“My name is Marley.”

“Hi, Marley,” a group of both eagerly empathetic and utterly unenthused individuals say.

“I’m a people-pleasing stress-aholic, and I’m genuinely concerned that my hair may be thinning,” I say with the usual hint of sarcasm.

The session leader nods her approval encouraging me to continue.

“I really do love my job, and, to be honest, I don’t really want to tell you guys what it is because you’ll probably roll your eyes and wonder why on earth I’m here … Well, I’m kind of wondering the same, so I guess that works,” I sigh a laugh. The room stays silent.

My eyes shift to the carpet at the center of the square of oblong tables. A typical office-building carpet of blue, red and grey flecks hides the cement below. Why waste the time and money to put a useless piece of fabric on the floor? It still feels like cement.

“I run my own content-marketing business; that’s a fancy way to say that I’m a freelancer with no health benefits and a lot of freedom,” I glance up ready for the judgmental stares. Instead, I catch sight of a woman in a grey, knit sweater. She’s staring at the carpet, too.  

I look down again. It’s so flat; no support. Why didn’t they just leave it as cement? It’s not like the flecks of color make the halls and offices any more inviting.

I look up.

“You see, the issue is mainly just with one of my clients. I don’t know what the deal is, but every time I get on the phone with her, my heart starts thumping like a snare drum. It’s so bad I have to tilt the receiver end of the phone behind my ear so she can’t hear me taking deep breaths,” I let out a little laugh, huff, cushioning the end of my statement with a light sarcastic tone.

“I could say a lot more, but I think that gives you the gist.” Silence fills the room.

Freeing us from the painfully awkward quiet, the meeting coordinator speaks up: “Thank you for sharing, Marley, and for coming tonight. We’re happy you’re here.”

I smile a closed-mouth grin and nod. I missed her name at the start. She’s a thin, fragile-looking woman, probably in her mid-sixties, with long light-brown hair speckled with grey. She looks about like what you’d expect for a stress-aholics anonymous meeting. Although, I have to admit her eyes feel genuinely kind, and I’d be thrilled to have as much hair as her when I reach 60.

As she begins the evening’s cordial wrap-up, I look down and twist the ring on my left thumb. Finally, the dismissal arrives. I whisk my purse off the plastic, fold-up chair next to me and start shuffling on my jacket. On my way to the door, I snag another chocolate-chip cookie from the refreshments table.

Just as I reach the doorway, I hear the coordinator shout my name in a hushed tone: “Marley.”

I pinch my eyes shut, take a breath and then turn with bright eyes and a smile.

“Yes?” I reply trying to mask my displeasure with a cheerful air.

“I just wanted to thank you again for coming, dear, and I wanted to let you know that we’re going to have a potluck on Saturday at Briar Park that we’d love to have you at,” she says in an honestly loving spirit.

“Aw, thank you. I appreciate the invitation. I think I may already have plans, but if I end up free, I’ll definitely try to make it,” I say with some genuine appreciation and a lot of just trying to end the conversation.

“Great! Well, I hope your plans open up. Here’s my phone number and email address if you need any more information on the potluck or next month’s meeting,” she says handing me a torn piece of notebook paper.

Margerie: that’s her name. The name stretches diagonally on the small scrap of paper, scribbled in cursive letters like my mother’s beautiful, but practically illegible handwriting.  

“I’ll be in touch,” I say waving the paper and my hand. Once again, I find my way to the door. Thankfully, I pass through and down the hall without any more interruptions. As I near the building’s front glass doors, I spot the woman in the grey sweater across the street.

Pushing my way through the door, I watch her slink against the old, brick building and begin shuffling through her bag. The bag has some kind of lettering and looks more like a tote from the grocery store than an actual purse. Her hand appears again with a small box.

Standing under the lamppost’s light, the brisk night air catches my breath. Looking back across the pavement, I spot a cigarette catch hers. The smoldering butt barely lights her face in the dark. She managed to pick one of the only spots along the sidewalk where very little light touches.

I’m guessing she’s not very old. During the couple moments I really studied her during the meeting, I concluded that she had to be right about my age, 25. The lines around her mouth were slightly more pronounced, but the cigarette explains that. Trying not to stare, I fidget with my purse grabbing my phone and keys.

Checking my phone for the time, I notice out of the corner of my eye that she’s slunk all the way to the ground. How can she sit on that nasty, gum- and grime-ridden sidewalk? I see her smother the butt into the ground and pull out another.

Why am I still standing here? Something about the way she had stared down at the carpet in the meeting and the way she stared into the street now gripped me. She had the same look that I feel: where’s the purpose?