We had risen to break for lunch when the temblor hit. A loud boom! Then strong jolts. I knew what was happening as others said in business tones, “What was that?” And looked to each other for answers. Again in business tones, “That’s an earthquake.”
I eyed the table nearest me and went for it. I did not dive, nor did I hesitate.
I was reminded of the recent July 4th when sitting with friends on a field to watch the fireworks the sprinklers came on. They announced themselves with a distinctive gurgle, which I at once recognized. Without a word I had leapt to my feet and rushed out of range of the spray. Later, my wife had made fun of me for my every-person-for-themselves instinct. If my desire to escape being damp was this strong, I could only wonder queasily if I would be the one trampling old women to escape the burning plane.
So I tempered my movements, and once under the table called out to others instructions meant to sound helpful—“Just hold on till it’s over!”
I was breathing heavily. Outside the small, windowless conference room I heard screaming, as though in a disaster movie. What was happening in the lobby outside, I wondered. Was glass shattering and cutting skin? Were security guards being crushed by collapsing walls?
Last moments on earth?
I looked to my right. There was my coworker. I had worked with her for two years. I would not say we were close. I looked into her eyes like she might be the last person I saw on this earth. “Hi,” I said, by way of acknowledging our impending mortality. “Oh, hi,” she said. “I didn’t see you come in.” Maybe my coworker was not as scared as I was. Maybe I was overreacting.
I looked behind me and saw the ass of the fancy executive lady I’d been admiring. She was under the big conference room table on her hands and knees along with everyone else. They still murmured in business tones.
I’d been sitting to the left of the fancy executive lady for the course of the hour-long meeting, and had an excellent vantage point for observing her in profile.
She was impeccably put together. She wore a dark skirt suit and wedge heels. Her hair was tight and curly, and shone with heavily applied product. Her eyebrows were drawn on in a dark pencil. She wore gold on her ears and around her neck, and her wrist was bound by a moderately expensive woman’s watch.
She was tiny, like most fancy executive ladies, but her nose was enormous. Beneath the layer of foundation on her swarthy cheeks her skin was pockmarked. She was not pretty, but she worked overtime to soften her looks, and I was entranced by her. Not just by her looks, but by her very essence.
Personal dynamics in business meetings
You can tell a lot about a person by how they conduct themselves in a business meeting, especially a contentious one. She was courteous and assertive, and spoke only when her perspective would help the chaotic group come to understanding. She smiled brightly but not insincerely, and lightened tense moments with her joviality.
I had been attending the meeting in a way similar to how I watch sports—intrigued by the personal dynamics and more or less bored by the content. Her personal dynamics were making a number one fan of me.
Safely in the parking lot
The earth shook and rumbled on for 20 seconds or so. Gradually, we emerged from beneath the tables. They evacuated the building and we all filed out onto the parking lot. My legs were shaking. People gathered in clusters and shared information. They tried to reach people on their cell phones.
I began to drift over to the adjoining lot to join the others in my department when I saw the executive lady. Contrary to my usual passivity, I went to her. I extended my hand and she took it.
She was just as warm and real as she had presented herself in the meeting, and even shorter than I’d estimated. Her nose was more proportioned from the straight-on angle, but the worry-anger wrinkle between her eyebrows made her look like she’d been cleaved with an axe.
I said business things to her and she said business things back to me, but really I was telling her that I loved her. And that if I had died that morning, I would be ascending to heaven on her wedge heels.