Chapter Two

My friends kept telling me that Zoe was just jealous of me as time went on.

I never really believed them though because even after I learned all the lab’s processes and became efficient enough at them, she made me feel like I was never living up to her standards. She’d correct me or find other tiny ways how I made mistakes. I didn’t know what else I could do to make her happy.

I worried and obsessed endlessly. How could I be better so that she would accept me? I would try to say hello to her in the mornings and  try my best to maintain a positive attitude. Unbelievably she could still surprise me with her rudeness. She would storm into the lab after I greeted her good morning and then storm off again, saying nothing. That happened multiple mornings before I gave up trying to talk to her.

She had shown me how to check a cell counting machine we had to make sure it was still within its accurate range. I would do it almost every morning thinking maybe staying on top of things would make her come around.  But then some mornings I would get there and she would have done it already, making me believe that maybe she thought that I did it too much. So no matter what I did it seemed like she was angry with me. The obsession I had with making her happy became just that, an obsession.

I started dreading the Monday morning meetings we would have as a group. She was nice to anyone she had to be nice to. I’d always see her cracking jokes to our boss saying, “Oh Mark” in a sarcastic prodding and playful tone, making him smile uncomfortably in front of the group and squirm in his chair. I was uncomfortable just watching it.

I not only obsessed about how Zoe could be so hateful, I obsessed about how she was so fake and controlling with other people. She seemed to have so much power and control over our small lab group and everyone seemed so afraid of her that they  granted her authority over part of themselves.

There was a small blond girl who,from everything I gathered, seemed very sharp and smart and good at her work. Her desk was a mirage of empty mountain dew cans that kept her going and kept her sharp as a tack attitude in place. Zoe was always talking about the Mountain Dew girl badly and from what I gathered Zoe was threatened by her.

I had characterized Zoe completely and while I was characterizing her as hateful and vengeful I was waiting in the sidelines being just that, hateful and vengeful in my mind towards her.

Yes, Zoe was rude and condescending to most everybody in our group, but I seemed to be her prime candidate. The one she targeted all that vengeance at. Melanie who did our inventory and prepped our media knew how much Zoe could get to me, so she’d tell me  not to take things personally when she knew I was upset. I started telling her more and more of the things Zoe would do or say to me that got to me. I thought I had found a friend in Melanie which was really nice. We’d laugh together about random things and she’d tell me random stories and I was appreciative of that. It made me feel a little more welcome and at home in the lab even though I was always looking over my shoulder.

I don’t think Zoe liked how I was starting to become friendlier with Melanie. Zoe would do things to piss Melanie off too from time to time too. At least once or even twice a week, if not that than once every couple of weeks their close friendship would be on the rocks. Melanie would come to me and tell me all about how she got bitched out by Zoe and how much of a bitch she was.

When that would happen Zoe would get especially hateful towards me. She’d be extra cold in our passing each other and if I had to ask her a question about something, forget about it. I’d leave feeling like I had just killed someone on the operating table or that I had just let a million dollar deal slide while naked in front of the whole office.

But Melanie and Zoe were besties when they weren’t fighting. And Zoe would still show me more aggression after Melanie and her were back on good terms. This obviously wasn’t good for me. Now I felt like I had no choice. Either be by myself with all these emotions at work or try to win Melanie over. I knew I was a better choice of friend for her. But I don’t know why I was ever trying to control the situation so much. Listen to me, I knew I was a better choice of a friend for her. Says who? Did I really think I knew her better than she knew herself? I just knew how horrible Zoe was. I fathrom why anyone would want to be friends with her especially the way she treated people.

At work, I’d busy myself a lot so that I wouldn’t feel anything. It was the only thing I could do to get away from the gnawing emotions inside of me. I was completely obsessed with how confused I was about everything. It couldn’t have been that I wasn’t doing good enough job at my job, what else could it have been? I worried endlessly, still believing i could make the situation better.

My fiance and I  had just moved to a town that had a little downtown area and a couple of bars. A bunch of close friends lived right around there too so we would go to the bar almost every weekend, and all end up at our apartment after it closed down. I got hammered with no concern about how drunk I was ever getting. The more drunk, the better really.  I’d go out in all my new clothes I had bought with my new money and after about 5 drinks I’d start to feel acceptable  enough for being who I was.

