When I had started at the lab, Angela had just started there a month or so before me. She liked her boss, Michelle, at first. Michelle was older, maybe 35. She was always brustling into our lab, stressed out. Michelle could be a bit overbearing and a smidge micromanaging as I had heard from Lauren, but I thought that she was really nice. Angela had been handling her workload immensely well and Michelle had appreciated that. Michelle would come into our lab, stressed out, and Angela would calmly explain everything to her. I admired how they worked as a good partnership together. They even went out to lunch together a couple of times and local festival in town together once.
Angela started liking the attention that Lauren gave her better though. She, just like me, wanted to be friends with her. As I saw it, she wanted to sit up on that imaginary throne next to her. When you were friends with Lauren it meant that you were in good standing with everyone in the building. People were nicer to you. People noticed you.
After a while, I noticed Lauren would start to put bugs in Angela’s ears about Michelle. She began to tell Angela about all the horrible things Michelle had done that she had previously told me about. I had boasted at the time that I already knew everything Lauren was telling Angela. See, I was cool part of the cool crowd, I said, nonchalantly and non-verbally. I was such a sheep.
Angela started admitting one or two small things that had bugged her about Michelle when Lauren would go visit her at her desk. It was all over after that.
Lauren calculatingly, began going over to Angela’s desk after every conversation Angela had with Michelle. She’d ask how it went in a “caring” way and Angela, agreeably, started to find more and more examples to find fault with Michelle. It didn’t take long for Angela to develop a growing animosity toward Michelle as well.
At the same point in time our boss, Tammy, had just left and I had taken over her duty of scheduling our water quality runs for the time being. Michelle helped me and helped to make sure everything was all set with the standards that we had to meet.
I learned quickly and was doing a good job and I learned how kind, encouraging and complimentary Michelle was. After Tammy leaving, she made me feel appreciated for the hard work that I was putting in. I appreciated the encouragement and recognition Michelle easily gave me. It was always nice to be appreciated at work.
As time went on, Angela started to boast about the things she didn’t like about Michelle. Loudly. She was better at Michelle’s job than Michelle was. Michelle didn’t know what she was doing. Michelle said this stupid thing or that stupid thing. Michelle sucks!
Angela was smart and way better than Michelle with everything that had to do with our new machines. The way I saw it, her putting down Michelle got her mad kudos with Lauren. Lauren would even bring people over to Angela’s desk just to show them how much Angela now hated Michelle too.
This all made me uncomfortable and angry. After all, I thought Michelle was pretty nice. I even thought her “lackey” Mary was alright for the most part. It gave me a reason to be self righteous in my anger. Lauren was egging Angela on. Angela didn’t have a problem with Michelle until she knew Lauren would like her more, if she did. It made me so mad that, not only Angela followed along with Lauren’s prerogative, but she made it her own.
I had spoken up for Mary once in a group setting when I had been “friends” with Lauren and said that she was nice. Mary had apologized to me for one small thing or another that I was visibly annoyed by. Mary at the time, was on the top of Lauren’s radar, and I’d find fault with things she did and bring them back to Lauren for my “prize.” Peter did it all the time too.
Anyways, at the time, I thought Mary’s apology had been really genuine. I had told Lauren how she had apologized and Lauren promptly taunted me back, “well why don’t you go be friends with her,” she said, attitude filling her voice. Why did she feel like everything I thought was a direct threat towards her? It was like if I held that belief that Mary was nice, then she felt like she wasn’t worth anything.
It was nice to get out of the lab and away from hearing Angela make Lauren happy all the time. Some days, I’d leave my desk and go out by the water. There was a nice spot on the other side of the building. I’d go out my side door and past the main entrance and the parking lot to a sloping hill. The same cars were always parked there. I didn’t know who they all belonged. There was always one distinct jeep that had a fish bumper sticker on it that I liked. I’d walk under the skywalk that connected the front and back buildings and sneak in between two buildings where the boilers were. Past there was a nice thin line of grass and trees with a fence in front of you, closing you in, unnecessarily so. I’d lean against a tree and eat my sandwich, or whatever it was, and look over the water.
I couldn’t help but think about how things were becoming more stressful for Angela. She’d come in agitated with her standard yoga pants on under her skirt, that she’d always wear, and a rotating top with a long open sweater. She had been working on something for the FDA to get our new HPLC machine certified. It was a big project and Michelle, had become a perceived obstacle for her in getting it done the way she wanted. She would tell me all about how Michelle had annoyed her the day before and I had listened. Angela’s hate for Michelle had become very real. But I liked Angela. She was fun to talk to. She’d always talk about her little pug and about weed or drinking. Some of the time she even looked like more of a mess than I did, daunting heavy eyeliner and stringy hair. I loved her, but I felt like any love she had love for me was long gone with her, now, closer relationship to Lauren.
