Chapter Seventeen

It wasn’t before long before Lauren must have started talking to Peter about me. I began to not like how I began to be treated in the lab. My work ethic began to irritate my new friend Lauren. She and Peter’s daily routine became teasing me every morning for how I was working too fast or how I’d be too fast to start work in the morning. When we were all in the lab together we had about 90 samples to split up fairly and Peter or Lauren would always say how I had my samples ready to go before they ever would. They said it in a teasing way and I just tried brushing it off and would be genuine in my light heartedness back to them. “Oh yeah, trying to make you look bad. Haha.”

But as the days continued I realized it was far from wholesome fun. At least it didn’t feel that way to me anymore. There was, all of a sudden, pure disapproval coming from Lauren when Peter would bring it up in the morning. I still didn’t get as bad of a feeling from Peter, he was being more  lighthearted. He always talked or complained in the same way a kid would complain to his mom that his brother stole his toy, it was endearing to say the least. Peter would chime in joking how I was starting my samples first again exactly like a girl who just dropped her ice cream cone; Lauren would start in with the more ridiculing comments, saying, brown noser in an intimidating tone. Intimidating and matter of a factly. It hurt in a way that it would coming from a friend whom I had shared things with. I brushed it off just wanting to get through the day but somehow sensing danger. After that I made sure to be slower to start my samples.

Mornings back then, Lauren and I would always stop at Dunkin Donuts. I’d buy her a coffee one morning and the next morning she’d buy me a coffee. Sometimes we’d split a donut or other times I’d get a bagel and she’d get a veggie egg white on a flatbread. It was nice, always knowing what each other wanted and her even confiding in me things that Shannon did to piss her off. I felt at that point, that we were closer than even her and Shannon were. We prided ourselves on knowing each other so well. It was almost like I had found someone that could fill a little bit of the void that I had without having my sister living in the same state as me.

One morning, we had laughed the whole way into work and talked about everything going on in our lives like we normally would.

We had started our work and when Lauren began to call me a “goody-goody” and a brown-noser. I joked back sassily saying, “No You’re a goody-goody,” smirking.

But then she said immediately back, “I’m not a goody-goody.” I giggled. But I became acutely aware of her aggressive tone as she was strutting back to her desk powerfully with a taught neck, her chin pointed slightly towards the sky and a matter of fact look on her face.

Okay? I thought. Why couldn’t she just laugh it off? I mean I was laughing it off every other morning. When I call her a goody-goody back jokingly she had to made it all serious? That didn’t seem fair.

Then I heard her say as I left the room, “no wonder no one liked you in your old lab.”

My heart sank as deep into my body as it could. My reality shattered. Did I really just hear what I thought I heard? Here I was leaving my heart open, believing the best in Lauren and this is what I got? She wasn’t my friend like I had to keep telling myself over and over again since I had met her. She didn’t care about me like she would tell me she did. You’re my friend and I care about you, or you’re my friend and I love you, she would always say. And I would think how nice for someone to say they cared was. I didn’t have to wonder, I knew. Who wouldn’t want a friendship like that?

As the morning went on she kept talking to Peter and ignored me. They were talking about holla-back girls when I walked back into the lab. My guard was up.

“Peter, have you ever heard of a holla-back girl?” She sneered over to him on the other side of the room as he was playing on his computer.

Peter said something back playfully and sheepishly like he didn’t know what a holla-back girl was. He continued on and asked if he should look it up online.

What is this holla-back business they’re talking about? I panicked. My intuition on high alert.  Maybe she hadn’t said that thing about no one liking me at my old lab, maybe I had just heard her wrong, trying to reassure myself. But it didn’t work. What a bitch, I can’t believe she said that.  Just keep setting up your samples so that you can be done and out of the room with them and take a break.  But it was excruciating

I kept trying to convince myself that I was jumping to conclusions but it wasn’t working. It was like I was desperately swimming to the surface of the water, for air, while simultaneously being dragged down by angry mermen singing and chanting on their way back from a crusade.

I tried to join in with the conversation. Clawing for social redemption I joked saying excitedly, “Peter you don’t know that song?!”