Things never really got better with Zoe, but I tried to carry on the best I could, while maintaining tactics to get us to be cool with each other. We were for a bit. Me, Melanie and her would even eat on our morning breaks together. But I always felt like I was butting in a bit and sometimes they’d go without me. The alcohol I drank on the weekends lent to more insecurity at the beginnings of the week at work. The alcohol had lasting effects on my mental health which only lent itself to more worrying, obsessing and creating more bad situations for myself.

There was one week, that I’ll never forget where Zoe was in a conference all week. It was in the building, but she couldn’t do anything in the lab because the meetings were an all day ordeal. I handled a couple of things for her while she was away that she asked me to. She had a fermentation to do the following week which can be complicated and take alot of time.

She told me what kind of fermentation she was going to be doing via email. I searched it in our database to find the materials we would need for it and starting checking through our inventory so I could tell Melanie what we would need for it.

The SOP was confusing though, there were two separate ways to do the fermentation depending on the batch size you were making. With a bigger batch size you’d need a certain component that we didn’t have, but with the smaller batch size, you didn’t need that component. I had a feeling from what I had heard that she was going to be doing the smaller batch size, but I didn’t want to risk assuming that we didn’t need this specific component. To boot, to my dismay, the component in the warehouse was listed as a 100 gallon drum or something like. The items that we typically ordered were usually listed in small amounts like 250 mL bottle increments that we could order one  or several at a time. Sometimes if we needed a small amount of something, we’d go to another lab with a beaker or some kind of container and just borrow it, so needless to say, I wanted to check with her to see what the deal was and what she wanted to do.

I really didn’t want to ask her for help, but here I went.

The first sentence of her email reply was along the lines of what are you talking about, I have no idea what you’re talking about? I tried to explain my uncertainty and she continued asking me what I was talking about. Finally, she deduced that I had the wrong SOP for her fermentation. She pointed out how she had attached the SOP to the original email she had sent me asking if I could help her. Then she made some comment questioning my reliability.

Shit, how could I have been so stupid, I said to myself mentally. I always checked for stuff like that. I tried gathering myself and calming myself down. I had had a busy day already filled with my own productions and I had to have this order to Melanie soon. I thanked her in my reply and told her that I was all set now and started looking at the new SOP.

My email showed a new message from her right away.

‘But where were you getting that you needed that other stuff from?’  She said, prodding.

I had already told her that I was all set now and thanked her, why did she need to know where exactly I went wrong.

I didn’t respond for a while. I was already stressed out. I had to have orders to Melanie by around 2 and I had been researching the wrong SOP for a while at that point. I needed to get moving. Annoyed I chose to ignore her message.

So, she sent another.

[Nicole did you not get my message where did you see that you needed that component from?]

I replied, reluctantly, and said that I had got it from an incorrect SOP I had found when I had searched the fermentation on our database.

The room where all the supplies were kept was small, tucked away from the rest of the lab. No one was too likely to come in there. I was on my heavy laptop when her reply came. I read the first little bit of it. No worse than what I expected from her on a bad day. I started crying. What was I doing so badly? How could I possibly try any harder? My thoughts were about how I was smart and hard working. I worked my ass off. The email kept going and if I printed it out it’d probably be a page long telling me how stupid and unreliable I was.

I had saved the email. I wish I had it now so that I could look back at it. It was bad. I wish I could remember all of it now. You can use your imagination. Anything that makes your heart drop and make you feel like a piece of trash. I emailed Melanie. I told her I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the list in time for her or not and asked her if she could come help me. I was still new at this point and felt like I was failing completely at my new job that a couple of months ago I was eager to start.

Melanie walked in and I could tell right away that she was angry. She could tell something was up with me, and she confessed that Zoe had been emailing her too and got the forwarded version of the email that she had sent me. When she forwarded the email to Melanie I guess she had made the subject line: Too Harsh?

Melanie was angry at Zoe. She told me about the subject line of the forwarded email then started to make me feel better saying that if you need to ask someone if it’s too harsh then it definitely is. She also said how it wasn’t Zoe’s job to discipline me and reminded me that we both had the same job title. That gave me some confidence, but I still felt really small and insecure.  I had the beginnings of an anxiety attack in front of Melanie before I calmed myself down. I told her that I wasn’t even crying from the email, and that it was more from anxiety that Zoe had caused me. I had built it up from the beginning of working at the company and now it seemed to all be coming out.