Lauren was always coming in and leaning on the file cabinet separating our desks. Hearing the latest gossip that Angela would whip up for her, she’d always egg Angela on and tell her that she had the right to be mad. I’d hear Lauren, later, loving every minute of telling everyone else in the building about it. Even though Angela started becoming more and more empowered by Lauren, she also seemed more stressed than she ever had before as well. I remember the same feeling. When I had been friends with Lauren she had convinced me to stand up for myself against Michelle as well. It was like a constant battle that I was fighting that I didn’t sign up for.
This must have been how Angela felt but to the nth degree. Lauren had become a constant devil on Angela’s shoulder, empowering her and emboldening her over the course of several months.
There was one day where there was a final straw. Angela was so fed up with Michelle that she called Michelle’s boss and complained directly to her. It hadn’t been the first time that this had happened as of late and this time Michelle’s boss came down to have another casual chat with Angela.
Lauren would deceitly and innocently come into mine and Angela’s room right after the boss would enter. We’ll call her Mercy. Lauren would pretend to only want to make a cup of tea but her friendship with Angela gave her an instant casual “in” in the conversation.
I’d seen Lauren pretend not know what conversations were about a thousand times before, and she did it again here.
I had noticed a trend of Lauren always asking people questions, after the standard how are you? She never really care about the answers. She used people in this way to keep up appearances. To maintain the appearance of being a caring person. She’d always be asking Michelle’s boss, Meryc, personal questions that I could tell she didn’t care about the responses to. It just gave her an “in” with her. She did it with Harold ALL THE TIME. She did it in a way that she knew what a caring person would do. She condemned me for being so quiet, so it felt like everytime she talked to someone it was just to show how much better she was than me. How many more ways she could find to connect with someone than I could.
Lauren got a little closer to the conversation. Michelle’s professional boss casually leaned against the black unused lab bench and Angela kicked back in her swivel chair, legs crossed and shoes off, her hands locked above her head in an unnatural relaxed clasp. Lauren deceptively meek and concerned about Angela acted like she didn’t know anything at all about the situation. Even though I heard, and tried to ignore, Lauren instigating the situation along with the growing anger it gave me every afternoon at Angela’s desk.
Lauren would make a joking comment like, ‘oh her again,’ when she “realized” what the conversation was about. Then with her pitch of voice slightly higher she’d ask Angela, hadn’t she done this one thing or another? Making sure to maintain that she was unsure of herself. Angela would then burst into action to Michelle’s boss about the topic Lauren had brought up. Michelle’s boss wasn’t impressed by what they had told them and because Lauren was always asking about Mercy’s children and person life she knew Lauren to be a reliable caring and normal person. Lauren became increasingly comfortable about making jokes at Michelle’s expense and giving away authoritarian judgements of her, but she never got so close to let her true self come out, just enough to make sure that Michelle’s boss knew that Lauren also disapproved of Michelle’s actions. By the time the conversation was over, every perceived fault with Michelle for the past four years, that had ever been noticed or designed had been tossed back and forth. Mercy lending a casually cool and humorous ear for all of it. I sat there for all of it, facing forward towards my computer, with my headphones in probably listening to Top Hits on Pandora, entering data, and trying and not trying to tone out the obvious intentions of all parties involved in the conversation beside me. I took the post of being the work obsessed one, being the uncaring and not normal one. The post the Lauren had assigned me after ending my friendship with her. The post I had begrudgingly assigned myself.
Shortly thereafter, Michelle was demoted to a year of organizing things for a “special project,” or so Mercy told Angela. Everyone in the lab cried victory at the menial task she had been assigned and the apparent demotion, while I silently thought, foul play.
I’ll always remember the day after Michelle was demoted, she came into the lab looking for Harold. Lauren had just finished gleefully celebrating with Angela when she entered. Lauren was back sitting at her desk and immediately started a fake conversation with Michelle. For the extended five minutes or so that it went on, my heart felt like it was both angry and knowing. I wasn’t imagining all of this, I had proof besides all my feelings of Lauren and her questionable, character. I should say past behaviors, but my anger wants to attack her character when really it was just her questionable behavior. As the extended conversation was ending Lauren earnestly and in the most high toned pitch she could manage told Michelle how beautiful the peonies were that she had seen her with the other day.
You could tell Michelle perceived the fakeness of Lauren as she stood there idly beside Lauren’s desk, but there was nothing she could do. Lauren had beat her down. She said she would bring some peonies in for Lauren the next day and she did. I walked by the peonies going back and forth to my desk and the lab the whole next day, each time admiring their beauty and the symbolic place of irony they held in m thoughts.
Things were re-organized and Harold became head of the lab. After the year of her “special project”, Michelle left on her own regard.
I couldn’t help but think that Lauren had back-handily organized everything down to a perfect science to get Michelle to the point of leaving. I saw the demise of Michelle before my very eyes. And it happened, not where you would think, but to the left of me, at Angela’s desk, day in and day out. Not only did Lauren’s heavy hand lead to Michelle leaving, she had gotten peonies from the very person she sent packing.
