"The Caw of the Wild"
ROUND AND AROUND AND AROUND
11 October 2005
We went to see a play recently (no surprise there!). It was opening night and there was a reception following the performance, a long buffet table stacked with cakes and cupcakes and fruit with chocolate and caramel fondu. There was free wine or coffee.
We don't always stay for receptions. In fact, if I know the people in the cast, I prefer not to stay for the reception, especially if I haven't decided what I'm going to say in the review. I don't do the "schmooze" bit all that well.
But I didn't know the cast here and--well--who can pass up chocolate fondu?
So we stood in line to get our food and as I looked at the people ahead of us, I was catapulted back in time nearly 20 years. I hadn't thought about them in forever.
It was yet another boss and yet another bad work experience. When I look back on my work life, I see that there is a definite pattern. With one exception--my first job, which I loved--all positions I've held have ended badly. This was one of the worst.
I was working for a secretarial service and we did lots of work for this guy. His business was fairly new and he didn't think he needed an in-house secretarial staff. But as his business began to grow, we were doing more and more work for him and I was spending most of my time in the office doing his work and he was spending more time driving back and forth to drop off and pick up work.
Finally, one day, he offered me a job. And so I left the secretarial service and moved into his office.
It was an interesting arrangement. It was a family-run affair. He was the big boss, his wife was the office manager, and his daughter kept the books. He also had a couple of sons who were around a lot as well. I was the only non-family member.
At first it was just great. I loved the work, loved having my own office, enjoyed the camaraderie. I was between the mother and daughter in age, so I was old enough to be friends with the mother and young enough to be friend with the daughter. This was really a nice arrangement until there was a huge blow-up in the family. Huge. Mother and daughter weren't speaking to each other, and both were confiding in me. I tried to remain impartial, but it's kind of like a divorce situation--if you attempt to remain friends with both husband and wife in an acrimonious divorce, you run the risk of alienating both of them.
And that is precisely what happened here.
Family ties were paramount and the mother and daughter decided they couldn't continue the feud and so for the sake of family peace, they made up and, having nobody to turn their anger on, they both started picking on me.
The original feud had concerned the girl that the oldest son was about to marry. The daughter hated her and was furious that her brother was about to bring the girl into the family, but ultimately realized that she had to accept her or not speak to her brother either.
After the feud was patched up, they not only had the new daughter-in-law in the family, but they hired her to work in the office as well. I don't remember her ever speaking a word to me. Somehow through all of this feuding, I had become persona non grata with her as well.
The emotional pressure on me was tremendous and my work began to suffer for it. I remember when the scrupulous checking of the time sheets began. If I would leave the office at 4:55, I would round the time out to 5 p.m. for ease of calculating the hours at the end of the week. The mother accused me of falsifying my time sheet. "You left at 4:56 and it says 5 p.m.," she actually said one time. So I started putting down the time to the last second.
But that was only one kind of pressure. Every single thing I did was examined with a fine tooth comb and the least little thing wrong was cause for a lecture.
The husband stayed out of it. He felt that he was above petty office squabbles and so he left the care and feeding of "staff" (me) to his wife.
Ultimately, though, he did get involved. He came to me one day and said that there was no point in my coming back the next day. I had been let go (technically not "fired" exactly) without warning.
Ironically, I continued to do his work for months afterwards, but it was once again through the auspices of the secretarial service.
Through typing for the psychiatrist, I had learned a lot about work stress and the kind of symptoms that it can cause, from insomnia to tearfulness, to all sorts of things and it amazed me to realize that I was experiencing all of those things I had always thought were exaggerated out of proportion when patients discussed them. But I ended up with a much greater appreciation of how quickly a competent person can be reduced to a blithering idiot when a systematic emotional attack is launched.
So tonight there they were--the boss and his wife. She's greyer now. I haven't seen her for years. The last time I saw her, she came in as a new patient to the ob/gyn office where I was working. When she discovered I worked there, she switched to a gynecologist who worked in a different office. I assumed she didn't want me to have access to her medical records.
I've put on a lot of weight since I last saw them and I'm sure they didn't recognize me in the brief glimpses that they got of me at the theatre. I didn't have the slightest desire to say hello and turned away when I saw them turning in my direction. But it was strange how I instantly felt all those old feelings rising up inside me just seeing their backs laughing with their friends and having a bit of chocolate fondu.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
One of the miniature horses on the farm