’Fuck you!” I toss flippantly to my caramel colored boss. His lined face registers surprise while his mouth twists in distaste. He is sitting at his usual throne behind a gray metal desk that was standard for the fishbowl offices of my floor. He had just told me that I shouldn’t be friends with another woman on my team. I responded with my usual knee-jerk response, not smart but at least it was predictable. I didn’t like people saying stupid controlling things to me.
This was a great example of how diplomatic I was at handling it and also one of the reason I had a new job every year. The other reason is that I have a nervous system with its own mind. Adrenaline replaces my circulatory system for my bodies weekly danger drills. My panic attacks have been my constant companion since I could remember. My physical control over them has gotten better. On the outside, I usually give an Oscar award winning performance, but on the inside I still feel them like I did when I was young. My body fills with fear that saturates my mind and muscle. I have no control. It is something that is completely outside of myself. The panic takes over and I am unable to resist or fend it off. It comes on for no real reason and sometimes it isn’t bad enough to break me into a full run out of the office, grocery store, etc. but other times… I have been to every type of therapy there is, been several types of medications but the adrenaline creeps its way through no matter what type of suppressant, talk therapy or meditation I try. The hardest thing to understand is ‘why’ they occur. As you could tell, I am no wimp, much to my dismay. I tend toward being a stubborn, opinionated female. So why is my body afraid of …?
My boss stands up and revealing his pot belly that extends profoundly underneath his company khaki short sleeved shirt and above his dark blue canvas pants. He levels a tired, annoyed look at me. “Lily!” he shoots at me with less conviction than I would have expected. He sends a hand out from his side and leans on his desk. “What?” I respond evenly with my chin held up and placid yet unyielding gaze staring right back at him in cool challenge. I know he is going to write me up or whatever, but I just stopped caring. He wants to write me up for befriending one of the four women on a team of seventy then by all means “knock your socks off”. Inside I know I am wrong. I know I should have approached my response more cautiously but I am here now, so why back pedal. It will just make me look weak. So I stand here, resigned to my fate. He just sighs and waves a hand indicating “go back to your desk while I think about it”. I turn and leave his office. I march back to my desk and settle in. The cubicle doesn’t give you any privacy on a row of seven people per side. So some people are focused on their jobs and not pissing off their bosses what’s up with that”. However, others are looking at me comically as the door was open on the office and the exchange had apparently been overheard. I lean into the cubicle as far I can and start to make a show of working. I’m not. I am still rolling around what will be my next job after my boss gets down making the thousand phone calls, copies all the appropriate people and does all the signing of forms to release me from my position. So why work? Still lost in thought, I hear a soft “why do you always have to piss off the bosses?” I look up to see a serious look shooting at me from under wire rim glasses and pale cornflower blue eyes. Trey, the one person I actually liked here had come to admonish me. He was about 5’7 with mousy brown hair and a roundish face that usually sported a light-hearted expression. For his 30 something years he was really smart. I don’t mean quick, but like rocket scientist smart. Which is the only reason he actually got away with saying the kind of things I say. Unfortunately for me didn’t have the caliber of intelligence to let me get away with being a diva.
I gave him a baleful eye and just blew out air. “Sorry dude”. I know he had been rooting for me to stay on the team. “I just don’t like being pushed around”. He just shook his head, gave me another disapproving look and headed back to his grungy little cubicle. Great, he isn’t going to talk to me anymore either. I lived my life in constant fear that I was going to be locked up, babbling senseless garbage like my mother. My earliest memories are of her hiding us in the closet, holding me so tight that I could not breath and muttering weird phrases in a language I didn’t understand. Finally, a neighbor figured out that she wasn’t right, called the authorities and I went to live with my Aunt. Since then I try not to see her. I wasn’t like her. I would never be like her.
I pushed away from my desk and headed for the breakroom. Maybe some coffee would make everything all better.
