Thursday, April 03, 2014

Never Be THAT Girl

Monday I started my new job and by the fourth hour, I had already messed up.

"Remember that conference call webinar thing I had to do?" I asked Leslie.

"Yes."

"Well, five us were remotely calling into live training happening in Chicago. After an hour, the screen reverted back to someone's desktop and the call went quiet. I lingered, admittedly confused, and then disconnected."

"Okay."

"Except twenty minutes later, I realized that my manager had said new hire paperwork would be addressed on the call and it hadn't been. So I scrambled to log back on."

"And?"

"And the first thing I heard when it connected was, 'And that's all we have regarding paperwork.'"

Leslie laughed. "Can you call someone from your team?"

"Right, to admit I can't follow basic instructions? No."

Tuesday I boarded an early flight to have lunch with my new manager and three peers in New York City. Before leaving, I reviewed the New Hire Portal to confirm I had every possible form needed to give my manager. I called the HR-HelpLine to anonymously inquire about paperwork. Come hell or high water, I wasn't going to be THAT girl.

"How did it go?" Leslie asked the morning after my day-trip to Manhattan.

"Great!"

"Did you have all of the forms you needed?"

"I did! Better yet, one of the other new team members sent an all-team email about not using her personal email address. Blah, blah, blah. My manager quickly followed it up pretty much telling us not to send such messages. And it wasn't mean or anything. It just meant someone else has officially been crowned THAT girl. I'm in the clear!"

"Congrats!" Leslie said.

"Oh, though I totally tore the handle off the front door of my apartment building when I got home last night. I heard it clang onto the brick entryway as I walked toward the elevator.  Some dude tried to get in after me and I pretended to not see him and aggressively pressed the door-close button."

"Meaning, you're still THAT girl but your company has no clue."

"Pretty much."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fragile: Handle With Care

"How did your interview go?" my therapist excitedly asked last week as I settled onto her sofa.

"I think I got it. I should find out tomorrow or Monday."

Her face lit up. A wide smile stretched from ear to ear. Her spine straightened as she leaned forward and exclaimed, "That's fantastic!"

"It is." Neither the tone of my voice nor the shift of my body matched the enthusiasm coming from her chair.

"And did you have a date?"

"I did. Really nice guy. He's originally from Connecticut so we bonded over lobster rolls."

"Are you seeing him again?"

"I believe so," I answered before reaching for my cup of water and taking a small sip.

"Do you want to see him again?"

"Sure."

My therapist settled back in her chair, let her mouth fall slightly open, strained to find the words to summarize her thoughts.

"Yeah, I know," I said.  "I'm looking at how excited you are right now and my response, it's like I'm talking about Brussel Sprouts."

"Nailed it."

We danced around this lack of enthusiasm. I was being cautious about work because it seemed reasonable. She agreed. I was being cautious about love because history dictated such.

"But you can still be excited."

We dug deeper. We discussed this sense of preservation masquerading as caution.

"Like I've said before," she started. "This approach served you well during your childhood. But you're still acting guarded without evidence of needing protection."

I took another sip of water, this time using the liquid to help swallow down the lump lodging itself in my throat. I glanced out the window, as if shifting my gaze would help stave off the tears. Then I admitted that no matter how much I rationally knew I wasn't defective in my physical appearance, I couldn't fathom a man embracing it without hesitation. Clearly he'd someday determine my cellulite wasn't worth tolerating. My soft stomach would eventually become unbearable. At a certain point, my larger two front teeth would morph from cute to unsightly.

"Rationally I get it. Veneers won't fix the problem. This runs deeper than cosmetic dentistry."

"Yes, it does," she said.

"Except it's so ingrained at this point, embedded in my bones....." I paused.

"We're going to tackle this," my therapist said, her voice confident yet warm. "Here, in this space.You'll tell your mom to fuck off. You'll hold your dad accountable for not protecting you. By getting the anger out, you can stop internalizing it. You can stop turning that anger on yourself."

I took in a deep breath, exhaled with a slight huff. I considered what she said.

"You see, I can't connect those dots. For me, that process won't lead to embracing my flaws. And I apologize for dismissing your approach."

She smiled. "You're being honest. I'd rather you be honest. But I still think we should try it."

I nodded in agreement, refraining from admitting fear of failure. This wasn't my first time sitting on a couch, trying to tackle this demon. While strong on the outside, I felt fragile on the inside. Unbelievably fragile. As if my heart was made of delicate glass. And if this effort didn't work, I feared it just might shatter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Third Time's a Charm

"You really should apply," my manager said over lunch in mid-December.

