Chapter One

 

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 comfort.

The office area was about 200 feet long and 50 feet wide and was stuffed to the brim with cubicles. 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  feigned a friendly confidence and introduced myself, telling him it was my first day and asking him if he knew where my boss was. In the maze of desks he showed me where Mark’s desk was and we saw that he hadn’t logged in yet. The man suggested I wait at the high tables near the moderately sized break  room.

I sat there and the minutes seemed to go 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 have to experience when my new co-workers arrived.  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, 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 me 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 immediately feel better.

She told me that he didn’t usually show up until 9 and 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, rolling her eyes as we walked out of the cubicle space and into a large hallway.

Finally, I was saved. I followed her out of the office and into the main hallway. My stomach receiving a nice stretch from finally standing and my old and slightly ripped black flats felt discouraging next to Zoe’s ensemble and the shiny big tiles making up the  hallway.

I don’t remember what we talked about on the long trip down the hallway and into another smaller, but still wide, hallway. I was beginning to feel surprised by my easy confidence in answering her questions. I was practiced at making believe I was confident, when really, I was pretty scared and stressed. She brought me to the main lab and showed me a couple of things. I told her how cool everything was, the lab was really impressive in comparison to the one I had come from. She replied in a detached, forceful and objective tone that it was all pretty standard, but I didn’t let it bother me.

Against her bright yellow cardigan, her thin 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. She sternly went on to tell me that no virus or bacteria entered the room. Afterwards she showed me where we made a product for chickens. It had its own large room with two huge bioreactors and I commented on how cool it was, still trying to maintain a hopeful attitude.

She showed me another couple of rooms and explained that our group didn’t really use them that much, but still had to take temperatures for them. She paused during our tour to send Mark an email on her laptop to tell him that she had me with her.

Later in the day, she asked me pragmatically if I had worked with mice before as we were about to tour a different part of the building where we grew hybridoma cells. I told her that I hadn’t. She disguised her tense distrustfulness well, but my keen nervousness picked up on it.

When we made our way back to the main lab, I asked Zoe about Melanie. She had been really nice in our interview but she had mentioned that she was still in school, so I had assumed that she had just been summer help.

Showing interest in her, I asked Zoe if she had already gone back to college. She seemed suddenly alarmed by my question and in a provocative tone she quickly replied saying that she was still here. She goes to school part-time and works here full-time, saying it like the fact should have been obvious.

Mark, our boss, was a man of about forty with severe social abnormalities, thin, with glasses. He was always busy with mostly administrative things. 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.

On my third day Zoe seemed a little stressed, but I went with the flow and waited for her direction and paid attention to what she was doing. We were all in the clean room. It was 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, at the end. On the right side of the room, a clean fume hood took up a good portion of the wall along with some other things. Zoe was doing something under the fume hood and I think Melanie was reading off the directions her. I had been leaning against the counter and chiming into their conversation here and there, but feeling awkward. I hadn’t really known what to do because I had had a training with Mark in the morning at my computer and then had just gone to find them afterwards. I was chiming into their conversation here and there and asking a couple questions about what she was doing. When I chimed in for the second or third time, Zoe looked at me threateningly. She guardedly started, “you know there are things that you could be doing, right?” Finishing with a flair of condescension and malaise that took me by surprise.

I went into panic mode immediately. I had already been in there a while watching what she was doing by that point in time, so an instant shame rushed over me. Moreover, I had already been trying to reassure myself that what I had been doing was okay. I wasn’t making a good first impression, I thought overwhelmed.

“Like what?” I concerningly and guiltily, managed to stutter.

I was ready and willing to do anything on my own. Anxious for it really. I wanted to be able to avoid Zoe’s slightly abrasive demeanor that I had picked up on the past few days. Plus I always tended to feel a little uncomfortable in the training stage because I hated  just following someone else around and being useless. Plus I liked working alone.

But what could I do? I had only been shown parts of things here and there. I literally couldn’t do anything yet.

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 just slow enough to make me feel worse than I already did.

I didn’t know how to do what she said yet. I hadn’t even watched her do it, but I rushed off to the room where we made nevertheless. I was embarrassed and caught off guard, plus really confused to boot.

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 thus far and had  been shown how to start a big batch, but I hadn’t been shown the harvesting part yet. It had only been explained to me briefly.

The room was barren and two huge bioreactors gave off a constant vibration and infrequent creaking as they waved. Panic continued to wash 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 had never even seen a bioreactor until a couple of days ago.

I shakily left the room after doing a couple of pacing circles.

Tiredly and vexed, Zoe said she would have to show me how to do it.

Then she said visibly frustrated, “Well you could clean some of the tubes and attachments.”

“Okay?” I said.

I knew where those were, so I shuffled away stunned. My shoulders, I’m sure sagging very low and hunched. Where had all this come from? I felt crushed. But worst of all, I was doubting myself and my right to feel good about myself. I looked under the sink to see what there was to clean them with. All there was was a bottle of Simple Green.

I really didn’t want to go back in that room where they were and ask them what I used to clean them with, but I had to. Feeling 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 how to do things, then I could show a tiny attitude back, I said mentally, reassuring myself. I walked back into the room where they were.

In the most defiant tone I could manage I said, “What do I clean them with? There’s simple green but that’s all I saw in there…” trailing off and losing my mustered up defiance like somebody had just kicked my new kitten.

“Oh,” Melanie replied, “Sorry I thought someone had shown you how to clean those.” Then she came back with me and showed me how they cleaned and packaged the attachments.

They weren’t being very welcoming, I thought. A thought that pierced through me making me feel even more like a victim than I already did. Melanie had been friendly consistently up to that point and Zoe had maybe showed me one soft spot, but that was it. I sulked and felt bad for myself the rest of the day and wished I had never left my last job for more money. I missed the friends I had made.

I prided myself on being a quick learner so I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, but I was in a point in my life where I knew I had to be doing something “wrong” because someone was mad at me.

I didn’t know how to act the following days. I would always be in panic mode when I was there and even after work when I got home. I wanted to mend the situation but it seemed like anything I did only made things worse.  No one was there to tell me how I should fill my days. And thus 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 one thing or another a little later in the day, but, in no way, was welcoming to my inquisitions. I would clean two attachments which I would drag out to fill up some time then walk out of a series of doors with accompanying sticky mats catching any dirt from my shoes as I sulked and hoped I wouldn’t run into anybody. I would read SOP’s at my desk and worry.  The narrative would go on in my head all day long.

 

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