It began in Topeka

“If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through.” ~Chinese Proverb


Most people would describe me as a Beta, but really I was an Omega. But somewhere, deep and repressed, I had a surprising amount of Alpha, which my inner voice had taught me to be ashamed of.

I was doing all right, keeping up the appearance of a normal life. My defense mechanisms were holding firm, in place, keeping other people from seeing inside me, and keeping the inside from spilling out in all its painful slobbering pathos.

I was counting transactions on the long rolls of printer paper for whose collection and storage I was responsible. The rolls looked like receipt paper from a cash register. I set a roll behind a small but heavy hole puncher, grabbed one end and began pulling at it, unraveling it in a fast, orderly way, keeping count of the transactions as each of my thumbs passed each transaction. My ear buds were stuck in and the radio on. I listened to it not just because counting up rolls of receipt-like paper is dull and menial but also to drown out the voices of the other people in the office.

A defense mechanism. What you don’t hear won’t hurt you. I avoided dwelling on asking myself why the ordinary talk of others would hurt me in the first place.

I sat at my desk in the corner cubicle doing my work. I was usually a good hiding place, too. Only a few people ever had reason to come close – there was a printer near me, and a shared workstation, so sometimes they had to come near and make my shyness* go into overdrive.

A sound, motion, ripples approaching my perimeter. The letter G was pronounced, I think.

I wasn’t in Topeka. No, not yet. I wasn’t anywhere near Kansas as a matter of fact, nor over any rainbows, though I was near the Emerald City (the one in the Pacific Northwest).

“—g. Ok? George.” Louder.

It was Neo, my supervisor. Nice guy, decent. The higher-ups manipulated him. He had come over and was addressing me. I took out the ear buds. He sort of laughed.

“I’m sorry?” I said.

So then he declared that it really was going to happen after all. Each warehouse had to send three people to Topeka. I would be one of the three. Since only he and I knew how the ins and outs of my obscure job, he and I couldn’t go at the same time. One of us would go early, with a different group of trainees. I volunteered right away, of course. The alternative – traveling with the third guy in our trio of trainees – had to be avoided. Not because of him in particular. I had to avoid traveling with anyone, in order to avoid, you know, anything scary occurring, such as personal conversation and the shame of running out of things to talk about.

To be continued….


* I’d rather use the word shyness than the term social anxiety. Too many perfectly good old words have been replaced by techno-speak.


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