My new job has been really great so far. I’m working in the evenings as a biller for a large shipping company. I won’t name names, but you know them. There are four other billers, all older women, who only work two nights a week. I like working with older women because they mother me, and we all know how I like that. When I first met one of those women, I was immediatley charmed by her bubbling, down-home personality. Then she sat back down at her desk and asked, “Where’s my clipboard? Where’s my FUCKING clipboard?” It was awesome.
However, it only took one evening there for all the flashbacks to come pouring in. This environment has so many striking similarities to a job I had in my early twenties – the Bad Job, the one that gave me no choice but to retreat to the EEOC, the one that left me with a stuttering problem, an obliterated self-esteem, an inability to enter the workforce for almost three years. Just like at that place, I’m working in a testosterone-driven environment. I’m working around drivers with bad tempers, foul mouths, and inappropriate behavior. I’m being trained by a woman who reminds me so much of my old office-mate at the Bad Job, that I have to shake off the flashbacks and snap back to the present.. I’m listening to the squeal of fork lift wheels and dock workers hounding us to hurry up with the bills. I’m listening to my boss shout “Where you AT??” from the dispatch room and suddenly I’m sitting at my old desk, in my old leather chair, thumbing through invoices.
I never, in these past four years, thought the day would come when I would find myself missing a place that has plagued me with countless nightmares and panic attacks. But I do. I miss the drivers and the meat cutters and one of the salesmen, and I miss kicking the copier and being a perfectionist when making the weekly flyer, even though I knew no one gave a shit about its aesthetic appeal. Sometimes I even miss working with Henry – that’s the place we met. My new job is making me nostalgic for the things that didn’t suck about that job. And there were a lot of things that didn’t suck. Basically, the only things sucking were the owners of that job, and the unfortunate part was that it was my life on which they were sucking.
So last Saturday, I decided I was ready to go back. Four years seemed like a long enough time to heal, and I really needed some sort of closure. So Henry called the office that morning, made sure the owners weren’t there that day, and we stopped by with Chooch. The only person working that day whom I knew was Gary, my favorite salesman. There were days when it seemed like Gary, out of everyone in that office, was the only one on my side. He saw firsthand the way I was treated. Sometimes he was treated the same way.
Gary let us into the upstairs offices and we sat around in the break room, catching up. Everything smelled the same: walls embedded with the lingering aroma of too many chickens fried, too many cigarettes puffed, sweaty stench of too many loitering drivers. Everything looked the same: putrid hue of puke splayed across the walls, microwave circa 1972, coffee-stained counters, misspelled names on lockers. Everything seemed the same, except for my office: walls bare of Robert Smith’s mug, comics I drew out of mad cocktails of rage and boredom, magazine articles of my favorite bands. My old office is bland now, no personality.
Mainly, I sat there in the break room and smiled, tried to act like it wasn’t bothering me. But it was fucking surreal and brutal, like being donkey-kicked in the belly by a gnome on steroids. So I sat there, listening to Henry and Gary dish about the meat business, and I looked around at all the lockers and considered slipping notes into the ones of the drivers I knew, but for some reason, I couldn’t make myself walk into my old office to get a post-it. For some reason.
Chooch ran down the hallway at one point, forcing me to follow him. He stopped right in front of the door to the conference room, where my replacement was sitting at the computer. We made eye contact, and time was suspended in a horrifying abyss, like a body hung up by hook-pierced flesh. I smiled tightly and gave him a curt “Hello” then whisked Chooch back down the hall.
We left after Gary was summoned to the cooler. In the car, I promptly put on my sunglasses so Henry wouldn’t see that I was crying. It was harder than I imagined, and the nightmares have returned. But I just had to know, I had to see it again. Like an ex-boyfriend that you need to see for closure, but end up seeing his new girlfriend too and it just tears the wound open all over again.