So you know how this ends. It doesn’t. Twenty-six years later, we meet once a month for dinner. Saltonstall, seventh floor has led to every milestone, every hot topic since: buying our first houses, getting married, dealing with infertility, being working mothers, adoptive mothers, step-mothers, losing loved ones, changing jobs, divorce, menopause, college tuitions, retired spouses. We have never all worked together again (in fact, we worked together less than a year total), but the Office of Facilities Management at the Department of Revenue and those cubicles we started from have led to New York City piano bars, Ogunquit’s winter beaches, to a hillside outside of Florence where fireworks exploded below us over Duomo, to a house so remotely beautiful on Fire Island, we humped our food and wine over miles of sand to reach it. It has led to the steep inclines of mountains in Montana on horseback, to the Cape’s summer beaches, to the French Quarter and Quebec’s old city, to the quiet water beside a loon sanctuary in New Hampshire.
And all this is because, in the absence of any real work, it turns out, you spend an hour in an abandoned office space, a space strung with loose wires, metal brackets, rolls of soiled carpeting, and look at Melissa’s photos from Ireland. She is in love with an Irish boy and you are all so caught up in the romance, you stumble back out into the light of the corridor blinking as if the movie has just ended, the credits rolling as you hurry back to your lonely office.
To start your day, Jeanne Kelly reads you your horoscope from the Boston Herald and when the Names Project comes to town on a day when your boss isn’t in the office, you spend three hours reading every quilt panel, as stunned into silence as you have ever been to see all the young lives spent and mourned individually and en masse. You walk home together through the Common and Jeanne says, “Someday, I’d like to see Italy,” and you say, “Then let’s.”
You weigh in on Cathy Lange’s wedding plans and, when she returns from a fifteen minute coffee break with a gown from Filene’s Basement, you crowd into her cubicle to see it. When one of the managers sticks his head in, someone says: She’s getting married! and what can he say to that? Labels from the new label maker entrusted to Cathy’s care appear in all kinds of places, including the lip of Jeanne Kelly’s pen drawer where she is greeted several times a day with the neatly pressed saying: jeanne kelly says this place sucks.
You root Robin on when she decides it’s finally time to take on the inept managerial team. How can you not admire someone who has a plan? Who makes sense? And how can you finally blame her when, thwarted by people whose idea of a good work environment include the mandatory Sunshine Club parties where your presence is not only required, but recorded and you are expected to contribute to the food bill, she moves onward, upward?
You wander back to that pristine space where you thought no important work ever got done and you find a box of homemade truffles from Jeanne I. who, it turns out, loves Christmas — and a few days later, when you tell her how delicious they were, you find a few more on your otherwise useless blotter. Because you said you liked them, she tells you.
In the absence of real work, when Sammye the big boss opens Jeanne Kelly’s drawer and reads the label, you huddle at your desks muffling hysterics. Then you head for happy hour at Houlihan’s and dance your fool heads off even though it’s only 6PM. When it’s time to go home, you don’t worry. You’ll always be twenty-something, buzzing along happily, dancing together as if the ball is just about to drop with your best friends in the world and, though you have to leave them now, you’ll see them all again tomorrow.