandon. It is unbelievably endearing. Christy and I love debating what he might be listening to that would inspire such passion: Beyoncé? Evanescence? Linkin Park? Miley Cyrus? Whatever it is, I hope it never ends because his unbridled enthusiasm and fierce dance moves bring us so much joy.

Anyway, in the two days that I've been putting together this blog post, I also managed to finish the book. I no longer relate to the Rachel on the train very much, but I do like our imaginary friends and their imaginary stories. Don't you dare tell me why that one sock is so tall.