A woman came into my office at 4:45pm this past Friday asking if I could help her set up a Community Voice Mail box. I had about three hours of work to do but by process of elimination decided I was going to only complete the most important and leave by 5:15pm. As the clock approached my departure time my only focus was getting out of the office before the clouds peering outside window stopped teasing and began to drain, attempting to rid themselves of their the gloomy grayness. 

“Sure! I’d love to help set up a voicemail box, are you free anytime next week” I asked. “No, I live on the south side and I really want a voice mail line,” she responded. I took a deep breath  and reminded myself that I chose a field of work that doesn’t follow typical work hours (or anything else typical  for that matter.) I asked her to take a seat, handed her a pen and we began filling out paperwork. Celeste, a 25 year old black, not African American, woman. I learned this after she added “black” below the question of race and eliminated African American via generous amounts of black ink. She rerecorded her personal greeting a grand total of 5 times before she settled on one she liked. We began making small talk and I learned that she needs the voice mail line for employment applications, “The judge said the only way I can get my two daughters back is if I find a job.” I immediately smiled with self-gratification knowing that I was in a small way helping reunite a family but that feeling quickly faded when I considered why she may have initially lost custody and measured the emotional distress tied to being labeled an unfit parent. We completed the necessary steps and she expressed her deep gratitude. As she prepared to leave she looked down, pensively at the pen I had handed to her earlier. We made eye contact and I opened and extended my hand in anticipation of receiving the pen back. Her gaze moved to my desk and she stated “Well…you have two more right there.” “I do” I responded, “Did you want to keep that one?” She looked back down at the pen whose ownership was now in question and repeated “You have two more.” I confirmed that I do and she left my office, pen in hand. I left my office distraught and soon wet from cloud excrement.  

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