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Today's Story by Dee Prat

You have not yet earned the right.

The Weight of Expectation

David placed the Hermes gift box in the center of his chest of drawers. Carefully, he lifted the lid and peeled back the tissue paper to reveal the blue silk tie.  Sliding the card out of its diminutive envelope, David rubbed his fingers across the surface, savoring the texture created by the firm pen strokes.  The message was simple enough:   “We are so proud of you.”

Of course, David had received similar cards before, but this one was special.  This one was written in his father’s hand.  Warmth bubbled up in his chest, something like happiness.

“Did you pack everything you need, sweetie?” David’s mother called as he tromped down the stairs.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Did you get your eye drops?  You know how the saltwater dries out your eyes.”

“We’re going to Hawaii, Helen, not Siberia.  They have drugstores on the island.”  David’s father had a commanding voice, a voice that permitted no backtalk.

Helen said nothing more, biting down the impulse to defy him, even by so trivial a challenge.

With that, the three filed out the door.  The family would spend two weeks in Hawaii celebrating David’s graduation, one last hurrah before the time came for him to get a job, enter the real world, and start his life.  The possibility of it all stretched out before him like an ocean.


David returned from the trip with a relaxed energy.  He had begun sending out resumes weeks before graduation and had three interviews lined up the following week.  Though he had no doubt the interviews were only given as a courtesy to his father, he felt sure job offers would follow.  He was a Webber, after all.

Suits had been cleaned and pressed, and the color David picked up on the beach suited him.  On Sunday evening, his father took him to the full-service barbershop over on Main Street for a haircut and a shave.  The place was a relic, but David would never say such a thing out loud, never to his father.

“Malcolm, I’d like you to meet my son,” his father said.  “He just graduated from Princeton and has his very first job interview tomorrow.  Make him look the part.”


“Yes, Father?”

“Have you given any consideration to what you will wear?”

“The navy Armani with the white cotton Brooks Brothers, and the white gold cufflinks that Aunt Sara gave me for my birthday.”

A single nod of approval, “which tie?”

David faltered.

“I, uh…thought I’d wear the Hermes.”

He caught a flash of disgust in his father’s eyes, and the joy slipped out of him like water through his hands.

“Perhaps you should save that for your first day of work.  Once you have a job.”

“Of course.”  David’s head sank to his chest.  “How stupid of me.”

David thought back to junior high.  He remembered walking into his father’s impeccably neat cedar-lined closet.  He lifted the lid and asked his father if he could borrow one of his French silk ties, the blue Hermes, to wear to the dance.  His father shut the lid reprovingly; the finality of its clack was deafening

“These are made to be worn by men.  You have not yet earned the right.”

It was the only time he would ever ask.  That tie became a symbol of the love and approval David had always needed from his father but never received. David was a good kid by most standards, but never enough in his father’s eyes.  Never smart enough, never driven enough, never accomplished enough. The guilt of his father’s disappointment cloaked him like chain mail, weighing him down and amplifying his weakness.

Ever constant he remained in his desperate need for even the slightest approval, like a terrier that forgives his owner a thousand kicks for a single pat on the head.  That’s why the tie was so goddamn important.  He got into Princeton, but only after his father made a sizeable donation.  He graduated, but in the middle of the pack.  The tie was in his possession, but not around his neck.  He was always coming up short.  There, but not quite there.


The interviews went well enough.  The interviewer and David would talk like old friends for an hour and share a firm handshake, and then David would go home and wait for the call.  David’s father had retired a top-level executive at a major investment firm.  David wouldn’t be working at that firm, of course; it didn’t exist any more, but he knew one of his father’s old buddies would be calling to with an office and a nice paycheck.  David was born in this club, and a job was one of is trappings.

Yes, the interviews were perfunctory, all right, but not for the reasons David thought.  A few years earlier, they would have been so because David was a Webber and was guaranteed a place.  But since then there had been market crashes, a real estate bust, a major recession, government bailouts, and new economic regulations.  Now, the interviews were granted because David was a Webber and his father deserved that courtesy, even though there was no job to offer.

“Thank you, David, it was wonderful meeting you,” the interviewer would say.  He’d clasp David’s hand firmly and then clap the back of it twice, a silent farewell to a person never to be seen again.

And so it went for a while, until the courtesy interviews dried up like grass in a summer drought.  The personalized Dear John letters came in with little notes, then less personal, until they were form letters.  Until, as often as not, no letter came at all.  David widened his net, sending out resumes to smaller firms or newer firms, applying to government agencies and nonprofits.  The results were much the same.

