Friday, December 28, 2012

Short Story: Work Quirk

Walking back from their meeting, Jan clutches her file folder and notebook to her chest to keep all the warmth inside her down jacket. A cold lingers in her system. She starts coughing a horrible cough and her boss, Nevil, says, “are ya gonna live, Jan?”

“I think so,” she replies.

She’s gotten used to—or rather, she’s tried very hard to ignore some of the oddities of Nevil’s personality. Not oddities exactly, more like the splits in his personality.

Charley, the other office worker, kept quiet on the walk back. It was the three of them in this little office of number crunching.

They still had business to discuss, so they proceeded into Charley’s office to conclude the meeting. They got down to the “RIP List” to keep track of who had passed away, so they could keep watch on when they would need to follow up about paperwork and such. Nevil saw that the list was blank.

“So, no one’s died this year?”

“I guess not. But the year’s not over,” Jan replied matter of factly.

“No, I guess it’s not. Heck, it could be you, Jan. You don’t have to be old to die.” He had a smirk on his face that she would have gladly torn off.

Jan looked up, not surprised at Nevil’s comment. “Yes, that’s true. It could be me. I might not show up tomorrow,” she added with a slight annoyance in her voice.

"Jeez," said Charley, at the time giving some sort of a chuckle grunt to imply that this talk was a bit off track.

“I’m used to it." Jan looked at Charley, then back down at her list.

Nevil seemed taken aback and said, “now, Jan—”

“Ever since I started working here, you’ve made comments about my death. When I used to ride my bike to work, you’d say, ‘don’t get run over’ or ‘watch out crossing the street, you might get hit by a car, and I need you to come in’”

“Well you’ve worried about my death too. She used to worry a lot. She’s worried she won’t get paid.”

“I used to worry about what we would do if it did happen—how would we handle dealing with the clients—your clients—if you’re not here. We can’t work for free, even in a difficult situation like this.”

“Remind me to work on it.”

He had been reminding her and she had followed up, but he only made jokes. He wasn’t taking it seriously. She had a friend that went through the experience and she just wanted to know if there were plans in place so that things could run smooth during a possible transition.

“Ok, anything else?”

There was nothing else. The meeting was over.

But Jan couldn't stop thinking.

Was this God’s way of saying, “Hey, Jan, you’ve been fighting with yourself for many years: Should I stay; should I leave. You’ve been stuffing things that bother you, talking them out, shouting them out. You’ve never been one to lick someone’s boots. You’ve been loyal. You’ve tried to do a good job. And on the other side: He’s been flexible. He’s been generous in his own way. But—always a but—you sense something that you’re not sure you can keep turning your back on and that’s a sense of true appreciation and respect that’s lacking on his part. And you’ve argued with yourself—and every now and then he offers small praises, shows a little respect.

It’s more than that though. It’s as though he feeds off of the weaknesses that he perceives in you. He knows you’re a worrier. What does he do? He tries to make you worry and he admits it in a roundabout way. “Oh, no, I forgot to call in payroll,” he’ll say. And he did forget once. And you will worry because it doesn’t just affect you, but another employee.

He doesn’t seem to want to find anymore potential in you and seems to want to keep you down. That’s what you tell yourself because you’ve worked for other people where they clearly keep challenging you and helping you grow and it’s reached the point where it’s quite the opposite here. But, you have some of the things that you appreciate: Flexibility like you’ve never had; his sense of humor, which you like when he’s not using it against you; good pay. But, there are lots of buts—you feel like something big is missing and each year you tell yourself, one more year, and now eight years later, the years seem to have gone by fast. The challenge is you leaving—if and when—until you find something promising. You’re not jumping ship just for anything because it’s not all that bad. You wish there were more work. If things go according to the norm, he’ll retire in another five years. You can wait until then, can’t you? And most importantly, you keep telling yourself and thanking God: At least I have a job. I appreciate having work. I’m thankful for the days the boss is in a pleasant mood and says good morning to me and doesn’t use that ugly tone with me.

In any relationship, even if the good outweighs the bad, eventually the bad overshadows the good, especially when it keeps circling back and old wounds get opened.

You tell yourself, there must be a reason, there must be some divine plan that has you—a naturally sensitive person, that at times is moved to tears by the slightest beauty or hurt—there must be a reason for your personality and his personality to have sustained each other this long. In a way, you’re good for each other. You can read him, and on the surface, he can read you. You offer water and fire, where he offers earth and air. Or are you becoming more like ice?

Charley says sometimes you two talk to each other like an old married couple. You can usually stay a couple of moves ahead of Nevil. When he’s lost something, you know where to find it. He has a great sense of humor and a kind heart. He just doesn’t wear his heart on the outside of his sleeve. He’s fantastic with his clients and he’s admitted to you that sometimes when he speaks to you in that ugly tone, it’s not you he’s directing it toward, but you’re there—you’re the backdrop, you’re getting his frustration. Might be client related, might have just been a bad morning.

You tell yourself it’s really not that bad. You know there are assistants out there who are treated really poorly and some who probably don’t stick up for themselves. You don’t want a high stress job.

You ask yourself and wonder what’s on the other side. In a way, working for a small company is like a marriage—well not exactly, but it’s a relationship and there are times when you aren’t sure if it’s working any longer.

And don’t kid yourself. You know you’re not indispensable. You don’t want to be either.

If, and when you leave, you know that you want to leave on good terms. You want to leave on a high note, not when you’ve taken something too personally and internalized it for days.

But until then, keep working on those lessons, keep wondering, try to fight stagnation. Try to do what’s best for you. If an opportunity approaches, seize it. You know he’ll be all right.

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