Surrounded by a Midwestern-Protestant ethos she would never shake, Abigail was raised— in Ohio for her first six years—and taught to be obedient, hard-working, and helpful.
Abigail was the only child. Her mother, Helen, was a chemistry major at Oberlin College when she met Abigail’s father, Alex, an English professor at the same school. They began a clandestine relationship until Alex got Helen pregnant when she was in her senior year as an undergraduate, and once the college administration caught wind of the relationship, Alex resigned from his position. He then married Helen, and the newlyweds lived paycheck-to-paycheck while working multiple jobs—Alex took some adjunct positions and drove a cab while Helen waited tables on the nights he had off—until Alex was finally offered a full-time position at a community college and moved their family to Roscommon, Michigan, on the upper-tip before the peninsula. Helen stayed at home with Abigail, putting aside her own academic goals to assure her daughter would thrive.
An ebullient student, by elementary school Abigail was color-coding assignments and spending evenings with her mother working on her homework as both waited for Alex to return from work. And he would return eventually—Alex considered himself an important poet, indignant by his lack of publication credentials—and when he came home, stinking of bourbon and self-pity, he’d blame Helen and Abigail for destroying his academic and literary career.
When Alex was brought up on charges of unethical relations with another female student, Helen filed the divorce papers. She moved Abigail to Saginaw where Helen resumed her studies at Central Michigan University. While attending high school in Saginaw, Abigail worked at a movie theater and contributed to monthly utilities that she and her mother paid in a small two-bedroom apartment while both women maintained straight A-grades. Meanwhile, Alex had remarried his other former student and began a new family, sending his daughter birthday cards and her mother alimony checks, funds that Abigail assiduously filed while returning his correspondence.
But aside from her mother, a few work acquaintances, and kids from study groups, Abigail had few close friends. On weekends, she’d claim she had to study and sometimes spend Saturday nights watching classic Hollywood movies on the couch with their terrier Hugo, while Helen navigated dating websites. Some nights, Abigail and Helen would watch Grease or The Sound of Music and sing to each other.
During her senior year, Abigail was admitted to The University of Michigan where she moved to a dorm, majored in English, and wrote for the student newspaper. She only made a few friends, but those she made were close for life. And when her best friend and roommate Jenna, who grew up in South Attleboro, wanted Abigail to move to Boston with her, Abigail followed.
In Boston, a long way from her home, Abigail first waited tables, hustled, and wrote some freelance pieces in the greater-Boston region before finding full-time work in HR at a large FM radio station. Abigail worked hard—coming in early and leaving late and never saying boo—to systematically and efficiently assure that everyone employed by the company received what they deserved. She ensured that everything in the human resources office ran smoothly, every file—like the digital equivalents of her color-coded notebooks—was easily accessible and up-to-date. When the manager of the HR office at the station’s New England office retired, Abigail applied and all but walked into her new position with glowing references from former bosses and co-workers.
Abigail works even harder to assure that her presence in any office or meeting is understated, barely registering in the room, and often asking the opinions of those who work under her. She leads by example and genuinely enjoys her work—although there are times when she’ll read a profile piece in The Atlantic and wonder if she ever had the chops to write at such a competitive level.
When Jenna met her future husband—a guy named Liam whose family owns a bar in South Boston, and moved into an apartment in Dedham, Abigail was making enough salary to take over the lease on her own. She has lived in the same apartment and worked in the same office for fifteen years. Her reticent disposition and general contentedness with living alone lead to her never seriously pursuing a relationship, and some of her coworkers quietly wonder at the water cooler if Abigail is asexual. She is not; rather she prefers to concentrate on her job, her dog—another terrier named Jack—and spending Saturday night on Skype with her mother still in Saginaw, both women glued to their flat-screen television, watching classic Hollywood films together.