The waiting wore on him.  David’s phone remained at a full charge, never more than an arm’s reach away.  He stopped making or accepting personal calls, though he could not be sure whether it was because he feared missing an offer or simply could no longer stand hearing about his friends’ new jobs, could no longer bear answering the inevitable questions about his own job search.

He had to force himself to wait until the mailman had driven out of sight each day before he raced to the box.  Neurotically hitting the update button over and over and over again, he checked his email several times an hour. Defeated every time by the maddening chime clanged its hopeless refrain:  no new messages, no new interviews, no new hope.  He was a junkie, desperate for a fix, and every rejection only made him need more.

David’s parents started making up stories for their friends about how they had wanted him to take some time off before starting work.  “Life is too short,” and all that nonsense.  They even sent him to Europe for a couple of weeks so they could show their friends pictures of him backpacking.  If their friends saw through the charade, they were too polite to let on.

David grew more and more depressed by the day.  His waves of optimism would give out to fits of despair.  The internal roller coaster was all his own—on the outside he was all confidence and false bravado.  He would say things about the job market turning around soon and curse his dumb luck and bad timing for graduating in the middle of this mess.  It was mostly true, even, but he didn’t believe it.  He knew better.  This was the world telling him what he had always known in some small, deniable way, that he had never been good enough, that he was not entitled to this and never had been.


David looked at the Hermes tie often.  At first with longing, then irritation, then bitterness.  Tracing its delicate pattern with his eyes had been a type of meditation that grew to obsession.  He would take it out of the box and touch its smoothness.  Finally, he decided that he had to do something, take control.  So he set a date.  He would wear the tie on the one-year anniversary of his graduation, come hell or high water.  May 16, 2012.

The job hunt ramped up to a fever pitch.  He called recruiters and sent emails hourly.  Dozens of newspapers and magazines filled the mailbox daily, and David pored over the classifieds until his hands were blackened with ink. He combed job search websites and sent out resumes until dawn, took a nap, and then got up at 7:00 a.m. and started all over.  Each day he withdrew further into the little world of his creation, and each day he felt more certain of his deadline.  It would happen.  He would will it to happen.  By God, he had earned this.  A fervent sort of calm settled over him.

None of it impressed his father, of course.  For him, like David, the world was confirming what he had long known.  They lived in the same house but never spoke and rarely saw each other.  The mutual disappointment between them was a vast sea that neither would ever dare to cross.  Even the hints of tobacco and black pepper left behind by his father’s cologne had begun to churn up waves of nausea in David’s belly.

“What will you do?”  The words were innocuous enough, but they carried with them much deeper significance.  David’s father had grown impatient.  It was time for David to come up with an alternate plan, to move forward.

David had come close to jobs a few times.  He would get a call back or a second interview, and things would look good.  The slightest hope would sustain him for weeks.  But it always turned out the same:  they hired a guy with fifteen years of experience who should never have been applying for an entry-level job in the first place.  And still, he kept at it, seemingly spurned on by his rejections rather than discouraged.


David’s mother knew that his latest interview with that firm out of Chicago must have gone well, because she could read a burgeoning but decidedly hopeful sort of relaxation on him that hadn’t been there before.  His bitterness had stopped growing.  He knew the day was approaching, and a sense of peace had taken hold.  The desperate search was coming to an end.  Her profound relief quieted the restless feeling that sat in the bottom of her chest like her mother-in-law’s meatloaf.  When she asked him if he had something in the works, he had grinned and given her a kiss on the cheek. It’s true, she thought, the ordeal will all be over soon.


When the day arrived, David was near ecstatic.  The Armani enveloped him as only custom tailoring can, and the crisp white Brooks Brothers shirt was near gleaming.  He affixed the white gold cufflinks that winked in the light and put on his freshly shined shoes.  Standing before the box, he waited a long time before opening it up.  It was the last time he would ever open it without feeling its silky embrace tightening around his neck.

His fingers moved swiftly, without thought, adeptly making the Full Windsor he had spent so many years perfecting.  He admired the person staring back at him from the mirror one last time before he had to go, a picture of the man he had always wanted to be.  He thought of his father as he looped the wide end of the tie around the beam across his bedroom ceiling.  He steadied himself a bit on the softness of the mattress before inhaling sharply and stepping off the bed with confidence.

David stared at his father’s handwritten note, tucked into his bedroom mirror, until his vision went blurry, then dark.


Dee Pratt is a writer and a licensed attorney.  She currently lives in Arkansas with her husband and too many cats.  


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