"But there's no relocation," I replied.

"Apply. Get your name out there."

And so I did, throwing my hat in the ring for a promotion that would require a move to the west coast. My California friends were ecstatic at the prospect of me heading in their direction. Leslie panicked. I wanted nothing more than to put my head down and do my job. But I went through the process, answering questions and politely bowing out when it was confirmed I would be responsible for moving myself west.

"You really should apply," my senior manager said two weeks later when my then-manager announced her resignation.

"For her vacancy in DC?" I asked.

"Apply. You have a great shot."

And I did, making it all the way to the final round. I flew to Chicago in early January to sit down with senior leadership. One meeting went incredibly well. The other clued me into the reality that, no matter how tight my Spanx sucked me in, I wasn't getting the job. Though my qualifications far surpassed those of my competition, this was a game of politics and I didn't have a shot in hell.

"Which jobs do you want to go for?" my new manager asked in late January, my inbox flooded with postings he'd sent along.

"I just got to San Francisco for a 24-hour work trip. Let me rinse off this airplane smell, find some food and review what you sent over."

"Apply. You're hot right now. People want you!"

And apply away I did, submitting an application for the third time in two months for a job I was finally interested in pursuing. It was a promotion to a completely different division, removing me from the drama and uncertainty plaguing my current team. It was a title change that would bring with it greater job stability and a very nice salary increase. It was also an opportunity that allowed me to remain in Atlanta, a place that was finally starting to feel like home.

I sailed through phone screens and thoroughly enjoyed my face-to-face interviews, something most people fear like the plague. My scheduled forty-five-minute conversation with the Director ran an hour and fifteen. Peers and managers, both current and former, excitedly reached out to vouch for my competency. With two recent application efforts in my rearview mirror, my interviewing process was a well oiled machine.

"Paige, it's David. Is now a good time to talk?" the recruiter asked yesterday afternoon when I answered the phone.

"It is!" I answered.

"But is it a good time to talk about a promotion? I'm calling to make you an offer."

"It is indeed."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Turning A Corner

"So catch me up on things," my therapist said as I settled onto her sofa, set my cup of hot tea on a coaster.  "It's been almost a month."

I updated her on all that had transpired since our last session in mid-December. I told her about how a close friend of twenty years failed me at a time I was so needing her to be present. I told her about a visit to Florida that included calm conversation, genuine belly laughs, and nary an argument with my mother. And I told her about the lengthy interview process that forced me to cancel our scheduled session for the previous week.

"How did it go?"

"Oh, it went really well. I met with the Director of my entire division. That was a fantastic discussion. But the interview I had after him was ridiculous and made me realize I didn't want the promotion."

"Wow, really?"

"Totally. She was trying so hard to intimidate me and I just don't have time to manage something so unproductive."

"It sounds like you're making incredible strides," she said, beaming with pride as she relaxed against her chair-back.

Except that wasn't exactly how I was feeling. Instead I was struggling with a sense of frustration at work. Just that day I learned I needed to be in San Francisco the following week for a lunch meeting that no one could explain. This in addition to mastering and taking a test about an entirely different product and attending an event an hour from home. All I wanted to do was sit at my desk and finally catch up on work that fell off during my so-called vacation.

"You don't see it, do you?" my therapist asked.

I shrugged.

"Paige, I'm blown away by the progress you've made with your mom. Even when your friend was shitty, you did what was best for you and told her how her behavior was hurtful. You've made smart career choices to ensure you stay on track. And you're dipping your toe back in the dating pool."

"Yeah, except that hasn't amounted to much."

It hasn't. Though I updated my online profile to include newer pictures and more current statements, the pickings felt slim. More importantly, I wasn't feeling overly interested.

"Why?" she asked.

"A coworker recently noted some guy was checking me out and I didn't even realize there were men in the room with us."

On the one hand, I miss resting my cheek on a man's chest, my body rising and falling with the movement of his breaths. On the other hand, I feel insulated from the actual acts needed to graduate to such intimacy.

"You're putting too much pressure on yourself!"

It was a familiar accusation.

"When I look at you, I see a woman who is together. You're dressed elegantly, not like you've thrown in the towel. You're a woman about town with a thriving career. And, more importantly, you have your shit together. Enjoy the moment and the rest will follow."