Everything became so obvious to me after I had become detached from Lauren. How she worked, how she used people. She seemed to have magical ways to get everyone to start thinking like she thought. I noticed it wouldn’t work on people who had a lot of self-assurance and she tended to stay away from those that did. Rather, those that did tended to keep their distance from her. She was always trying to gain respect of those that had self-respect and I observed that she was never very successful.
With her unhealthy relationships like the one I had with her, and like the one Angela and Peter had with her there always seemed to be that threat that she would turn her hate on them. I know, because I experienced it first hand. When Peter would be less than obedient she’d start with small things. He liked to eat tortilla chips in the morning sometimes so she’d call him corn chip. Sometimes it’d be a neutral tone of voice, but most of the time it was in a patronizingly taunting voice. Mind you he was more than 60 and she was a woman of 30. There dynamic made me almost as angry as her dynamic with Angela. Peter always sought Lauren’s approval and it didn’t make any sense. I became self righteous in giving him love just for the person he was rather than who he had to be to please her.
But my obsession became a real problem. I got into a routine where I was hurt and I could only reach for rage. I would simultaneously be putting myself down for exerting so much of my time and energy thinking about her. I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t feel like me. Being around Lauren, Angela and Peter every day became agonizing.
I was secretly awaiting when Angela and Lauren would have their falling out. I knew it could easily happen if Angela said something that wasn’t up to Lauren’s standards.
Angela, of course, would have her mornings where she was less than enthusiastic to see Lauren. Lauren would respond with a disapproving grunt or a sarcastic “Nice to see you too.” Always maintaining their guardhouse relationship.
I remember when this happened to me one morning, it actually hadn’t been long after being called a ‘snap-back girl’.
I replied and said good morning back to her. She proceeded to tell me how my good morning wasn’t enthusiastic enough.
“I said good morning” I maintained, annoyed and tired and unsure of myself and my feelings.
“Barely” she circumvented.
She wanted me to be super excited to see her. Enthusiastically ask her how she was and how her night was. Oooh and aah for her. When it suited her, she wanted to be able to treat me however she wanted, then still have me be all excited to see her the next day. It didn’t make any sense.
This kind of thing happened all the time. Unspoken expectations that I was supposed to meet to get this golden seal of approval. Disliking everyone she disliked. Laughing when she was trying to be funny, especially so, when we were in a group. When she brought up a certain topic in a group she wanted me to acquiesce personal information about myself that was needed to make her point. It wasn’t my style, and I didn’t like it, and it left me always feeling on guard when I was around her in groups. Now that I had detached, I was always finding these things in her relationships with others.
I started listening to a song Called Black Me Out, by Against Me! that I had found. I’d go on drives on roads I hadn’t been on around the lab and blast it in my Jeep.
Here is the first part of it…
I don’t ever want to talk that way again.
I don’t want to know people like that anymore.
As if there was an obligation.
As if I owed you something.
Black me out.
I don’t want to see the world that way anymore
I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure
As if you were my fucking pimp
As if I was your fucking whore.
Black me out.
How inexplicably perfect. A memento to describe exactly how I was feeling at the time. I was surprised by my feelings. I mean the band also had a song called FUCKMYLIFE666. I couldn’t believe I liked a song by a band that also had a song called that. But I did, I fucking loved it. I think I will always love it because it will bring me back to the time where I let myself be angry. Doing this allowed me to get out of my head, try to get past some of the anger that was causing all my focus on her and start to move to something more positive.
She couldn’t treat me however she wanted to, and still have me adore her. And that’s what she expected from me. It was an impossible standard to anyone to live up to, and it leaves me questioning how poor Angela is doing with it now. There is nothing left for anyone on that end of that kind of relationship. No self-respect no self-realization, nothing. I finally realized that I deserved more than that, even though what that was, was hard for me to see at the time.
I know some of you reading may be thinking, what took you so long? The answer is, multiple things. I grew up very unsure of myself and my own feelings. I wasn’t aware that I had the right to assert myself in a situation. But when I did and when I listened to that song in my car it felt like there was finally light pouring out of me. It felt like there was more for me, like there was much better to come. I just had to get out of the pattern of thinking that my feelings and my thoughts and beliefs didn’t matter, because they did and they still do.
When you don’t have real intentions or boundaries for yourself, the workplace, as you can tell, can easily get all muddied up . It can quickly and strangely become a game of who needs you the most for their own agenda. From that, I learned that I needed myself the most. I found out the hard way that you can easily mistake manipulation for the hope of love or friendship that you desperately need from yourself. I found out that that love you need, you can never get from somebody else until you give it to yourself.
Sometimes, it can feel hard or impossible to get out of a friendship for fear of backlash. The most important thing to remember is your own well-being. Your own feelings and comfort level need to come first before any supposed “friend.” It is good to take time to see if other people are good for you or not. If you’re not comfortable with something then you have to speak up or you can get to a point where it is too late and you feel stuck. It is only when we make our voices heard, even if they aren’t verbal, that change can really start taking place, that people can start to be seen for who they really are.