My First Board Meeting
Tuesday, January 18,
10: 50 a.m.
7th Floor – Corporate Board Room
Fort Worth Star Telegram
“Hi. I’m Kathy Smith. Here for the 11:00 a.m. Board Meeting,” I said in a low, nervous tone.
“Great. Thanks.” I pressed a big, fake smile on my face, just in case she looked up.
A lightening bolt of terror ricochet through me. My fifty-seventh for the day. And it was still early.
I couldn’t believe it. With just one day’s advance notice, I’d been ordered to report on the special projects division, at least my part of it, to the corporate big wigs. So, I’d scrambled. I’d stayed up all night. But, I’d gotten it done. Now I just had to present it. This was my moment to shine.
Deep breath. Stay calm.
I hoped I’d done everything right. This was, after all, my first presentation to the board. Ever. And my boss had been unavailable to answer questions yesterday so I was flying blind.
I entered the conference room. Impressive. Very old world. elegant. Gleaming mahogany walls, red velvet curtains, a ginormous Oriental rug topped by two colossal chandeliers. All surrounded the conference table. I counted twenty-two leather chairs.
My heart stopped. I prepared 20 copies – not 22.
Cuss words flew through my brain.
I caught myself. Be calm. Breathe in. Breathe out. You’ll be fine.
My boss and I would do without copies.
I would be fine.
I found my name on the far side of the room, three-fourths of the way down the table. My boss’s name was on the seat beside me. I unloaded: graphs, sales reports, contracts and previous copies of the newspaper’s special sections. Then, I gathered my notes and placed them on top, as people filtered in.
It was easy to tell who belonged and who didn’t. The big brass entered talking in loud, jovial voices. Myself, and the other peons, whispered.
The meeting was called to order.
Twenty long, agonizing minutes passed as I watched the first two of my fellow peons get shot down. Crucified. Using the correct business vernacular, of course. But it was bloody awful, just the same.
The third was holding his own – just barely.
I reached over, took a sip of water and tried not to look nervous. My boss mouthed, you’ll- be-fine. Which might have made me feel better except he had an unconscious habit of spinning his wedding ring when he was nervous.
And it was spinning it like a Ferris Wheel now.
“Kathy, your report on…ahh…” The Vice-President of Advertising shifted through some notes. “The Special Projects Section.” He pulled his head up and his eyes met mine.
I felt a drop of sweat trickle down between my breasts and wondered why God didn’t put my sweat glands in my armpits, like everyone else.
I stood and started talking, as I passed around copies to each of the Vice-Presidents.
“These are the line item expenses along with the sales figures as of last Friday.”
A soft knock sounded on the door. I didn’t turn. I didn’t look. I kept talking.
“As you can see…”
I heard the door opened. Someone whispered something. I heard my name.
“Excuse me,” Mrs. Henry said.
Mrs. Henry, the Publisher’s secretary, crept in the door. “Forgive me, but Mrs. Smith has a phone call.”
All eyes swung my way.
What the… Mortified. Fire rush to my face. Desperate to sound professional, I responded with a, “Would you take a message?”
“It’s your… Mother.” Mrs. Henry’s face radiated sympathy. “She says it’s a medical emergency.”
Oh God. Please. My mother was the world’s bigggest hypochondriac. Like it was the first thing listed on her medical chart, so the doctors would know. But, I couldn’t tell this room of V.P.’s that. They would think I was awful.
I struggled to sound normal. “Would you tell her, I’ll call her back in about an hour?”
“She sounds quite upset.” Mrs. Henry insisted.
I stood there, humiliated. Calling me at work with some imaginary emergency was one thing, but this was a board meeting full of big wigs. And, it could be important for my career… Of course, this was my mother. She wouldn’t stop calling… And, everyone would think I was awful if I ignored her.
“Kathy,” Mrs. Henry shifted, pleading and glancing around the room. “I really think you should take the call.”
My boss reached over and grabbed my report. “I’ll take over. Kathy, go.”
Everyone in the room nodded, sure someone had died. But, knowing my mother, I doubted it.
“Excuse me.” I said to the big bosses and fled the room.
I grabbed the phone. “Mom, are you okay?”
Suddenly, four people discovered they had business within feet of the phone. Plus, the door to the conference room stood open.
My mother now had everyone’s attention.
“I just left the emergency room. The doctor said… Well, I need you to drop everything and…” My mother gasped into the phone, “Go to the grocery store. Get me some bran flakes.”
“Bran Flakes… Bran Flakes…” Mother’s voice skyrocketed from frail and dying ~ to hysterical. “Can’t you hear me?”
Oh geez, here we go. I lowered my voice. “Mom, slow down. Who’s in the hospital?” I enunciated each word with care.
“I was,” Mother’s voice screeched in my ear. “I was in the hospital. And now I need bran flakes. Do you hear me? Bran flakes.”
“Like the cereal?”
“Yes, damn it.” And, the world’s biggest hypochondriac let loose.
While she vented in my ear, I turned and mouthed, I’ve- got- to- go, to the listening crowd. Not that I wanted to. But if I didn’t, she would just get more hysterical.
Mrs. Henry’s face crumbled into sweetness. “Of course. Don’t you give it another thought.”
I shot Mrs. Henry a look of sincere gratitude then turned to appease my mom. Before she ruined my life. I turned my drama button on and blathered.
Panting, I raced down the hall. Grabbed the phone, ripped it out of her hands and slammed down the receiver.
“Mother,” I shoved the grocery bag at her. “Here’s your box of bran flakes.”