Then in a muffled voice with my last umph of self-confidence and energy, I started to sing the chorus of the song for half a second. I gave myself a mythical fresh breath of clean air. But my guard was totally up. The energy was all wonky and it was difficult to sense any ease or high flying vibrations. Even with my desperate swimming for any thought or conclusion that would lead to a different result than heartbreak.

Peter read off the definition of a hollaback girl off of urban dictionary at his desk. He squinted through his glasses and read off his computer, “It seems as though Ms. Stefani has had some incidents in which another young, presumably female, individual has made some disparaging remarks about her character. Upon learning of the situation, Ms. Stefani is informing this “culprit” that she intends to handle this matter physically. Ms. Stefani’s character is such that she is not the type of person who counters verbal attacks with verbal attacks, or “hollering back.” Using terminology that is commonplace among today’s youth, this is shortened to “hollaback.” Additionally, it appears as though this altercation will take place somewhere near the bleachers.”

No matter how hard they tried to hide it, if they did at all, I couldn’t convince myself that it wasn’t about me. It was too hard when Lauren had her sarcastic verbal abuse voice coming out to play. I knew it was game time. Lauren was snickering as Peter finished up his good boy task of reading off his definition. I could no longer continue to believe and hope for the best in these people. I just wanted to cry. I felt ruined. I had given her all my power and now I had none. There was nothing I could say for myself. I was completely and utterly broken sensing this rejection like a newborn runt left alone in a trash can. Betrayal coursing through me like venom. My perspective unable to see anything but crisis.

Time went by achingly slow for the rest of the morning. Lauren continued to sneer. Enjoying her superior moment to the fullest extent while jeering with Peter.

Then she continued brat-like, “it was more like a snap-back girl.

I was dumbfounded. Me. I was the snap-back girl.

What, I thought, I can’t give a sassy come back to my “friend”? Feeling like a victim to the fullest extent. That was literally like a, your mom’s fat, no your mom’s fat, joke.

No, the first time I make my voice be heard about being taunted she divulges, what I viewed as some of my most sensitive, insecure ridden information, to our other labmate. I wasn’t liked at my old lab, okay, but I didn’t need everyone to know that. I was extremely ashamed about it and worried that it would happen again. I worried there was something wrong with me.

What was wrong with this girl? I concluded, simply, that she was not normal as I walked back to my desk for about the fiftieth time in between my samples that seemed like they were lasting an abnormally long amount of time to finish. A normal person would be loving and kind and receptive to my come-back and laugh, I had thought. Not be aggressive and dismissive like she had been.

She felt all-powerful, and I knew it. That was no friend, I concluded, simply. And for the first time I said to myself that I might deserve better than that. It proudly reeled through my mind and I held onto it for dear life.

I had wanted a fresh start at this new job. I feared that if everyone knew that I wasn’t liked that they would think that I was a weirdo that couldn’t get along with people. That I wasn’t worth love and attention. I had even told Lauren  how a small part of me was scared that what happened before would happen again. She had told me she was my friend and she loved me. She knew how it had scarred me. I was still so self-conscious about it. After months I was still ruminating about what I had done wrong with Zoe and more so with Melanie. It always fell back to the belief that something was just wrong with me. It had been my first time where people hadn’t liked me and I hadn’t known how to handle it.

I had put myself out there with Lauren and she seemed to really appreciate me. And I told myself that that is what I deserved.  It felt good to put it out there and own it. Sure, she asked a million of intrusive questions, but at any point in time, I could have lessened the amount of information I gave her. I felt so stupid for giving her so much of me. At one point in time after this snap-back girl exchange had happened, I had even written in my journal, do not discuss any feelings with Lauren tomorrow on the ride in. Things you can talk about: And I listed the things I could talk about with her.

But it was like Lauren always prided herself on how good she was at conversation and made me feel lesser than. She would flow from one topic to the next so easily and effortlessly and made me feel kind of stupid if I fumbled a bit. That’s how she got me.

I distanced myself a little, we hadn’t mentioned driving together for a couple of days, but one day she needed a ride home.  I was dreading having to give her a ride all day. I told myself that I had handled the situation badly and had been awkward and weird. I thought it wasn’t okay that I reacted the way I had. But I didn’t know how to act after I knew they were talking about me. I kept telling myself that I had to be nicer and get along with her. But I was also angry and hurt and didn’t think that what she did was okay.

