Tammy had gathered us all in front of my desk her small body buzzing with anticipation of telling us she was finally leaving.
I was one below her on the ladder because my job was separate from the people who went in the field. Before leaving, Tammy began to train me on how to do the schedule for our group.
Saying it was a lot to learn would be a massive understatement. There were about 30 different runs for the majority of the coastline of our state. It was complicated because some of the runs needed boats, others could only be sampled only during certain times of the year. And they all needed to be sampled at least 6 times a year. Each run had to be scheduled a minimum of two weeks apart. Then there were stations that got missed that would have to be collected at a different date that couldn’t coincide with a future run, etc. It was mess. Angela suggested multiple times a computer program that could help automate the process. She was a whiz with computers and found a couple programs she suggested to me.
After Tammy was had gone for good, her boss Michelle would always come to my desk to have impromptu meetings with me. She wanted to make sure everything was all set.
My desk was a haven to me. It was long. Much more space than I needed. When I started I even got asked me if I wanted a wrist wrest for my keyboard and mouse and when they came in they were purple, my favorite color. They were cushy and amazing and they gave my desk personality. I hung up a bunch of pictures of friends and family on the file cabinet next to me and the view of the harbor out the window soothed me. At the ends of the day it was nice to sit there and enter data and look out the window. No one usually bothered me and I could put my headphones in and tune out.
It was summer time when I’d have my impromptu meetings with Michelle. She’d come to my desk and we’d spread all of our spreadsheets out across my long desk and cross check things off that had been completed and figure out what still needed to be done. Summer was even more busy with runs that needed boats because we only had so much time before it got too cold to keep doing them. There were only so many people to do them, and only two boats and maybe between two and four days a month where the tide would be perfect for the samplers to collect all the stations before the tide wouldn’t work for them any longer. I learned everything as quickly as I could. I wanted Michelle to see my aptitude in hopes of getting Tammy’s position, when it was filled permanently.
From what I had heard from Lauren on the rides in, Michelle had supposedly been awful to a couple of people that used to work in our department. Everyone pretty much hated Michelle, but I kind of liked her. From what I had seen she could definitely be micro-managing and was always stressed out, but in general she was very nice and warm to me.
I had a meeting with her in her office for my three-month review. Harold had gotten Tammy’s job in the meantime over me, so she wanted to revise my duties and update them in accordance to what Harold was now taking on.
I had heard Michelle wanted me to continue doing the schedule which seemed unfair because it had been the bulk of Tammy’s job and I thought Harold should have to do it. He after all had gotten the job, and I had struggled through it all summer with no reward.
I had been telling Lauren how angry it made me. She agreed and would get even more angry about the thought of it than even I would. It felt really good to have her on my side because it really didn’t seem fair.
During the review, the next day Michelle had started reading through a list of my tasks and sprinkled in ‘the scheduling of water quality runs,’ like it was nothing. I almost didn’t say anything because I was normally so agreeable. But I had to admit I was angry. I had not gotten the job and did all the extra work for more than a month. My new found confidence from Lauren gave me the balls to question it. Michelle immediately took it off the table as if it wasn’t a problem and merely asked me if I could help during the transition which I gladly agreed to.
After the review, she changed the subject and closed her office door. The tone turned serious and I was immediately on guard. What’s going on? I thought. She sat back down at the small table with me, when before she had been standing at her standing work station. She explained to me that she just wanted to talk to me one on one. She started telling me that I could come to her anytime with problems in a concerned tone as she gently placed her hands in her lap. She went on to say that I seemed like a really nice positive and genuine person and from what she gathered had a good head on my shoulders. I had admired her easy way to see the good in me that I so often had a hard time finding in myself. She had a hopeful tone in her voice and desperately searched my eyes for a sign on recognition. She went on to say how negative the work environment had been, and how there’s ‘certain people’ that might be causing it. I had an idea what she was talking about. I figured this had to do with Mary because I heard through the grapevine how she’d been complaining to Michelle about the work environment and was quote on quote ‘Michelle’s lackey’.
Michelle wanted to find a way to make things better for our group and asked me if I heard anything or didn’t think the way someone was acting was okay that I could tell her. She thanked me in advance for trying to help as I was empathizing with her. All I had been hearing was how awful Michelle was, but here she was standing up for what I believed in too.
I walked back to the lab and Lauren immediately asked me how my meeting went. She knew I was nervous about how Michelle wanting me to continue to do the schedule. I immediately boasted about how I got the scheduling off my task list and she congratulated me. I instinctively left out the part about making our group more positive even though it was all I was thinking about. I couldn’t help but feel for Michelle and recognized what she was trying to do as valiant.
I thought about telling Lauren for a minute, it was so juicy, and Lauren would have eaten it up, and everyone in the lab would have been talking about it if I had told her. I would have gotten an even higher imaginary place next to Lauren’s dark throne.
The saga of Michelle was like a constant scratch on my back that hadn’t stopped since I started working for the water lab. If they weren’t talking about Mary then they were talking about Michelle. First, I heard from Lauren how she was horrible to one gentleman that worked in the biotoxin lab, which granted, from everything I gathered from Lauren and one incident I overheard, she had been kind of horrible to him.
Next, I heard from Lauren how she had gotten one of her friend’s demoted from the water lab to a different section of the building. Then, again from Lauren, how she had referred to something gross in the freezer as an organ of someone who had been having health problems that had to leave the lab for surgery. I had surmised that Michelle was indeed a little questionable.
Lauren would make sure to point out how overbearing Michelle was not just to me but to Angela too. Angela would be sitting at her desk next to me, unassuming, and Lauren would come over and chat with her. You could tell Angela got a little excited whenever Lauren would come over. Angela was very eager to talk and quick to make a joke and almost make a case for herself as to why she was worthy of Lauren’s attention. I saw a lot of myself in Angela. She seemed to have a way to be everything to everyone. I saw in her a desire to be left alone even though she felt she needed to be loud and funny for everyone else.
Lauren loved to hear about Michelle’s missteps from Angela. It was by far her favorite past time. I, of course, heard all of it because Angela sat right next to me. Lauren would come in and start some tea and talk to me and Angela. Then Lauren would turn the conversation to her favorite topic, Michelle. She’d ask Angela in a caring way how dealing with Michelle had been. Angela would think of something to say and then find something in which she could fault Michelle on, knowing that’s what Lauren really wanted to hear.
Angela, at the time had a big thing going on with the FDA. She was trying to get her machines and her procedure verified the FDA. It was a new animal-free way to test her samples instead of by killing mice. Angela told me one day how she just wanted to talk directly with the FDA instead of going through Michelle. And, Michelle, seeing as she was the boss, felt like she should talk to them. But Michelle would explain things in a less than ideal way for Angela and in Angela’s point of view end up causing more of a problem than anything else.
I realize what Michelle was doing in her meeting with me and what Lauren was doing all those afternoons talking to Angela. The question was, whose side are you going to be on? I hadn’t figured that out yet. I hadn’t realized, that, in life and in the weird part of it that I had created, people can be like commodities. Lauren, so far, had many and Michelle had few. All I knew is that I started feeling and knowing that I wanted to feel less and less like a commodity and more like a person with her own beliefs, integrity and morality.