I was dragging a rowing machine out of the corner of the gym, trying to figure out how to angle it so no one would be distracted by my dry-heaving face during the workout, when a woman tapped me on the shoulder.
“I just found something out about you,” she said, the kind of open-ended declaration that could go in any number of terrifying ways.
“My doctor says it’s totally normal for a human body to look like that,” I said.
“Wha– ew, no, I heard that you used to work where I work.”
Oh. That. Yes. The name stamped on her business cards is the same company just outside of Winston-Salem where I used to work, my last office job before I broke up with corporate America forever. I hated that job. I hated it on the first day when I was assigned to a brown, itchy looking cubicle and I hated it on the last day, when I was fired while sitting on the toilet, a thick wad of off-brand TP wound around my hand like a one-ply boxing glove.
It’s not like I was surprised when they “let me go.” That office and I were a duet bound for disaster, like Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. Just say, say, say you’ll give me a good severance package. I spent two years trying to make it work, but my time there felt like treading the blandest kind of water. I was never promoted, I was never demoted, I was just moted — and I was miserable. Sure, my titles occasionally changed but I was always typecast to play the role of “coordinator.” The Research Coordinator. The Marketing Coordinator. The Coordstodian. Whatever. The work was less challenging than finding Waldo and it could’ve been a very good job for somebody, the same kind of somebody who doesn’t have any professional goals beyond getting a laser-etched nameplate, a free flu shot and two drink tickets at the company Christmas party.
I started dreading the chunk of the week that stretched from Monday to Friday and spent several minutes every morning leaning my forehead against the steering wheel of my parked car, fantasizing about career changes and wondering whether someone could become a neurosurgeon by watching YouTube videos. I also started parking in the visitor space, because that word painted on the pavement was a much more accurate description of my status there than whatever I’d been typing on my résumé. Besides, it wasn’t like anyone ever came to that office unless they were required to: Those matching rows of visitor spaces were more hopeful than functional, much like my prescription for birth control pills.
Anyway, on an otherwise normal Friday, I parked in a visitor space and dragged myself inside. Later that morning, the HR assistant — a man who thought “business casual” meant tucking an oxford shirt into the waistband of his wind pants — materialized beside me.
“Jelissa,” he whispered, mispronouncing my name. “When are you going to lunch?”
“In about 15 minutes,” I said.
“Okay, after lunch, could you maybe park in the employee lot?”
“No worries,” I told him, and he nodded and disappeared back downstairs.
Five minutes later, the HR director pounded on my cube. I didn’t notice at first, because the walls were made from what looked like discarded Build-A-Bear pets. When I did, she was livid, crimson-faced in a black glittery WWJD t-shirt and creased black jeans.
“Jelisa. Go move your car.”
I glanced at my watch, stood up and said, “Sure, I’ll just head to lunch now, too.”
I grabbed my car keys and Motorola Razr (only the finest accessories for 2006 Me) and made for the bathroom, because I’d already had a half-dozen cans of Diet Coke that morning. I was sitting on the cool plastic seat, leisurely reading the label on the Renuzit can, when she burst through the door with Jack Nicholson-in-The Shining-style force.
“I SAID GO MOVE YOUR CAR!”
Now I’m confused. And I can’t pee.
“Sure,” I said, staring at my own distorted reflection in the stall door. “Just let me finish and then I’m out of here.” I put the air freshener on the floor and tried to ignore her little Easy Spirited feet tapping impatiently in front of me.
“MOVE IT, NOW.”
I probably shouldn’t have said anything. I should’ve stood up and zipped up and made my way to a stall inside the nearest Subway. What I did say was “Miss Daisy, Hoke can’t make water with you standing there.”
And that’s when she lost her mind.
“You’re done here! Do you hear me? You are not to come back after lunch, you are not to come back EVER!” I heard her stomp across the floor and slam the door as best as she could.
I sat there unwrapping several yards of store-brand toilet paper from my hand and wondering how I’d let the bottom fall out of my life like this. I shook my head a few times, wondering if maybe it was just a weird dream, like the one with the narwhals or the one where I’m married. I walked tentatively out the bathroom door and she was waiting for me, popping out of a nearby office like God’s own ninja.
“Give me your employee ID badge,” she said, pushing her open palm toward my midsection.
“I don’t have it.”
“Go get it, then.” She shook her Suave-scented head for emphasis. “I’m not kidding.”
“Um, actually, I flushed it. Not now, I mean. I couple of weeks ago, I pulled my pants up too fast, it flipped off my belt into the toilet…“
“See, since I park in the visitor spaces, I use the main entrance and don’t really need a badge.”
I’d barely finished that sentence when she started yelling “SECURITY!” even though the only security in the entire building was the metal flap that keeps you from reaching into the vending machine.
While she was alerting the office, like Paul Revere with rosacea, I went back to my desk and started cramming pictures and Post-It pads and the stapler and maybe a computer mouse into my purse.
“WE HAVE A SITUATION,” she kept yelling, a phrase she’d no doubt dreamed of using for something other than that time she found a dead chipmunk in one of the air ducts.
When I heard her breathing heavily behind me, I turned around to face her. She was red-cheeked and wild-eyed, her teased bangs listing sadly to one side like a melting snowman.
“I’m going to go move my car now,” I said calmly, walking toward the stairwell.
She stayed on the heels of my Chucks all the way down, screaming threats at the back of my head, repeating oversized Scrabble words like “insubordination” and “insolence” and “insubordination,” again.
I never turned around. I shook my sunglasses out of my purse and headed straight to my car.
I still had to pee.