I was smoking cigarettes at the time so I at least I had those to help  distract me on the long ride home together. She was confident as ever striking up a vague conversation with me, no regard for my feelings from the day before. She tried talking about random things with me for a good five to ten minutes, but I was still pretty pissed at her and hurt so I wasn’t very receptive to her small talk. I replied with a lot of uh-huhs, oh yeah’s and yup’s.

I think she started talking about Angela and the FDA and I was a little more receptive. But her tone was fake, so I was angered quickly.

As we continued to drive out of her mouth came, “Things are going well in the lab, don’t you think?” She paused for a minute and waited for me to respond. A detected slight tinge of her sneer lingering from the day previous. A wave of anger developed in my so strong that the cigarette might as well have been piece of paper.

After a long pause she added, “Peter is fitting in well, don’t you think?” matter of factly.

“Yeah, he is,” I replied half-heartedly and with no self-belief. A mantra, who does this girl think she is, constantly running through my dazed mind, saving me.

She was easy to see through. She so badly wanted to see how I was going to react. It was almost like it was fun for her.

I puffed on my cigarette, not wanting to explode. I tried focusing on the music playing in the background or desperately searched for anything that could ground me back to my breath.

I didn’t want to tell her how hurt my feelings were. I wasn’t ready for that confrontation. I wasn’t sure how she was going to be. If she was going to be real with me, my friend like she had been all these months before. Or if she was going to be the girl I saw in the lab the day before, someone I didn’t feel like I knew.

I finally grumbled about how awful it had felt when she and Peter had insinuated calling me a holla-back girl all morning. She didn’t try to deny it. See, my intuition and common sense glared back at me, it was about me.

“I’m sorry, that sucks”, she said, “No one should have to feel that way at work.” Then she tried to change the subject uncomfortably. But it only made me more angry.

Was she really trying to talk to me about a pottery place? After she had said that horrible thing about no wonder no one had liked me? Nope, uh uh.  I had talked with her about how she couldn’t have babies for God’s sake, I was always making her feel better. I was there for her when Shannon was insensitive about the subject. I was there for her when her parents moved back in with her. I listened to how she used to do cocaine all the time in Arizona. I listened to her tell me she loved me. She always asked me how therapy was going with my new therapist and she’d talked about hers and how crazy life could be. She was always saying how she appreciated having me around. Now with recent events, I didn’t know what to think, and worst I didn’t know how to react in the situation I found myself in.

Empowered, I dismissed her talk about the pottery place and proceeded to speak my truth. If she wanted to hear what was up I was going to tell her what was up. I continued that no one should have to feel that way at work but didn’t tell her what was hurting me most. It wasn’t that they were calling me a goody-goody or a snap-back girl, although that did hurt, it was that she had said no wonder no one liked me at my old lab. I felt so stupid that I had trusted her. I said something like I feel stupid now for telling you all that stuff about me and blamed myself saying it’s not something you tell someone you’re just getting to know.

“Yeah, I don’t know what you were thinking.”

And in that moment, I knew I was talking to the girl from the morning before that I didn’t know at all.

I still wasn’t ready to believe it. I laughed, desperately trying to regain my sense of self-confidence that I had shakily built back up after NDX. Trying to establish some kind of back and forth with her like we had all those times before. But my inner voice was screaming at me about why on Earth I was laughing. It truly felt like reality was just slipping away from me and I couldn’t catch it.

As I brushed off what she said as a joke I reassured myself. She was being funny. She was saying that because of how she could be mean, like how she talked shit about other people to me. She still loved me and cared about me

I was panicked at the idea of letting the friendship go. So, I went on to say that even though it all really sucked and that I was hurt that I did really appreciate how nice and caring she was and how she was always checking in on me at my desk.

I went on to say that even though I was annoyed and that it sucked hearing all that the other day, that I did trust her. I was trying to say I had trusted her with the stuff I told her about myself.

