Secretary by Megan Roberts

I was called a secretary again. When I hear the word, it makes my blood boil. I know my master’s degree is sitting on the shelf laughing at the way my face contorts when my co-workers spew their venom. The proper response is not to scream or yell or storm out. Instead, I have to look them in the eye, smile, and say “how may I help you?”

But I have to face facts. Monday through Friday, eight to five, I am a secretary. The word makes my mouth go dry. The Shakespearean Insult calendar I keep on my desk tries to lure me back to a time I felt I was in the right place studying what I loved, but my email inbox won’t stop flashing bold new subject lines as people click away on their keyboards from somewhere on the other side of the internet. Budget, payroll, reports. Am I trapped here? Shakespeare doesn’t know. He just stares off, slightly to the left, frozen on the small square page.

I suppose we all like to believe we will have it all figured out early in life, but I never thought I’d be here: over educated for the job I have but under qualified for everything I want to do. The American Dream. Scraping money together to get by for the month while I save all I can so I can move out of my parents’ house that I’m still a resident of at 26. Living Life To The Fullest. Is this it? Is this what I went crazy in grad school for? Is this why I cried over my keyboard, trying to get the interpretation of “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” just right?

I remember being excited about writing and research. Absorbing everything I could about Early Modern women’s writing. Grabbing anything that had to do with Shakespeare’s Dark Lady or Eve’s plight among Early Modern men. Should you like to discuss Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, I’m your woman. I would burst at the seams to give you my opinions on the Mexican nun who defied the authority of the church so she could learn just as men did. Or perhaps Queen Elizabeth I and her writings are more your cup of tea. We could pour over her letters to her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, and marvel at how just days before she cut off her head, Elizabeth swore she loved Mary and would never harm her. What ruthless passion for power! What beautiful words she wrote in her prayers!

But my coworkers don’t care about Queen Elizabeth or poor Mary or even my opinion on the beautiful Oxford Comma. They want copies made. Phones must be answered and calendars must be marked. I’m not in school anymore, something people never stop reminding me, and I can’t expect to always love what I do. I knew I would have to take my licks when I left school, but to be so far off course is maddening.

I thought people would stop asking me what I was going to do with my two English degrees once I had them, but it seems people never stop wondering. I can’t say I blame them. After all, here I am, balancing budgets and paying for conference registrations while my grammar skills get rusty. What hope is there in sight? No self-respecting writing company would want someone with no experience, and I can’t keep jumping from one job to the next where I’m little more than a gopher.

I was never that kid with a dream. I didn’t come out of grade school knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. There’s never been this solid idea in my mind of what my life should look like, so maybe I shouldn’t hate what I do so much. But, since 9th grade, I knew I loved to write. Sitting in math class became much more tolerable once I starting drafting short stories in the back of class. Sure, I missed what “x” was supposed to stand for, but I knew exactly where my heroine was going once she saved herself from the evil sorcerer. This writing thing was just something I did to pass the time, but as I grew, I realized it was my passion. They always say find a way to make your passion your career, but how can I when I have to have ten years of experience and the only skill I know how to execute is answering a phone?

Sec-re-tary. The word rolls around in my brain, rattling through my daydreams to remind me what I am. They’re supposed to call us Administrative Associates now.  I guess the longer title is there to make people take us seriously. Long title, legitimate job. Instead it’s just a constant game of juggling my sanity and keeping a smile on my face.

What can I do, then, if I’m trapped here? What option do I have? I feel in my bones that I’m meant for more than this. I know that I should have bigger things to live for than my Monday morning dose of calendar invites to send out. I keep saying this is a stop for me, just a stop. One day I’ll load back up, jump on the train again, and take off to a place I’m better suited for. But every hour that clicks by is another one that I’m. Still. Here. It wears on my creativity having to drain my energy on things I don’t enjoy and I’m not confident doing. I find myself fantasizing about the tiny bottle of rum that’s hidden in my dresser at home, because I’m an adult still hiding alcohol from my mother. Every day, I begin to doubt my talent more and more. Or was it ever talent? Perhaps I was kidding myself every day of my school career, and professors let me pass because they felt sorry for me. Getting into graduate school was a fluke. After all, I got my acceptance letter very late. Everyone was so smart and capable there. I know all my teachers sat behind locked doors deciding how to water down their material so I could pass. I’m not good enough. It’s all crap. This isn’t real.

Where did my writing fit in with my cohort back then? I don’t want to be a professor or a literary fiction writer. I want fantasy. Dragons and angels and demons, oh my! I can’t exist on poetry too convoluted to extract real meaning from, something I could never say in my poetry class. I don’t like depressing and stale. I want adventure and happiness, at least at the end of all things. There’s enough depression in this world, enough sadness and fear in my own life, I don’t want to write that. I want to write for the Greater Good, for the Reluctant Heroine. But I’m alone, my brain tells me, alone in my confusion. My mind tells me that I’m not good enough, stop trying. You’re a fake and simply parroting back what you believe they want you to say. Just stop.

And then on good days, when my self-doubt isn’t chewing away at any semblance of confidence I have, I get to be a secretary. I get to sit behind my desk and not wish that I were somewhere else. I stare at the familiar computer monitors and click the same links to the same websites and hit the refresh button over and over, hoping to see something exciting. I leave at five and come back the next morning at eight, not worrying about my job when I walk outside the building. That’s the dream, right? It’s all so monotonous. Getting up, driving to work, smiling for eight hours, driving home, all the while wondering how I got here.

Maybe one day I’ll get to sit in my home office, my faithful dog at my feet, sipping coffee while a reporter interviews me about my wild ride to the top of the bestseller list. I’ll laugh knowingly when they reference my early life as a secretary. Well you know, that was all just a moment in my life, I barely remember it. They’ll ask about my new book and the movie deal that’s forthcoming, and then go to commercial break with a smile. I practice explaining my vision when I’m in the shower. This story is about a young woman who….no. It’s about a warrior who…no. What is it about? This story is about a secretary who doesn’t understand why she didn’t do more to become something better and bristles at the thought of using that word to define herself. Perhaps in chapter three she finds out she’s a superhero.

However, living requires work, and even the worst writers need to eat, so I stay here, typing away on my lunch break and hoping one day, I can walk in a bookstore and see my name stamped across the front cover of a discount paperback. I salute the secretaries of the world. Those suffering writers, suppressed art critics, silent comedians. To everyone who has a dream but can’t seem to realize it. We trudge on, searching inside ourselves for the courage to take that jump. Until then, I’ll keep my smile glued on straight and tell my boss I’m fine when she asks how I am. Because I am fine. As long as no one calls me Secretary.


Megan RobertsMegan Roberts is 26 years old with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Arts in English from Clemson University. She was born and raised in Powder Springs, Georgia, where she currently lives, and works as an Administrative Associate while she pursues writing in her spare time. She enjoys writing fantasy, though non-fiction and literary fiction are two areas she’s beginning to explore. When she’s not working or writing, she loves to cross stitch, read, and spend time with her cat, Dorian, and her dog, Oscar. This is her first piece posted by a literary blog, and she hopes it will be the first of many bylines in her future.

1 comment to Secretary by Megan Roberts

  • Nicole

    This piece is amazing and it really speaks to me as someone still chasing their dream while trapped by the monotonous ways of day to day life. Please keep writing and don’t give up!

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