Hi! It’s Alex. When you have second, could you please confirm my appointment time for tomorrow?
It was a habit I’d gotten into. My phone felt warm in my hand, overheating from the call I’d just ended with my mother, the same call that reminded me that I had an upcoming appointment with my nutritionist.
I swiped to my messages and pulled up the conversation with Nancy. Before sending my query, I reread the last confirmation she’d sent with the previous week’s appointment.
Every time I came to the office, Nancy was charming. Somehow, her personality completed the scene filled with positive-attitude posters, a quiet space three stories above the noisy street. Her voice was sweet and her demeanor was that of an aunt who loves you dearly—specifically, the aunt who hugs so tight that you can’t help but be overwhelmed with contentment.
In subtle contrast with her soporific charm, Nancy’s desk reeked of eccentricity, much like the very same aunt who might also knit sweaters for her many dolls. Piled in front of her, often with two or three open at a time, Nancy kept all appointments by hand in paper agendas. Every one had its ribbon bookmark drawn down the crease of the current day, and the sundry pastel colors helped her differentiate between each agenda designated to a different practitioner. When you sat down to schedule an appointment, there was always a shuffle of books while the smell of ink floated gently toward you.
Nancy was charming, but she and I also had a communication problem. Either I wasn’t understanding something, or Nancy had a few shortcomings as a secretary that she made up for in amiability.
It started with a call one quiet evening before an appointment I had scheduled the following day. Nancy’s charm percolated through the phone, and I felt her auntly affection give my heart a full squeeze.
“Alexandra, darling, a question. We wanted to call and check if, perhaps, if at all convenient, we could please change tomorrow’s appointment time?”
How can anyone say “no” to Nancy?
In fairness, the fact is that I live precisely one and a half blocks from the quiet office. At least once a week I arrive to see my nutritionist or therapist, and it wasn’t until months of treatment that Nancy asked me to change a single appointment. Living within walking distance, I could realistically make any time work.
Besides, it was Nancy.
I was rewarded when I arrived to the office the next day with a warm salutation from Nancy, along with the umpteenth “thank you” for my flexibility.
As the months passed, Nancy learned that I would always be happy to reschedule an appointment. And yet, as with honey, which left sitting ferments to a new level of sticky, the phone calls and appointment times didn’t flow like they use to. Nancy was in the practice of sending me text message reminders, but even days after calling me to change a time, the final text confirmation showed another.
Pardon, I replied the first time, trying very much to match Nancy’s sweetness, just to confirm, I must have notated wrong, but is my appointment at 5:00 or 5:30 tomorrow?
It must be my error, I could never accuse Nancy.
The discrepancies, however, continued. I began blocking off three hour widows on the days when I had appointments, scheduling my most flexible work in that same time so I would know I could drop something and come back to it.
And not only did the discrepancies continue, but they multiplied. Nancy called me one day about a batch of appointments. “The next four weeks are scheduled at 5:30, would it be at all possible to move them all to 8:30?”
“My pleasure!” I chirped.
And yet, at the following appointment, as I got ready to leave the office, I stopped by Nancy’s desk. I asked, “next week at 8:30, too, right Nancy?”
With a face of distress like that loving aunt when she trembles at the thought of disappointing you, Nancy placed her hands over her pile of agendas and said, leaning in with unmistakable concern, “No, dear, next week is at 6:00.”
I decided not to ask. After an hour of psychoanalysis, I was more interested in the subtext than the moment. Reflecting on this place, where I’ve now received therapy for over a year, the processes in place at the front desk are a bit unconventional—but also a metaphor for life. The future is always changing. Some of it is your doing and some of it just “happens,” like when Nancy moves an appointment without telling you.
As for the rare energy of the office, from the sound-buffering magic to the Alice-in-wonderland feel of time and space, I think that must be a product of all the self-discovery that takes place there. And if it weren’t for paper agendas and a little flexibility, it would never be more than a dream.