She smiled a big wide toothy smile right after I said it, it looked somewhat like the cheshire cat from Alice In Wonderland. It irked me in a way I wasn’t at all familiar with but I brushed it off thinking she was happy that she was appreciated.

That night I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t have said any of what I had said to her. I was scared I would be in for it at work. I talked with Jay about it a little that night, and he said that he was sure that I would be fine. And then I called Amber and she said something like, hey you said what you had to say and if she doesn’t like it then fuck her. It was just your truth.

But it was hard to keep their confidence. I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread building up inside of me on the way into work the next day.

I had told my sister that Lauren had said that thing about how she didn’t know what I was thinking telling her all that stuff either. And Amber had said, “Eeew, I don’t think I like this girl.” I agreed how weird it was but I said that I thought she was joking, defending her and clinging to my hope. She had acted so caring and understanding every other day.

The next day I was friendly with her, happy that we had talked. I tried to retain my sense of peace and confidence of standing in my own truth and hoping for reciprocal trust as I struck up a small conversation with her. But she felt more fake to me somehow and more distant.  I wasn’t sure how to act. But I was proud of myself for saying what I had to say. After all, I told myself, we were friends and that’s what friends do.

Setting up samples that morning was normal. The three of us, Lauren, Peter and I. We were talking about fun things and I was finally relieved and in a good mood. I remember the night before on the car ride how I had said to Lauren that I just wanted to have fun with both of them in the lab. But towards the end of the morning, after I had left the room a couple of times for bathroom breaks and to have a snack I walked back into the room to hear Peter and Lauren talking about trust falls. They gathered me into the conversation and my guard went up. This isn’t a normal topic of conversation. I just said I trusted Lauren the night before. I kept on with my samples and then Peter said to me in a nonchalant way how Lauren would drop me in a trust fall.

…And I laughed it off. Lauren was happily laughing too.

I still wanted to believe that our intimate conversations were held in trust. But my inner truth detector was going off all over the place. If it hadn’t been before, now the sprinklers were on and the emergency exit signs were lit up and there was a firefighter pointing at me to get out.

After I had time to process everything from the morning, giving my full attention to the firefighter, I decided that that was absolutely it. I realized that the whole trust fall talk was clearly indicating she told Peter what I had told her in confidence the previous night. I always liked to believe the best in people. What people showed me they were face to face. I wondered why had she even bothered feigning this elaborate friendship with me and settled into the idea that she was psychotic.

I had completely called her out and she basically agreed saying yeah, I don’t know what you were ever thinking trusting me.

But it had been like I was a safe that she cracked open with precise skill. She had done it before, and she could do it again. I didn’t even have any defenses or extra alarm codes built in. Maybe I wanted to be robbed, I wanted to be loved and respected and paid attention to. And she gave me the illusion of it so well.

I tried to protest that I wasn’t an attention monger and that she had she forked all that information out of me. My inner spirit was protesting that she had skillfully crafted and “caring” questions. I desperately tried to make myself feel better that  I hadn’t been as stupid as she was telling me. I just liked to believe the best in people. How did I get in this position to be able to get so hurt?

I thought I had just been being paranoid after being cautious and worrying that the relationship we were building together wasn’t right. All those stories about Arizona? All the shit she had told me about everyone else in the lab? All the food she came over to my desk with and the teas she gave me and the Christmas present and the walks she had taken me on were all for what? To get information out of me? To make me trust her?

Now I recognize what that cheshire cat smile was, it was excitement. Excitement that I had said what I had said. She had something so precious, so juicy, that she couldn’t wait to go tell everyone else in the lab. That’s the kind of stuff, sadly, that makes queens out of nobodies after all.

It can feel intimidating being hurt but not knowing whether to brush it off or start an uneasy plea for your self-worth. Everything, for me, always felt so uneasy. When you give your power to someone else, I learned, that power can always be taken away. Groveling can ensue just to regain your sense of confidence that you know you are, by birth, entitled to.  Finally realizing what you’re doing can be relieving. I was happy that I wasn’t meek and docile and too scared to speak my mind to Lauren. It had been my status quo basically since I had been alive. The Peace-maker.  But I was finally learning you can’t sacrifice the peace inside yourself for the peace of everybody else.


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