Author Bio: Sofia Essen’s passport claims she is Swedish even though she left the country more than two decades ago and hasn’t returned since. She now lives in Crete where she has watched fellow expats tirade against seemingly endless amounts of bureaucratic red tape to comical results. Some people fail to understand things don’t work in Crete in the exact same way they do back home, wherever that might be. So Sofia is often tempted to tell the highly strung foreigners she encounters to relax and take a deep breath. She knows that if you want to live on a Greek island and enjoy it, you have to learn to adjust to the pace of the island… she thought there was a story in there somewhere, and then she wrote it. This story was published in April 2012 and it’s titled Change of Pace. She also blogs.
Change of Pace
By Sofia Essen
“We’re going to crash!”
The passenger next to me turns in his seat and gives me a kind smile. “I don’t think so,” he says in a soothing tone of voice. “It’s only a little turbulence.”
“No, we’re going to crash,” I reply with absolute certainty. “Bad things always come in threes.”
“And this plane crashing would be bad thing number three, I assume?”
I nod in confirmation.
“I see.” He runs a hand through his slightly too long blonde hair and then smiles again. This time I notice that his cobalt blue eyes crinkle charmingly at the corners as he does so. “Mind if I ask what bad things number one and two were?”
“I lost my job on Thursday and my boyfriend dumped me on Friday.”
“My sentiments exactly.”
I’m not particularly superstitious, but it’s been a bad week. In addition to getting dumped and losing my job, I just turned thirty. It would somehow make sense for the plane to crash. All of that aside, the turbulence is growing stronger by the second. The complimentary champagne the flight attendant gave me before we took off is threatening to splash out of its plastic flute and onto my favorite pair of perfectly faded blue jeans.
I take a big gulp of the dancing champagne, hoping it will help me forget about the turbulence while also saving my jeans from a bubbly soaking.
“Cheers,” says my neighbor. He takes a sip then sets his glass aside. “So, what did you do before you got fired?”
“I didn’t get fired, I got downsized.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?” he asks, which ruffles my feathers.
“Tact obviously isn’t your thing,” I remark in a huffier tone of voice than I intended.
“Sorry,” he says with a rueful shake of his head. “And no, tact isn’t my thing. I lack the gene for it or something. I come from a long line of tactless people. But isn’t downsized and fired the same thing? I mean, at the end of the day, you’re still jobless, right?”
“I guess so,” I grudgingly admit.
“Okay, so tell me what you did before you lost your job.”
“I worked for a company called Milton International. They own small luxury hotels and spas around the world.”
Resting his elbow on the armrest between us, Mr. Tactless leans closer. “And what exactly did you do for Milton International?”
“Whatever my boss, the Director of Human Resource at Milton’s New York office, didn’t feel like doing,” I reply with a disgusted wrinkle of my nose. “He called it delegating.”
“How convenient for him.”
“Yes, very convenient,” I agree. “When I wasn’t completing tasks he delegated to me, I assisted in the recruitment and training of hotel staff. I also handled staff problems and looked after their general welfare. You know, basic babysitting and pacifying.”
“It sounds like you had a lot of responsibilities,” Mr. Tactless remarks.
I did have many responsibilities and I took pride in handling them to the best of my ability. For ten years, I worked hard to climb up the corporate ladder within Milton International. I started at the bottom as a Front Desk Assistant in one of their hotels. I was always at work before eight o’clock in the morning and I rarely left before seven in the evenings. When my colleagues went out to have lunch, I stayed behind and ate a sandwich at my desk.
My promotion to the Human Resource division two years ago was a big victory for me. After that promotion, I worked even harder with increased dedication to my job. I didn’t complain about my boss’ tendency to over-delegate because he often hinted I would naturally step into his shoes as the Director of Human Resource when he was made Regional Director, which he was sure he would be within the next couple of years. Oh no, I didn’t utter as much as a peep in objection when he assumed I wouldn’t have a problem doing both his job and mine while he went off to play golf with his own bosses. I was happy to send him off to the golf course to kiss influential butts while I kept my eyes on the prize – the corner office with the big windows.
It would be an epic understatement to say losing my job came as a shock to me. Having my career goals and dreams of that corner office unceremoniously ripped from me hit me like a physical blow to my solar plexus. It left me dazed and breathless. I knew Milton International had hit a rough patch, and there were whispers of imminent layoffs in the corridors. Ironically, just before I was downsized, I helped restructure the Marketing Division, which meant letting some people go. But, like an ostrich with its head in the sand, I chose to believe my job was safe. The alternative was too frightening to contemplate.