Noah, a younger guy that worked in the research half of our production team ambled into the small room at the same point in time. Melanie filled him in on what had happened, in a way that didn’t fully explain the situation, but he was able to interpret the gist of it.

Noah in his relaxed demeanor, asked who had done all this shitty stuff.

“Just think”, Melanie said, “the one person who is mean to everybody in the lab” she finished sarcastically. My heart felt a little lighter after she said that.

Noah rolled his eyes playfully and said, “oh yeah, Zoe,” with a smirk of a smile.

He went on to say how he deals with her by just making jokes out of everything she says. If she tries to tell him what he needed to do or what he needed to do better he told me he  would say things back like yeah or I need to go eat lunch or yeah or I need to go take a poop.” That made me laugh.

It made me feel better, like I was less crazy and like she didn’t rule the world afterall. I always saw Zoe trying to be friends with Noah and maintain some kind of control over him, but it seemed like he had found a way around the system.

We had been talking for a while, the three of us, and the list was finished by that time. I was about to head out of the room, thinking I wasn’t quite worthy of more of their kindness and attention. I was starting to get pretty embarrassed too for needing their help. Then Zoe walked in.

I could tell instantly that she had been getting worried. Melanie wasn’t responding to her emails.

Zoe had probably gone looking for Melanie in the computer clusters on her lunch break.

She probably saw that Melanie was nowhere to be found.

Neither was I, or Noah.

Then she started panicking.

She had an instant need and compulsion to try control the situation, and salvage her reputation the best she could.

She walked into the main lab and saw no one there. Finally she found us all huddled in the little media room off the lab. She feigned that she had had a quick lunch break and wanted to show us all pictures of her niece. Look, she showed Melanie and Noah. Commanding them to gather around her like prairie dogs. She looked up from her phone and towards me with competitive eyes blazing.

“What you don’t want to see my pictures?” She said. Attitude and mockery were filling her voice.

Avoiding conflict and still feeling insecure, I walked to where they stood and looked at her phone with them. I told her how cute her niece was and walked out of the room. And even that felt daring to me. But I wasn’t going to spend more time in there than I needed to. Not with her, and not after the verbal abuse I had endured only a moment ago.

Melanie was easier to get along with than Zoe. She had even explained to me not to worry about Zoe and that she was hard to get along with more often than not. She’s like that with everyone. She had told me. That made me feel better. Maybe I had someone I could start to tell my concerns to.  She started talking to me about her biker boyfriend and how he was like the king of his gang. She invited me to do a tough mudder with her. But when me and Zoe were in a bad spot, she was nowhere to be seen.

Zoe had had a growing animosity towards me and I wasn’t sure why. I became increasingly anxious to ask her any questions. She would always be annoyed.

A seldom mistake by me meant pure panic. I knew how capable she was at making me feel inadequate.  I dreaded making mistakes. But cell counts were meant to be exact, procedures were meant to be followed. This was my bread and butter but still, mistakes could arise occasionally. I was new to the job, with not much guidance but excelling nonetheless.

I got four separate raises in my first year there. Mark, our boss, would pull me into a separate conference room and tell me how great I was doing and give me a raise. And I think Zoe might have despised me for it. She also felt good about herself when she could make me feel so bad.

I still have some fear in my heart that makes me believe that I simply wasn’t good enough. But I never would have been. There I was a girl, that was fully capable at learning quickly and that was actually nice to people. What did that leave for Zoe? Well, she was fully capable at her job too, as good as I was, but she was nasty. Sure, she was excellent at faking nice to the people when she had to. But most of the time it was, watch out because Zoe would have a way to make you feel like dirt.

Everyone knew it, but myself intimately so. She must have thought she lucked out when I came to work there. Finally, someone that she could make feel bad that wouldn’t even do anything to defend themselves. I was someone who back then solely depended on what other people conceived of me to get by. I was such an easy target for her to feel better about herself because I let her treat me however she wanted to. If I felt bad, then she could finally feel good.

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