“Did you see the sweetener?” I asked lightly to my co-worker as I fumble through the assortment of different coffee accompaniments in the break area. I cast a sideways glance with one eyebrow raised at the slender twenty-something woman standing next to me. She is wearing a generic office uniform, an undefined suit shirt and slacks in drab understated colors with sensible shoes. Her light blonde hair is swirled up in a clichéd hairstyle. The light scent of laundry detergent wafts off her when she shifts. This woman is the picture of unremarkable. Obviously, she works at an image of being competent, non-fussy and very businesslike. I wonder if dressing in that fashion keeps her bosses from looking too closely at her work. Does the image really make less corporate drama for her? She absently finishes dunking her teabag in a coffee cup that sports the blazing red company logo. She lifts her head slightly and makes a small effort of looking over the array of products that I just shuffled through. Her head drops down to stare into the apparent depths of mystery in her mug. Then glances at the breakroom exit, never turning back toward me I see her profile give a slight side to side nod, the universal gesture for ‘no idea’. Shrugging one shoulder she quietly turns and wanders out. I watch after her feeling slightly resentful. I wished I could be so bland and blend in with my environment. I never could, I honestly think it is physically impossible for me to be part of the unseen. The corporate drones that meander through their day, go to their over-mortgaged home, deal with an over demanding family and sleep the sleep of the untouched from the hands of anger, pain and suffering that fund my thoughts and nightmares. Then again don’t we always see others as having a better avenue than that of what we have been handed? I stand staring into my coffee. I am suddenly aware that I am doing the same thing as “Business Barbie” had just done and humorously wonder if the Oracle of Delphi actually did exist in the bottom of our corporate mugs. The realization that I am actually supposed to be at a meeting smacks me out of my trance. No wonder I am doing my best to get sidetracked! mentally berating myself for not being more responsible with my time. I turn to exit the company break area and feel a ribbon of fear start in my middle and wind itself through my mind. My heart starts beating faster, tensions fills my muscles informing my body it is preparing to fight. “oh god, not now” my inner dialog chants. I briskly round the corner of the breakroom. Panic ebbing, I try to focus and keep my motions from appearing too dramatic. Scanning the main floor, my eyes dart quickly over the area looking for obvious signs of an earthquake, fire, flood or the fourth horseman in full medieval armor complete with a flaming sword riding through my office. I see nothing but the monotonous gray sea of cubicles that serves as my workplace. All I take in is the normal sight of tired people sitting at their computers wearing their usual haggard glazed over expressions. The rhythm of mindless keyboards tapping out the bass beat, the droning phone conversations are the lyrics to the song, of this, the land of the living dead. No one else seems to be reacting. I attempt to saunter casually over to my area, mentally trying to cage the ever-strengthening grip on my mind that is telling me to run, to hide, to fight. Sweat starts dampening the base of my neck, my skin prickles with energy and my blood pulses, I fail at ‘casual’ and start walking faster. I finally arrive at my cubicle, a quick look at my desk tells me nothing is out of place. Standing stiffly in front of my chair, I close my eyes. My rational brain tries to argue with instinct. “Sure, you feel threatened, but you are probably just over reacting as you know you do“. “No! something really bad is coming, I have to run!” my instinct answers in a renewed cold wash of adrenaline. Finally giving into the insurmountable pressure building in my blood, I stride purposely out of the office. Doing a light jog to the sidewalk I feel the pounding waves of fear sweep through my muscles. I have to run. Giving in and pushing my body into a run I feel unchained. I turn and look over my shoulder at my office and glimpse ‘them’.
Three men in indistinct brown suits cropped haircuts and sunglasses, the only thing that makes them at all remarkable is the fact that they are all stopped in the middle of the sidewalk staring right at me. One of them sniffs the air like a bloodhound scenting prey. I start to realize that I must be the prey. My senses ramp up more as if that is possible. They all silently nod at each other and one of them starts to run after me as the others go in separate directions. Putting my head down I pour all the wound up energy into my feet and run full throttle.