Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Woman in Accounting

Her office was tucked in the back somewhere. She was the accountant at the Career Services office where I worked part-time as a graduate assistant at the Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. I don't remember her name. I barely ever interacted with her. I barely ever saw her. Was she a Sharon? A Carol? She was in her late 40s, a thin, slightly bent white American woman. A white shadow.

I was sitting across from where she sat at her desk. I had won the Business Suits for Students contest, and I was here in the accountant's office to finish off some paperwork. The Career Services office had held the contest to award a lucky student 400 dollars worth of a brand new business suit and shoes from Dillard's at the Woodland's mall in Tulsa 80 miles away. Applicants had had to write an essay about why they needed a new suit. Mine had won. Four hundred dollars! For clothes! Brand new clothes! From Dillard's! We didn't even have a mall in Stillwater, and I sure didn't remember what nice new clothes felt like. I had spent 6 years at university counting pennies, skipping meals to save money, and frequently overdrawing my bank account. I used to choose to walk almost an hour to the nearest WalMart to save on a 5 dollar cab ride. God-awful times. I was only a year away from finishing up with graduate school, and I needed to find a job for after so I could stay on in the country. The economy was crap, hardly anyone was hiring, and I needed to find a job or pack up and go back home where careers go to die. I was only 23 years old and had been running on empty, emotionally and financially, for 6 years. I used to feel so bad at career fairs in my makeshift suit; everybody else had shiny well-fitted ensembles. I felt small and exhausted. The first draft of my essay had reflected my life:

"Not again will I be taking 45 minute walks to WalMart (for want of a car) for groceries, all the while secretly harboring desires of magically finding a pair of cheap comfortable shoes that will go well (in the dark anyway) with the imitation-silk blouse from Goody’s and the pair of great fitting though slightly worn-out grey trouser-like pants that I’d fished out from the clearance pile at JCPenney’s. My Frankenstein of a suit. My eclectic grown-up collection in my blue-jeans college life."

Winning 400 dollars for a brand new suit and shoes that I desperately needed but could not afford for critical job interviews was something that almost made me want to get down on my knees and cry. All on the basis of my writing too, a personal skill that had all but died by then. It was validating for me. Shocking, but powerfully validating. My was still good? Good enough? To help me with something?

The award committee had really liked my essay. The accountant lady had told me so while making me sign a bunch of documents.

"“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
William Shakespeare

A part I’ve been playing for 20 years (almost my whole life) is that of The Broke Student, during which time my parents paid for all of my expenses. The last 6 years have been spent with their financing my education and life here in the United States as an international student, converting a fistful of foreign currency into a lot less dollars. It’s been even harder what with tuition for international students being 3 times as much as their in-state counterparts. Part-time on-campus employment only provided pocket money.

But it’s time for The Broke Student to take her exit from the stage.

I will be graduating in May next year, out in the real world, acting out my new part – The Unemployed College Graduate. Hopefully that won’t last too long. I’m wishing with fingers crossed really tightly that I will then leap into my next role – The Full-Time Worker. Perhaps playing this new part will help pay back what was invested in me, if not in dollars and cents, then in some other way.

“Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Sans suit?

Indubitably, The Unemployed College Graduate will need to dress to impress to initiate the metamorphosis into The Full-Time Worker. A good suit, however, is way out of The Broke Student’s budget. Wonderfully, this is where the ‘Business Suits for Students’ program comes in. The Broke Student seeks to take her very first steps in bringing The Full-Time Worker onto the stage, in some way helping her family by first helping herself."

I was shyly listening to the usually withdrawn white woman as she praised my writing. Nobody else used to do it anymore, my creative writing skills from my childhood had gone completely underground by then. Silent, dead in the dank underworld along with the rest of me. I was surprised that someone had liked my writing enough to tell me. She sounded sincere. And she kept talking. Her voice was small and tired sounding, almost as if she hadn't spoken in many years. Her face had already started wrinkling in thick chunks. She didn't look me in the eye but kept talking as she slowly shuffled through her papers. "Your writing is wonderful," she had said to the weary young thing I had become, "never stop writing." And she kept talking. She told me that she used to work for a very large company, that she had been doing very well in the corporate world, but she hadn't liked it. Then her husband died in a plane crash, and she left her big office and her old life and moved back to tiny little Stillwater in the middle of nowhere with her children. She was happy here in her small hidden office. Then she smiled a small but real smile at me, and I felt so moved on the inside, although I didn't say anything because I was too young and too numb to understand what she was making me feel. I ended up getting a job at a big corporate office a few months later and left Stillwater. I never saw the invisible accountant from Career Services again.

1 comment:

ramesh chandra said...

Excellent information sharing woman's careers in accounting...

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