“Hmm,” he says, scanning the sheet of paper in front of him, “you’ve got an interesting resume here. VP of Tech Operations at…Oh, that’s pretty impressive.”

“Thank you,” I respond back as he flips to the next page. He’s hardly looked at me, his full attention focused on scribbling quick little swirls in the margins in front of him. He’s younger than me, probably by a good decade or more, his hair mussed artistically and his mustache twisted in some sort of reclamation of the 1920s, a juxtaposition of styles that made him “neat but still edgy.”

“So you spent…three years in Minnesota? Farming, is that right?” He looks up at me, his blue eyes looking more gray in the dim light of his home office. We were still in the full swing of the COVID pandemic. I’d looked him up on LinkedIn before the call, making sure I did all my homework on him and his company.

“Well, yes, but also no. I kept my parents’ business going while I helped care for my father. He was dying from lymphoma,” I say, swallowing down the automatic knot that formed in my throat. It’d been over a year since my dad’s passing, but talking about it still hadn’t gotten any easier.

“I’m so sorry about that,” he responds, a little frown twitching his mustache downwards as he taps his pen on the surface of his desk. His lips twist into a little mew of affectation. There’s a moment of thick silence between us as neither one of us is sure how to proceed. Finally, I clear my throat and point out that at my last corporate position, I’d led a large team.

“And as you can see, the initiative was global, spanning across seven different countries with team members located in four…”

“Yia,” he says, stopping me shortly, “as you know, technology moves very fast. You don’t need me to tell you this.”

And here it comes, I can feel it. The crash and burn to my rocket trying to make re-entry back into the workforce. I brace myself, my hands laced tightly in my lap below my desk, where the computer’s camera can’t catch the whites of my knuckles or the fidgeting of my legs. I’d been on his side of the table before. I was an old pro. I knew this conversation all too well. I’d never used it myself, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know it.

“Being gone six months is like being gone a year. Being gone more than four years now…” He dragged the last sentence between us like some sort of sickly sweet caramel, the indication being that I should understand. “Onboarding wouldn’t be my only concern. So much has changed in the time you’ve been gone.”

“Yes, I understand that,” I respond, almost slipping into calling him ‘sir,’ this man-boy with his curly mustache and blue-gray eyes filtered through a camera lens. “And that’s why I’m willing to start at the mid-level. I’ve always had the propensity to pick up quickly on technology and I’m sure that with a bit of time, I’d be on top of it again.”

“Well, we’ll certainly keep your resume on file,” he responds, his tanned face breaking into a bright, straight smile. The conversation was more or less over, and with the sheer steel of my spine, I managed to keep my back stiff and my shoulders squared even as I felt the air seep out of me. The frustration roiling in the pit of my stomach churned its way up into the pursing of my lips, pushing my tongue against the back of my teeth.

“Before you go,” I say, turning my face away for a moment, feeling the old corporate fire and grit bubbling to the surface, “if you knew all along that I wasn’t the right fit, why did you want to meet with me?”

He raises his thickly groomed eyebrows, as though shocked at my boldness. “I was curious about your story,” he responds, tilting his coiffed head a bit, as though he were contemplating mimosas over cosmos for brunch. “It’s not often someone with your background applies for a mid-level position.”

“Hmm,” I say, echoing his little contemplation. “Well, I hope I’ve satisfied your curiosity.”

I didn’t let him know about the months of searching, about the resounding silence as resume after resume was sent into the ether of the internet. I didn’t let him know about the sinking feeling of desperation or about the self-doubt that had begun to gnaw at me, taking little pieces of me with every silent rejection. Instead, I paste on a practiced and perfectly cheerful smile as I thank him for meeting with me and he ends the meeting.

In the end, I’d chosen myself and spending the last few years with my family over my career. I knew re-entry would be a challenge, that majority of my cohorts would have moved far beyond me by the time I came back — if I ever came back. Still, the reality of the rejections of a highly cultivated career, of it becoming little more than scrap paper for doodles, it was hard to take. It was difficult to find the balance and resiliency between my ego and my reality.

I watched as the screen blinked and I was left staring at an empty webpage as I fall back into my seat. The surreality didn’t escape me nor the absurdity of the moment, yet I also couldn’t escape the deep drowning feeling in the pit of my stomach or the way the defeat played its way up and down my back. It’s just a matter of timing, luck, and opportunity, I tell myself. It’ll happen. It’s got to happen.

And even as I say these things to myself, I click the next tab over on my browser, hit the “Write a story” prompt, and I start typing.