I had felt like a victim many times in my life, but when feeling like a victim I noticed we also have the utmost control of our destiny. We can change our paths in an instant. It is all about what we choose to give our attention to. Do we want peace or do we want more drama? Do we want to be right, or do we just want it desperately to just be over?
I had had one “real” job out of college, working at a lab for about a year. I was grateful to finally find a job in a science related field. I felt accomplished and relieved that I could at least tell people I was doing what I was “supposed” to be doing. I was safe and under the radar. I could figure out my life behind the scenes while being un-hassled by the seemingly judgemental people around me. I worked there for about a year. Then everybody started complaining about how much we got paid and figured I should move on too.
When I got a new lab job I was excited. Everybody back at the lab was jealous of how much money I’d be making and on I went.
My first day, I got there around 8 in the morning. I remember having thoroughly worried about to wear. I knew I didn’t want to be too casual just in case, so I settled on some khakis and probably and old shirt that was semi-nice. If I had breakfast it was probably something small and I was out the door reassuring myself that I could always buy something later for food and for comfort.
Mark, my new boss, had said that it would be fine if I got there around 8 o’clock. I found the security officer’s station and told them my name. After I got my temporary badge I asked how to get to the other main entrance of the building.
After walking around the building I found where I had had my interviews. The office area held the desks of the Bioprocess group and other core groups in the building. The room was about 200 feet long and about 50 feet wide and was stuffed to the brim with cubicles. In the front of the room were bigger cubicles that looked like they were reserved for people who made important decisions.
There weren’t really many people around and I didn’t see anyone that looked familiar so I didn’t know what to do. I saw a man walking down the hallway with his lunch so I, with a feigned friendly confidence, introduced myself and told him that it was my first day and asked if he knew where Mark was. He asked which Mark and I told him. He showed me where Mark’s desk was in the maze and we saw that he hadn’t logged into his computer yet. The man told me that it looked like he wasn’t in yet and suggested I wait at the high tables near the room with the microwave and refrigerator.
I sat there and the minutes seemed like they were going by achingly slow. I kept looking at my phone to see what time it was. My stomach was in tight knots anticipating my upcoming shame and embarrassment that I would likely experience when my new co-workers found me. People walked by and looked at me and I held my large purse in front of me like it was a shield guarding me from their penetrating gazes. My fear and nervousness apparent at the shuffling of my legs. My unharmonious thoughts sending out mixed vibrations across the big space of cubicles.
Finally Zoe, one of the girls who had interviewed me, walked by me in a sophisticated outfit supplemented by a bright yellow cardigan that fit her slim figure just the way it should. It looked like she had dropped her jacket off already and was bringing something to the refrigerator. She recognized me and asked what I was doing. I told her that Mark had said that a good time to show up would be 8 o’clock, knowing that if I shifted the blame to him that I would feel better. She told me that he didn’t usually show up until 9. She just had to grab something at her desk and then offered to bring me down to the lab. I don’t know why he told you nine she said in a brusquely bantering way. Finally, I was saved. I was grateful. I followed her out of the office and into the main hallway. It was made from wide and glossy high-end tile flooring. My old slightly ripped black ballet flats felt discouraging next to Zoe’s ensemble and the shiny big tiles.
I don’t remember what we talked about on the trip down the long hallway past the receptionist’s desk and into another smaller, but still wide hallway. I was beginning to feel surprised by my easy confidence in answering her questions. But I was practiced at making believe I was confident when I was really scared or nervous. She brought me to the main lab and she showed me a couple of things. I told her how cool everything was because the lab was really impressive in comparison to the one I had just come from. She replied in a detached, forceful and objective tone that it was all pretty standard.
Against her bright yellow cardigan her thin wrist and slender dark hand held a red leaded pencil as she began to check her to do list for the day. I followed her into what she told me was the clean room. These lab coats stay in this room, she explained uninterested but matter of factly in a way that I knew it was important. She sternly told me that no virus or bacteria enter the room. Afterwards she showed me where we made a certain product for chickens. It had its own large room with two huge bioreactors. I commented on how cool it was, still trying to maintain my hopeful attitude.
She showed me another couple rooms and explained that our group didn’t really use them that much, but still had to take temperatures for them. She was taking daily temperatures in all the incubators and freezers as she walked me through the rooms. She paused during our tour to send Mark an email to tell him that she had me with her.
