Today I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Rhonda Johnson, a woman at her last day of work after 38 years of service to the city of Pocatello. She started off as a receptionist, and after spending the past 12 as city clerk, she’s decided to call it quits and travel with her hubby.
I walked into her nearly empty cubicle, the “Rhonda Johnson | City Clerk” Velcro name panel still clinging to the soft gray divider at the entrance, and saw Rhonda perched behind her desk like she’d always been there.
Our interview was brief: “How does it feel to pack up after 38 years?” / “What will you remember most?” But as things drew to a close, Rhonda did something that surprised me.
I awkwardly stumbled over a question that went something like, “So what is something that you… well, it might be strange to answer about yourself… but something that you feel you’ve left behind? An impact? Or like, well, a legacy?”
Rhonda paused and just stared at me. I thought “Oh god another incomprehensible question. How can I rephr–” and before I could finish the ride on my own brain train, Rhonda hiccuped a tiny breath.
“I think, it’s the people–” she brought a curled hand up to her lips. Silver tears pooled behind her wire rim glasses. “Oh you are just a bad girl aren’t you! Makin’ me cry like this..!”
Rhonda chuckled and spun her chair around to grab a Kleenex from what I only assumed was their old familiar spot. She puffed a few deep breaths into the wad of tissues, shook her head, and I got to see a moment that people have all the time, but that rarely happens in the company of an attentive stranger. Looking down into her lap, I watched as she replayed memories or thoughts or wishes in the space between her head and her heart. Then, like pulling the strings on a cinch bag, she swept them all down inside of herself, closing them off as a part of a past exhausted.
She straightened her spine and rolled her shoulders back.
“I think a part of the legacy I left..” she started, clear-voiced and calm.
I left Rhonda shortly after, behind her desk, in her empty cube, but came back to City Hall later in the day to get some shots of her going away party. The giant conference room was decked out with signs, party agendas, flowers, cards and food. The room gave her a standing O, lined up to hug her and looked on as she flitted around and her husband sat smilingly, chowing down on fried chicken at their table in the center of the room.
I saw her, and she gave me a giant hug, calling me a “Bad girl!” one more time. We laughed and I left again, backing my way out of the room as Rhonda flew into another pair of open arms, surrounded by balloons, pulled pork sandwiches and the legacy she graciously left behind.