I can’t stop counting. I feel like Rain Man. One, two, three white men to my right. One white woman and a white man on my left. At the other table: six white men and two white women. Later, another white man and an African-American woman join us.
I should stop counting. What am I trying to prove? Don’t I hate math?
I’m not supposed to care about this. We’re supposed to be beyond all this, gender and racial politics, right? I’m neither a sociologist nor a census-taker. Why am I graphing the race and gender of the room like a graduate student doing work “in the field”?
The food is amazing. “Prepared by one of the iron chefs.” Jose Garces. Latino, I think to myself, realizing I can’t not think about broad social constructs during this dinner. I concentrate on his expertly prepared chorizo and the perfect cauliflower side dish. I ask one of the men to pass me more salad. How often can you get perfect shoots of asparagus in the middle of a snow storm? I hope it’s not cliché to be a woman asking for seconds on salad. I don’t want any of the tenderloin, but I make myself take it because the men pile it on, and I don’t have a golf game. It tastes like raw power.
Speeches are made. The men who seem so different than I am in ways I can only trace with my index finger give tributes to the guest of honor. Everyone is brought to tears for the goodbye that has brought us together. They speak of friendship and loss and memory. If I close my eyes, I can forget that there are less than ten women in this room, half of them plus-ones, and all of them kind to me during the cocktail hour when we mingle on the mezzanine floor.
In truth, everyone is kind. Interested in what I do now, how many kids I have. Boys or girls? Everyone asks. One of each, I say, knowing that it’s the perfect answer. I’m interested in them: their general counsel jobs, their scions who have joined the family business, their aging parents.
It may or may not be true that the people who visit our table come to talk to the men. Maybe they seek each other out because they are from the same generation (the one above me), or they know each other from “work,” or have met in rooms like this before. I don’t approach anyone at all and recognize that’s part of the problem. It’s definitely not the solution.
I finger my name tag to be sure that everyone knows who I am and how I belong. Just in case they’re wondering.
It’s weird that I belong here.
I’m definitely not supposed to think that. I’m supposed to be so filled up with my accomplishments and success and good fortune that I would never allow such a traitorous thought.
When everyone’s looking for their coats, I put aside my field work and extend my hand over and over. I let myself shine. Corny, I know, but true. I drink it all in so I don’t wake up with regrets about how I should have stood up taller, or “been myself”, or made more connections.