Mark made his way down to the lab and told me to come with him and he set me up with my new desk back down at our office space. He helped me log into my computer and showed me that I’d have to call IT to help set my email up. He told me to come find him at his desk after I was done doing a couple of the things he had shown me.
After I was back with Zoe and she explained what she had been working on and finished it up. Then we were off do to something else on the other side of the building. She asked me pragmatically if I had worked with mice before and I told her that I hadn’t. She disguised her tense distrustfulness very well, but my keen nervous senses picked up on it. Nothing, unfortunately at times, gets passed this detecting system.
We made our way back to the main lab and I asked Zoe about Melanie. She had been in our interview but had mentioned she was still in school so I had assumed that she had just been summer help.
Did she already go back to college? I asked. Showing interest in her. She had been so nice… She had asked me during my interview if I went to Red’s Eats a lot, a local hot spot for lobster rolls in the town I was from.
Zoe seemed alarmed by my question and quickly replied saying that she was still here almost in provocative tone. She goes to school part-time and works here full-time, saying it like the fact was obvious. Oh. Okay. I started worrying what was up with Zoe with all the cues I was picking up from her. Then I followed her down the hall to whatever else I had to learn next.
I quickly picked up that Melanie and Zoe were besties. But I was hopeful that I could fit in with them.
By later in the week, I had learned some more parts of complicated things. But alot of the things were done over at least a three-day period. Some productions could even last a couple of weeks. Setting something up, monitoring it and then harvesting it when it was at the right stage.
My third day I had done something for Mark in the morning on the computer and then went found Zoe in the clean room with Melanie. Zoe seemed like she was a little stressed out, but I went with the flow and waited for her direction. The room was about the size of a modest living room with a sink on the left side and a long counter with a high stool to sit at. On the right side of the room, a clean fume hood that took up a good portion of the wall along with a centrifuge and a small bioreactor. Zoe was doing something under the clean fume hood. From what it sounded like the procedure that Zoe was doing only happened very rarely. Melanie was even reading off the directions to Zoe. I had been chiming into their conversation here and there. But when I chimed in for the second or third time, Zoe looked at me threateningly and guardedly said, “you know there are things that you could be doing, right?”
I was dumbfounded, where had this come from? I immediately went into panic mode. I felt so stupid. I had been in there for a while watching what she was doing by that time. Shoot, I wasn’t making a good first impression I panicked.
“Like What?” I guiltily managed to stutter.
I was ready and willing to do anything on my own. Anxious for it really. I wanted to avoid Zoe’s slightly abrasive demeanor that I had picked up on the past couple of days. I always tend to feel a little uncomfortable in the training stage. I hate following someone else around being useless. I was anticipating freedom like a gang member wanting to start his own family and get a 9 to 5.
But what could I do? I had only been shown parts of things here and there. I literally couldn’t do anything on my own.
Zoe replied with one eyebrow up and said tauntingly and hollow, “I don’t know like harvesting the C.A.V.?” C.A.V. drawn out and emphasized excruciatingly slowly and condescending.
How in the world do I harvest the C.A.V.? I haven’t even watched you do it and you want me to just do it on my own?
I rushed out of the room to where we made it, thoroughly embarrassed and caught off guard.
The fluid she had mentioned, I knew, was made in the big bioreactors in the next room. They were like coffins that waved from side to side, giving the cells the heat and carbon dioxide that they needed to grow. I had been explained the basic process so far and had been shown how to start a big batch by transferring our first small batch of cells out of the clean room and into the new big bag with a precise amount of extra media once they got to a specific density. I hadn’t been shown the harvesting part yet. It had only been explained to me briefly. I was good at my job and quick to learn, but I wasn’t that good.
I was in the barren room, the two huge bioreactors giving off a constant vibration and infrequent creaking as they waved. I had the vaguest idea at best because she had explained the basic process to me for a couple of minutes after we had transferred our cells. Panic washed over me, I could wing it, but so many different things could go wrong, and I wasn’t confident on any points on how we did the procedure.
I shakily left the big room after doing a couple of pacing circles. I entered a door lock then opened the next door and walked around the corner back into the room where the girls were and started to ashamedly explain that I didn’t know how to do it. Tiredly and vexed Zoe said she would have to show me how to do it. You think?! It was a process that took at least a couple of hours to do. There were different pumps to use, certain bags to use with about 50 to choose from in the stockroom. Certain huge filters you had to use, and programming that had to be done in the bioreactor. And lots of other little particulars! I was dumbfounded. How did she realistically think that that was going to happen?
