I knew the rap on office Christmas parties when I discovered the invitation to one on my desk. They’re the kind of place people go when they’ve got nowhere else to go, an event better suited to the cast of a Mike Judge movie than an aspiring writer. But since I was a rookie typesetter who was new in town and had nowhere else to be on that Saturday I bought a ticket. The print shop I was working for rented out a ballroom at a hotel whose name remains elusive. If the pay was a hint at what money could be made producing business cards and letterhead it was all they could afford.
Still, on the appointed day I went digging into my closet for something clean and appropriate. It took some time. Family and friends used to tease me for my “allergy” to dress shirts and ties; a golf shirt was my idea of dressing up, the leather shoes I wore had a swoosh on the side of them. Eventually they were convinced I was presentable, then it was time to get behind the wheel of my Toyota Camry and take to the road. The sun had already passed beyond the horizon by the time my headlights pointed at a place to park. It would have been easy to go in expecting rubber chicken, a paper tablecloth, and a tightly controlled bar. Imagine my surprise when the menu included a steak dinner with salad and a baked potato…the bar even had Heineken.
There was something missing that went beyond food, it was the other guests. Plenty of other people were around, though most of them were not peers. Only one still stands out: a fellow typesetter I didn’t like very much. A few others were friendly, like one of the proofreaders and the department supervisor, but after a while the shop talk and small talk ran out and I started leaning back and looking around. Boredom had set in. At the time the best way to fight it off was to head for the patio. I was standing there, propped up against the wall between two of the doors and looking up at the sky; a full moon hung overhead and thoughts of calling it a night were buzzing about. The door to my left opened, then Marah walked out.
It was a cold night when she asked what I was doing outside. The answer escapes me, just as my frozen breath did before I offered one; she asked if I was smoking. It was hard not to chuckle before heading back inside. The rest of the night was not the stuff cinema is made of: just a little bit of talking, a little bit of dancing, a little bit of good-natured teasing over what had been a misunderstanding. We traded email addresses before she left with her aunt, that same friendly proofreader. There were museum trips, lunch dates, movie screenings, walkabouts, and a lot of writing. It turned out she wanted to go into medicine and would be leaving for New York in late April. We kept in touch, but neither of us spent much time writing about work or school. The emails drifted further apart as time passed. Eventually the miles could not be overcome and the letters stopped coming. It’s a fond memory that inspired a toast I shared with friends months later under another full moon on a cold winter’s night.
painting appears courtesy of fanpop.com