I inhale long and deep, my eyelids fluttering in tandem with my heart as I watch the sign in front of me get larger and larger. I walk ahead, somehow still in utter disbelief as I near the entrance.
Holy. Frickin’. Crap…
I’m actually here.
A twenty-minute commute and a series of transit buses later, I arrive at the building of my dreams over an hour early thanks to the pre-run I did yesterday, my nerves shot to hell, my skin buzzing. I feel wired and elated even though I barely got any sleep.
I reach for the door with a shaky hand, my breath stuttering as I suck in all the air around me, as if I’m afraid to touch it. As if the moment I make contact, I’ll realize that this is all a dream and wake up to the most disappointing, mundane reality in existence.
My eyelids flutter closed with another inhale as my fingers wrap themselves around the handle.
I swallow, my eyes still shut, standing as still as a statue for several seconds, like I’m waiting for it to happen; waiting for this incredible, lifelike fantasy to come to an end.
When I open my eyes again, the building is still in front of me and my hand is still on the metal bar, gripping it tightly. I just stand there, both afraid to pull the door open and let go, having a hard time simply grasping the magnitude of this moment.
My fingers twitch slightly when I finally pull the door back, opening the barrier that I’ve been dreaming of for years…quite literally.
I make my way in, my eyes roaming around impulsively, scanning every micro-section of the interior. Expectedly, I’m required to go through a security checkpoint before proceeding. But what’s unexpected is just how thorough their safety measures are, easily putting those at airports to shame. It takes a good while—and a whole lot of my patience—to pass through, eating a large chunk of the time I’d hoped would go toward getting set up.
What the hell is this, the damn Pentagon?
I look back at the security post—more like, series of posts, really—in disbelief all over again, wondering how in the world anyone gets to work on time with this type of super-loaded security every single day.
A central lounging area greets me as I walk further inside, spotting the main reception up ahead. I inhale deeply as I go up to it, trying to appear more confident than I feel, but I have to steel my nerves against the sudden spell of anxiety that pours down on me.
A slightly older woman sits from across the curved desk as I approach. She’s on the phone, seemingly stressed out and barely notices my existence. When she finally looks up after her call ends, it’s almost as if she’s surprised to see me there, as if I snuck up on her like a ninja when I’ve actually been standing here for a few minutes.
“Can I help you?” she asks, seeming somewhat indifferent to my presence, the question coming off as more of an afterthought. Not the warmest reception for a receptionist but I decide to overlook it.
“Uh, yes, I got selected for the internship program this year. When I called in, I was asked to see Ms. Hillmer?”
“Just one second,” she says, picking up her phone again. She punches in a number, holding the headset to her ear as her eyes dart up to mine once more, like she’s trying to make sure that I actually am who I say I am.
“Hi Jeannie,” she says as an indecipherable voice comes through on the other end. “There’s a new intern here to see you.”
More correspondence follows; clipped, brief exchanges, like a tennis match, but unlike one, the conversation is over quickly.
“Okay, thanks,” the receptionist finally says, hanging up and turning her attention back to me. “You’re going to want to head to the fourth floor. Office four-o-one.”
“Thank you,” I smile.
“Elevator’s up ahead,” she gestures behind her.
“Thank you again,” I nod, walking in the direction she points.
Four elevators punctuate the connecting hallway; two pairs standing opposite each other. I summon the one closest to me, looking around as I wait for it to arrive. The main area seems pretty empty and quiet, but I anticipate a surge of people will soon fill the place with the typical morning rush.
I glance at my watch, feeling mildly annoyed. Thirty minutes have already gone by and I haven’t even located the main office.
The elevator to my left dings open first, its metal doors sliding away from each other. Even though the motion is a trivial, mechanical action typical of such an appliance, I can’t help but feel like this is a rite of passage; a grand gesture welcoming me into its sanctuary.
I step into it, inhaling deeply as I hit the button for the fourth floor, nervous all over again when the doors close shut and the lift ascends.
I’m slightly surprised that no one else is in here. I know there’s still half an hour left but there are usually a few early-birds in every workplace. Nonetheless, I’m grateful that the small, momentary privacy allows me to freak out—and subsequently compose myself—without inhibition.
The elevator comes to a stop and slides open again some seconds later, revealing another hallway.
I step out of it with an excited-slash-nervous rush, vaguely registering the sound of the doors closing behind me as I advance. In a way, I feel like Alice when she first fell into Wonderland; treading lightly, keeping a close eye on everything so I can find my way around this uncharted, magical terrain.
My gaze drifts to the corridor lined with offices on my right, latching on to the number beside the very first one.
Here we are.
I regard the bold, block letters on the glass door.
PROTOCOL AND ADMINISTRATION
The door is slightly ajar and the shutter blinds on the windows are still closed. I knock on it gently, like I’m scared I might break it, anxious all over again for no reason.
Unexpectedly, silence ensues. I try again, and when I’m met with the same result, I push it open slowly, poking my head through as if I’m lost. My eyes immediately fall on two men and one woman, so immersed in what they’re individually doing that they don’t seem to have heard me knock—or see the fact that a strange woman’s head is currently protruding through their door.
“Excuse me,” I blurt, clearing my throat when my existence continues to go unnoticed.
All three of them look up from their devices, their collective expression a mesh of slight confusion and surprise, much like the receptionist downstairs. You’d think they had noise-cancelling headphones on or something.
“Oh yes, come in,” the woman says, setting aside the tablet and stylus she was seemingly hypnotized by just a second ago. “You’re the new intern?”
“Yes,” I concur, stepping inside.
“Do you have your acceptance letter with you?” she asks, getting right to it, seemingly too busy for introductions.
“Ah, yes…” I reach into my bag, taking out the document in question. “Here,” I smile sheepishly as she eyes it, slightly embarrassed by how wrinkled and tattered it now looks as I hand it to her.
She sits at her desk, her eyes flitting between her computer screen and the letter as her fingers tap across her keyboard. It’s the only sound for several seconds, somehow adding to the bizarre awkwardness in the room. The other two men go back to being quietly engrossed in whatever it is they were focused on before my arrival, saying absolutely nothing.
The atmosphere is…strange. Almost…tense. And I’m not sure why. Like I walked in on a passive-aggressive argument or something. Maybe it’s just the usual early-morning drag?
“Alright, your department’s on the third floor,” the woman says, breaking the silence and bringing my attention back to her. She hands me back the acceptance letter, along with another document. “That’s a temporary employee form. Read over all the terms, stipulations and conditions. Then fill it out and sign at the bottom. You’ll need to see Dave Schapiro in 319. He’s the head of your unit. He’ll have to sign it, too. Then bring it back here.”
“Alrighty,” I nod, smiling to myself at the mention of the familiar name.
I walk out, leaving the door ajar the way I found it before I make my way back to the elevator. Normally, I’d take the stairs for just a single floor, but this is new terrain and I can’t afford even the smallest delay. Not on my very first day.
I make my descent to the third floor, my stomach twinging with the drop, but I know my nerves are far more to blame for the sensation than gravitational pull.
Holy crap, I can’t believe this is finally it…