I take another generous sip of champagne and let out a heavy sigh.
I’m thirty, unemployed, unattached, and seriously starting to regret boarding this flight. Even if we don’t crash, what am I going to do when we land? I’m flying solo on this trip, and all I know about my destination is that it was the birthplace of the first Olympics.
Note to self: spontaneity doesn’t agree with me.
I like routines. I’m not at all ashamed to admit I’m as predictable and reliable as Swiss watches are rumored to be. I liked knowing my alarm clock would wake me at precisely five-thirty every morning five days a week. I would then have a quick cup of coffee followed by a long hot shower. After slipping into one of my five identical black pantsuits, I walked from my very small apartment in the West Village to the office.
On Friday evenings, my ex-boyfriend, Brian, picked me up from work in his beige Volvo and took me to his apartment in Brooklyn. He dropped me off at the office again on Saturdays so I could get some work done in peace and quiet without my boss interrupting me every five minutes to delegate one task or another. And on Sunday mornings we slept half an hour later than usual (if we stayed in bed any longer than that, Brian’s bowels wouldn’t move, which rendered him cranky for the rest of the day) and then had brunch in the restaurant on the ground floor of his building.
At some point during the day, we usually went for a walk or caught a movie, which was always some European film and, in my opinion, depressing. I put up with Brian’s taste in movies since he tolerated me blasting Bon Jovi records at ear-splitting decibels without too much complaint.
In the evening, I watched him cook bland dinners because I’m allergic to cooking and Brian is allergic to pepper, and then we played Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit until ten o’clock. Neither of us are night owls. We both slept through four out of the past five times the ball dropped at Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
My life wasn’t exciting, but it was organized and as comfortable as a well-worn slipper. I like being comfortable. I don’t need much excitement or adventure to be happy. Sticking to my routines gave me a sense of inner peace. It made me feel in control of my life.
“Would you care for a refill?” A female flight attendant with platinum blonde hair and a brilliantly white smile is hovering in the aisle.
Before I can reply, the man next to me says, “Yes, we would. Would you actually leave the bottle with us, please?”
The flight attendant doesn’t look pleased by the request but complies with a clipped, “As you wish.” Since we’re sitting in business class, I don’t suppose she has much choice. As she trounces off down the aisle, my neighbor turns to me and nods towards the almost full bottle. “You sounded like you could use it. Those sighs of yours were rather painful to hear, almost heart-wrenching.”
“Were they? Sorry!” My cheeks color slightly in embarrassment, but I grin at him anyway. There’s something about him, something I can’t put my finger on, that makes me want to smile at him despite my less than cheery mood. “Cheers again.”
“Cheers.” He takes a sip before setting down his glass and offering me his hand. “I’m Alex Collins.”
“I’m Anna Cox.” I take his hand and notice his trustworthy handshake – nice and firm. People with limp handshakes make me suspicious. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Alex tops up my glass, which is draining at an alarming rate. “Is Athens your final destination or are you heading out to one of the islands?”
“I have no idea!” I confess in a squeal of panic. “I bought my ticket on-line last night. I haven’t even booked a hotel room.”
“Yeah, maybe.” I make a wry face. “Or stupid.”
Alex laughs. “Mind if I make a suggestion?”
“Not at all. I’m very open to suggestions at this point. Any and all suggestions you might have are welcome.” I open my arms wide to reinforce my statement. “Suggest away.”
“Skip Athens and head straight to Crete. It’s my favorite island.”
“Crete?” I consider his suggestion for a moment. Then I sit up straight, pull my shoulders back, and raise my chin. “Crete! Why not?”
The turbulence has died down. The plane is no longer gyrating like a backup dancer in a techno-pop music video. I unbuckle my seatbelt, excuse myself to Alex, and then clamber over him and into the aisle with more hurry than grace. Nature calls.
I face my reflection in the mirror in the postage stamp-sized bathroom. A thorough inspection concludes I look just the way I always have, which strikes me as odd. My safe, organized, predictable way of life has come crashing down around me. Everything has changed. I feel like I’ve lost all control of my life. I’m no longer the captain of my own ship, and it’s veering way off course to uncharted territories. Yet my eyes are still green, and my hair is still dark brown and cut into a short bob. I’m still five foot six with a small bust, flat butt, and a belly that needs some toning.
I wash my hands, splash some water on my face, and check my mirror image once more. Yep, the same face I saw before I turned thirty, got downsized and dumped is staring back at me. It’s just everything else that has changed.