There's an elevator waiting with its doors wide open. I make a note. According to a Harvard psychologist, the reason we think that we always choose the slow line in the supermarket is because frustration is more emotionally charged, so the bad moments are more memorable. That's why we don't remember all the times we chose the fast line and zipped right through. But I like remembering those times. I need those times. And the moment I stop remembering those times, I need to go back to Wisconsin and leave D.C.
"Remember this elevator next time you're on the slow line," I whisper to myself, searching for calm. It's a good trick.
But it doesn't help.
"Letsgo, letsgo . . ." I mutter as I hold the Door Close button with all my strength. I learned that one during my first week in the Archives: When you have a bigwig who you're taking around, hold the Door Close button and the elevator won't stop at any other floors.
We're supposed to only use it with bigwigs.
But as far as I'm concerned, in my personal universe, there's no one bigger than this girl -- this woman . . . she's a woman now -- who I haven't seen since her hippie, lounge-singer mom moved her family away in tenth grade and she forever left my life. In our religious Wisconsin town, most people were thrilled to see them go.
I was sixteen. I was crushed.
Today, I'm thirty. And (thanks to her finding me on Facebook) Clementine is just a few seconds away from being back.
As the elevator bounces to a halt, I glance at my digital watch. Two minutes, forty- two seconds. I take Orlando's advice and decide to go with a compliment. I'll tell her she looks good. No. Don't focus on just her looks. You're not a shallow meathead. You can do better, I decide as I take a deep breath. You really turned out good, I say to myself. That's nicer. Softer. A true compliment. You really turned out good.
But as the elevator doors part like our old bright red curtains, as I anxiously dart into the lobby, trying with every element of my being to look like I'm not darting at all, I search through the morning crowd of guests and researchers playing bumper cars in their winter coats as they line up to go through the metal detector at security.
For two months now, we've been chatting via email, but I haven't seen Clementine in nearly fifteen years. How do I even know what she . . . ?
"Nice tie," Orlando calls from the sign-in desk. He points to the far right corner, by the lobby's Christmas tree, which is (Archives tradition) decorated with shredded paper. "Look."
Standing apart from the crowd, a woman with short dyed black hair -- dyed even darker than Joan Jett -- raises her chin, watching me as carefully as I watch her. Her eye makeup is thick, her skin is pale, and she's got silver rings on her pinkies and thumbs, making her appear far more New York than D.C. But what catches me off guard is that she looks . . . somehow . . . older than me. Like her ginger brown eyes have seen two lifetimes. But that's always been who she was. She may've been my first kiss, but I know I wasn't hers. She was the girl who dated the guys two grades above us. More experienced. More advanced. The exact opposite of Iris.
"Clemmi . . ." I mouth, not saying a word.
"Benjy . . ." she mouths back, her cheeks rising in a smile as she uses the nickname my mom used to call me.