“Well you could clean some of the tubes and attachments,” Zoe said frustratingly. Like a wife to her husband that never saw things to do around the house with boiled up resentment from years and years of walking past the undone dishes or laundry.
Earlier in the week after she had done something with a bell attachment she had shown me the bucket we put the dirty ones in. So, I at least knew where they were.
I shuffled away stunned, confused and feeling awful for myself. Where had all this even come from? I had followed her around soaking up all my new information and surroundings for two days before she was already saying all this to me? What had I done wrong? I felt crushed. But worst of all, doubting myself and my right to feel good about myself. I was walking around the corner and then the next corner to the room where the bucket of dirty attachments were. I looked under the sink to see what there was to clean them with. There was a bottle of simple green, the kind that sprays.
There’s no way I clean these with simple green? I thought frustrated. Maybe I use soap and water? I went on to question. Maybe it doesn’t matter and I should use soap and water. The only kind of soap they had in there was handwashing soap. I didn’t want to go back in that room where they were and ask them, but I had to. Feeling very insecure and shaky, I allowed myself to build up some attitude. I hadn’t been shown this, if they were going to be rude to me and expect me to just know things, then I could show a tiny attitude back. I walked back into the room where they were.
In the most defiant tone I could manage, “What do I clean them with? There’s simple green but that’s all I saw in there…”
“Oh,” Melanie replied, “Sorry I thought someone had shown you how to clean those.” She came back with me to show me how they cleaned and packaged the attachments. That at least made me feel a little better.
But I was so confused and felt so sorry for myself. Had I missed something? Was I supposed to automatically know the way they did everything around here? They weren’t being very welcoming. Melanie had been friendly consistently up to that point and Zoe maybe showed me one soft spot, but that was it. But where did this come from? I had been so friendly and nice and I’m a quick learner. I pride myself on it. So, I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. They were lucky to have me. I was promoted at my old job over everyone else that had even been there longer to the lead of the tissue culture department because of how efficient I was! It couldn’t be me because I wanted to get along with these girls, why was Zoe making it so hard.
No, I’m sorry I could not harvest the CAV fluid because it is complicated as fuck.
The thing is that after the harassment I put up with from Zoe after a year, I still look back on that day thinking that maybe I could have done it. Maybe I was being stupid. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. I go back over the events repeatedly in my mind and doubt myself so much that it hurts. Because I know I am right to have felt hurt by her. She got inside my head so well that it was hard to tell up from down, left from right.
She always made me feel like I was missing something or doing something wrong. I am the type of person who rarely misses things. And I don’t necessarily even like that about myself. I mean my weakness for socializing was compensated by my strength of being able to get shit done with serious perfectionism tendencies. I wish I had been less OCD and more casual, but everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I prided myself on being good at my work.
Mark was our boss, he was a man of about forty with severe social abnormities, thin with glasses. He was always busy with mostly administrative things and told me that if I needed anything to come ask. When you walked by him in the hallway he would look straight down into the corner of the other direction from where you were walking. Zoe and Melanie liked to point this out and make fun of him for it. He mostly dealt with people who would give our group our quotas of production demands that they needed. He had put me with Zoe to learn things because he didn’t have time to train me and wasn’t in the lab very much. And she was fed up after three days! Maybe she was having a difficult day I tried to tell myself. Maybe she was stressed.
I didn’t know how to act the following days. I would always be in panic mode when I was there and even when I went home. What had I done? Should I stop following her around now? How do I even talk to her? No one was there to tell me how I should fill my days. And so far, all I could do independently was clean and package the bells and tube attachments which took all of fifteen minutes.
I would try to ask Zoe and she would say she could show me how to do one thing or another a little later in the day. But in no way, was welcoming to my inquisitions. I would clean maybe two attachments which I would drag out to fill some time then walk out of the series of doors with blue sticky mats to catch any dirt from my shoes out of the lab wing to one of the long wide hallways in the building with fancy tile back to the part of the building where my desk was and mess around on my laptop or read some SOPs. I didn’t want to follow her anymore, not unless she communicated that towards me I think I had to meet her later around two for something but I doubted myself again. Should I be doing something right now? There must be something I could be doing right now, as I would sit in a pure panic at my desk. That narrative would go on in my head all day long.