It was a Thursday, the first week of the month, a workday between the summer and autumn semester at the University of Missouri. There were no students on campus, and most of my staff that worked the summer were also away; my boss and his wife were almost certainly on a vacation. The Department of English was temporarily housed there, though the offices of professors, lecturers, and graduate students were certainly empty. I don’t remember what other departments were in the building then, but those offices too were likely unoccupied then.
This building was McReynolds Hall, where I worked for more than five years at a literary magazine called the Missouri Review. McReynolds was a long, rectangular brick building with square metal windows. Concrete steps lead to a concrete platform to enter the building; below these platforms is a gravel ravine that slopes toward the sub-level basement windows. Originally built as a dormitory and cafeteria in 1956, McReynolds has long been used as a temporary space for departments to squat for a few months when their regular building on campus is being renovated. Since it was used primarily for overflow, maintenance on the building was a low priority; flooding and persistent mold were common.
From my office window, my view was of a parking lot and the university power plant. Located on the top floor and southwest corner of a four story, flat roofed building, my office would heat up early in the morning, the air conditioner kicking on and whirling all day long, never succeeding in cooling the room. I took my paperwork to another room—a small library down the hall or a cavernous meeting room on the third floor—and tried to concentrate.
It was during this three-week period when I would give up wearing a suit and tie. I wore such a professional outfit to an office where my boss wore faded polo shirts and tattered jeans almost every day. I liked wearing a suit. I liked how it distinguished me from everyone else. This was during a period where suits were back in vogue thanks to shows like Mad Men. Today, my suits and ties and dress shirts hang in my closet, untouched for five months and counting, as I work from home in a T-shirt and basketball shorts during a global pandemic.
A few months early that summer, I got engaged. We never married; I ended the relationship a few months later. My fiancée and I had renewed our lease on an apartment we both hated. The parking lot of our building was a narrow strip between sidewalk and brick building, with just a few parking spots and a dumpster that sat adjacent to the street, hot steam rising off the macadam. I had expected my engagement to be triumphant and buoying but I quickly found it left me feeling remarkably blank.
What I remember of this time, then, is empty buildings. I too was an empty vessel, I looking the part, or at least trying to, dimly aware that something was wrong.
Now I think of that period, ten years ago, as the end of my adolescence. This seems silly on a timeline: then I was 31 years old. However, I’m not sure I really made choices so much as I followed an outdated plan. It was as if I had researched, planned, and purchased a long trip that other people told me I must take, and I was standing at the boarding station, watching the train roll in, and realizing that I had never really wanted to take this particular journey in the first place.
There are no details to this particular date that I can point to definitively. All that remains is a feeling: dread, discomfort, and the growing fear that my life was about to change forever in a way that I did not want.
Michael Nye is the author of three weeks of fiction, most recently the story collection Until We Have Faces. His writing has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Boulevard, Epoch, American Literary Review, and The Millions, among many others. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his family, where he is the editor of Story.
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