I miss the soap.
I would stand in a small room with a toilet and sink at Post-doctoral Institution and wash my hands, breathing in the pleasant scent that was a bit floral and very clean. Whether I’d sought a quiet place to cry or was simply getting clean, the smell comforted and pleased me. Every time I wash my hands in the prettier restrooms at Industry, I frown over the foamy suds dispensed into my palm. They’re not the right texture. And they smell wrong.
I found myself in the restroom just after 6:00 this morning, yawning as I reached to unlock the door to the stall with a sleepy plan to walk to the sinks. I stilled, hiding when I recognized the voice that was cursing at the flowing water. I scowled and paused, wondering how long I could stall in the stall. Wrinkling my nose, I walked out and greeted WWE. I washed my hands with the soap that’s just wrong and walked back to my desk before heading to the lobby to greet our guests.
I shook hands and offered my standard ‘welcome to Industry!’ spiel. I rather enjoy meeting new people, talking science and learning something new. So when WWE approached me to ask how they’d entered the building without her granting access, I shrugged, wishing I could return to talking to the British guy, one of the five who were there to see us.
“I suppose someone held the door open for them,” I replied when she continued to look at me for a response.
“I never let anyone in,” she gasped with what seemed like real alarm. I blinked at her, opened my mouth to ask why in the world not, and closed it again. It’s clear the two of us disagree on a great many issues.
“Maybe they’re magical,” I offered after a moment. She apparently found my comment much less amusing than I did. I soon found a better audience and rolled a chair closer to my new British friend.
“I took a class in grad school,” I offered as he elaborated on a topic I find rather fascinating and asked a question. He began to explain something about tactile perception and touched me to make a point. I blinked in surprise, looking down at the spot on my upper thigh where he’d rubbed. I wondered why he touched my leg, covered by gray pants, rather than the arm I’d tucked into a soft, blue sweater long before dawn. I shrugged it off, much as I did when he tucked me under his arm and held on while we looked at a piece of equipment.
“What’d you think of him?” WWE asked when our visitors were otherwise engaged.
“British One?” I clarified and when she nodded, I shrugged. “He seems smart – he knows about topics I personally find important. And I think the technique they’re proposing is pretty cool.”
“He seems lecherous,” she decided and I couldn’t help myself from rolling my eyes. “He does!” she insisted and I shook my head at her.
I thought about it a bit as I drove to pick up the piece of my post-doctoral life I miss most of all. It’s not that WWE is a bad person, I decided. She’s actually very smart and quite funny. I’ll even admit that she has good intentions much of the time. Given that we’re both rather intense women, it’s almost natural that we’ll disapprove of the other’s behavior since it’s diametrically opposed.
I’m overly permissive. I tend to touch people on the shoulder or arm as I speak to them. I laugh easily and often. I’m happy when others are content and don’t mind being a bit inconvenienced to make that happen. I’ll flirt with the British visitor because I think he’s smart and like his accent. I’ll go for drinks with another colleague, even if that ‘personal relationship’ makes WWE uncomfortable. I’ll even pause and hold the door open when someone is walking up behind me, smiling when they thank me for my kindness.
I frown at the thought of her pulling the door closed after entering, demanding to see credentials to anyone who gets inside. I don’t like that she makes people – employees and visitors – uncomfortable with her intimidating questions and unrelenting attitude. I find it tiresome that she adheres to some personal code of personal vs. professional and expects me to apply the same rules.
It’s not, I decided as I flipped my phone closed and looped around the airport once more, that one of us is right and the other wrong. We’re just different. And if I don’t mind someone touching my leg while explaining a concept, I should be more accepting of her quirks as well.
“Hi!” I greeted Friend as she hopped in my car with a backpack stuffed with items for her weekend visit. I blinked a few times behind the lenses of my sunglasses, heart utterly happy at seeing someone I love dearly. “Traffic is awful,” I complained soon afterward and we slowly moved toward my house for an hour or so before stopping for dinner.
I miss this, I just thought, way more than soap. Sitting in the same room, keys clicking on separate laptops, thoughts shared as necessary. But she’s here for a couple of days – my first non-family houseguest – and perhaps the comfort inherent in that gesture has allowed me to become more thoughtful and less judgmental about WWE. We’ll see how long it lasts.