"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

The Glass That Never Opens

The Glass That Never Opens

Margaret doesn't drink coffee, but she knows exactly how to work the machine. She can also fix the industrial printer when it jams, teach the sixty-and-up men how to work their laptops, and find almost any document on the company's shared drive. She has a near photographic memory of every filing cabinet on the thirtieth floor, because she was once asked to find a document from 1983 and it took her seventy-two drawers and a possible contraction of asthma before obtaining it and subsequently coughing until the dust escaped her lungs. 

Margaret is twenty-four, an Ivy League graduate, and a roommate to Ann and Louis (her parents).  Margaret feels fourteen, educated yet not taken seriously, and like a squatter in a time capsule, glimpsing at the future while stuck in the past. 

She sleeps in the twin bed she's had since she was two. The only thing she hasn't ripped off her walls is the poster above her bed, which reads It's Britney Bitch. She hung it ironically during the comeback years, right after the nervous breakdown years. Well, only sort of ironically. She was the ultimate fan girl at age six, when the debut CDs came out in all different colors and the girls who had the baby blue ones (Britney's favorite color) brought them to school to show off. Margaret made her father buy three different copies before they finally tore one open to find a baby blue disc. That was one of her favorite parts about being an only child. With enough begging, she could have anything she wanted.

Since moving home, she's made friends again with the Britney-clique. There's exactly five of them. Emma is a sixth grade teacher, engaged, and living with her fiancé. She often talks about wanting to get pregnant so she can quit her job. Margaret thinks one baby seems more difficult to keep track of than thirty eleven-year-olds. Caroline and Hallie, Margaret always refers to them as a pair, are both marketing consultants who share an apartment in South Boston. They don't have as much as one sip of a drink without each other. Margaret suspects they have at least five each night. And then there's Bridget, who studied nutrition but somehow transformed into a coding master. She founded her own start-up that delivers healthy food to people too lazy to shop for it themselves. She bought her own apartment near the Prudential Center, although she once told Margaret that she sleeps at the office at least four nights a week.

They're all jealous of each other for different reasons. Emma has a rather attractive man, Caroline and Hallie have the most fun, Bridget has a career that everyone wishes they were brave enough to try, and Margaret has free rent, free food, and a rapidly inflating savings account. Together, they'd make the person who they all want to become. 

Sometimes they end up at Margaret's house after a night out because her parents always have food in the kitchen. They pile everything into their arms - Nutella, peanut butter, crackers, strawberries, ice cream, bread - and sit on Margaret's floor and stuff it into their mouths between the hours of two and three in the morning. If they're not ready to pass out, they stand on the bed and take photos with the Britney poster. It's becoming a staple on all of their Instagram pages and has proven extremely worthy of a like.

Bridget always gets the most likes, and Margaret the least, even though it’s her poster. Caroline and Hallie are somewhere in the middle, and Emma's fiancé’s mother comments on every single one of her posts.

These magical nights make Margaret forget that her job as a financial planner is slowly turning into that of an executive assistant, that the last three guys she slept with didn't call her afterwards, that she's gained fifteen pounds since living five steps away from the glory that is Ann and Louis' fridge, that she doesn't feel connected to anybody or anything anymore. 

She could leave, move to a new city and get a new job with another fancy title that screams I HAVE AN ECONOMICS DEGREE FROM BROWN, even though since graduating, she's never once felt like anybody's cared. She's thought about Chicago. One of her friends from college lives there and says it's cheaper than the East Coast. She's never been to the Midwest and she could have her own apartment, probably a loft somewhere. Margaret hates lofts because the ceilings look like they belong in a factory. But she would probably rent one to blend in or show off. She isn’t yet sure which one. 

Everyone tells her that these are the years to be relished - her parents and their friends and her aunts and her uncles and her mailman. It's the same no matter how they say it. Take advantage. Do whatever you want. Go wherever you want. The possibilities are endless.

They don't know what it feels like to live beyond boundaries. Their generation was different. Girls went to school and then got married. Maybe a few years of work, if they were ambitious. It’s how Spinsters, Old Maids, and Crazy Cat Ladies came to be labeled and looked at with a turned down nose. It’s how Bachelors and Bachelor Pads became envied. These were the people who lived on the fringe. The women, cautionary tales of the loneliness nobody wanted to endure, no matter how accomplished they were in other areas of their lives. And the men, resented and hated for lives all their own - but only during the stressful times, only when married men yearned for an hour to themselves. The ones in a pair had met the goal, made the grade, lived in expectation and alliance with another human being. 

Her parents didn't live when three internships weren't enough, when having a blog was commonplace, when thousands social media followers were markers of success, when settling was perceived as weak, and when dating was dependent on the black void of the internet. Margaret once made a profile on an app after three gin martinis. Swipe right, swipe left. The Britney-clique weighed in on almost every decision, and within minutes, she had plowed through over forty men. Five minutes later, she had eleven matches and five messages. They laughed through each response, asking things they never would in person - political affiliations and religions, songs that played when they lost their virginity and the worst thing they’d ever said to a partner. It was all hilarious at two in the morning, crammed into a booth in the back of an Irish bar. But when Margaret woke up the next day and saw ten new matches and seven more messages, she didn’t feel like answering anymore.  

Margaret is often the first to arrive at work. Sometimes she thinks about her very first day, a few months out of college. She was excited to work in private equity at one of Boston’s stately boutique firms. She had ambitions of climbing to the top, becoming one of the youngest vice presidents in its history. But every time she walks into the office, a little bit of her passion slips away. When she looks up at the skyscraper from the street, it still holds her old dreams. As a child, she would gaze up at the buildings made entirely of windows, their top floors protruding the clouds, and wonder what went on behind the glass. Now I work there. She tries to repeat that over and over again. Young, savvy professional making multi-million dollar decisions. Taking the subway in white sneakers and changing into heels that she keeps in a desk drawer. Going out for chopped salads during the lunch hour and saying things like, “I can’t believe how much work I have to get through this afternoon.” Although she’s done all of those things, somehow, she isn’t the person who she thought she’d be while doing them.

When she steps off the elevators on the thirtieth floor, it’s dark no matter how brightly the sun shines. She turns on the lights and starts up her computer, and sometimes her boss’ computer if he’s running late and she knows he’ll need a quick document. The windows are hidden behind a tall mess of bookshelves and filing cabinets. On days when she has the time, she squeezes behind them and presses her forehead up against the glass, staring down at Boston’s financial district. She can see the cars speeding down Atlantic Ave, the bright speck of a Dunkin’ Donuts sign, and dozens of girls just like her, walking quickly with their heads down. 

The windows don't open. It's a safety hazard. They're afraid somebody would jump. Margaret wouldn't jump, but sometimes she wishes she could stick her head out and breathe in the air from the thirtieth floor, high above the gritty streets, construction dust, and car exhaust. Maybe then she'd feel a part of the daydream.

At home, there's a drawer in her nightstand that used to hold a flashlight and a paperback. Without fail, at any age, they were there for her when she needed them. Now there's two bottles of pills. Adderall for work days that she'd rather spend with her forehead pressed up against the window, and Xanax for days when she lets herself think too much about all of the things that she isn't doing.

She still isn't sure what she expected. But she knows it isn't this.

Nikki Williams is a writer living in Jackson, Michigan. She earned her BA in English and Communications from the University of Michigan in 2013. During school, she founded and became the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus UMich, an online magazine written for college women by college women. She has since been working as a communications consultant, previously at the Michigan Democratic Party, and currently, for the Office of the CEO at CMS Energy, a Fortune 500 Company. Her novels are represented by Sarah Phair.

Cover photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

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