"Okay."

"Now that you're putting yourself out there, I sense you'll be snatched up soon enough. I'm serious! Hang on tight because wonderful things are heading your way."

I took in her giddy grin, her confident optimism, her genuine excitement for me and decided to follow her lead. After all, she hadn't steered me wrong yet. Plus, in my heart I knew I was ready to stand beneath the moonlight and enjoy a kiss with a man who makes me weak in the knees. I just couldn't see through the haze clearly enough to trust it could happen.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Heartbreak (and Disgust)

"Oh for fuck's sake," I said as I glanced at my phone.

It was New Year's Day, a time for fresh starts. The sun was slowly climbing above the horizon. A gentle breeze rustled the palm fronds outside my bedroom window. And there on my screen was a text message.

Happy New Year, Paige.  Think of you often. -A

Words that once would have lifted my heart and warmed my skin were now nothing more than a tedious annoyance. A gnat buzzing about by my ear. A lone strand of hair somewhere on the back of my shirt, completely unreachable but irritatingly brushing against my arm. Sun glare after a rainstorm when you've left your sunglasses home.

I set my phone back on the bedside table and stepped out of my bedroom to join the rest of my family. My mother was stretched across a living room sofa with a mug of mediocre coffee in one hand and the latest issue of Garden & Gun in the other. Leslie and Anders focused on the 1000-piece puzzle we had started a day prior. Olivia was in the kitchen eating a bagel.

Though I didn't look at the text again that day, I found myself taking moments to digest this new perspective. It was surreal without being unsettling. I felt like an actor in a long-running play for which I'd always been a lead character. Yet now I was seated in the audience. And from this view, it was a completely different story unfolding before my eyes.

Throughout my time with Alaska, I stood center stage. Yes, twice I caught him tangled up in lies that, upon untangling, indicated the presence of other women. One time he told me he was in Michigan visiting his sister. Another time he was fishing out on the Kenai Peninsula. It wasn't until I discovered crumpled up boarding passes, papers long forgotten, that the truth surfaced.

Now, somehow being expected to play the part of the other woman, my heart ached. Not for me, but for Alaska's wife. She was likely awakening in his Hawaii home, ignorant to the intimate note he sent a few hours earlier to a former love. She would brew coffee, run her fingers through his hair, suggest they run into town for breakfast. He'd kiss her on the lips, tuck his phone in his pocket, and wonder why I hadn't replied.

Five thousand miles away from me was a complete stranger living a life I once wanted. She married a charismatic man so easy to adore. She lives in one house with a view of Cook Inlet, in another perched on a cliff in paradise. It is a glamorous life that she has yet to learn is unbelievably fragile. Except there on my phone was the first crack. A sliver separating the ground beneath her flip-flop clad feet. An earthquake so gentle, she probably failed to even feel the shudder.

Running on the treadmill, lying by the pool, connecting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I found myself pausing to reflect. Having grown so far beyond the anger and heartache, I know exactly what comes next for his wife. There will be moments of sadness and fear, hurt and frustration. She will sob so hard her bones ache. She will attempt to forgive, though will struggle to forget. Eventually she will settle into a distrust that will blanket every movement Alaska makes. 

Knowing this path slowly unfolding before her, being so familiar with the events to come, my heart broke for this woman. It was the only feeling I had in response to that text message.  Well, that and utter disgust for the man who sent it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Day 1 of Vacation: Work 10 hours, hopping onto a last minute conference call where my direct manager announces her departure from the company effective January 1st. Vow to shut computer down until January 2nd.

Day 2 of Vacation:  Work 4 hours. Rejoice in learning my strategic refusal to take a California-based job without relocation money meant I didn't get the promotion I didn't want.  Join a group of fabulous women for cocktails worthy of a new dress and sexy stilettos. Have friend unzip dress in hotel lobby because me doing so later would involve dislocating my shoulder.

Day 3 of Vacation:  Go to therapy and, as the last session of the year winds down, realize my response to E reaching out via email was formal and distant and pretty much an indication of emotional paralysis.  Oh, right, E sent a very nice email just prior to vacation, an email that I needed five days of over-analysis to respond to poorly. Lose appetite.

Day 4 of Vacation:  Finally succumb to chills, cough, and aches that have been lingering on the periphery.  Begin a course of Nyquil that proves I'd be a terrible candidate for Ambien.

Day 5 of Vacation: Receive email from senior manager insisting I apply for my departing manager's position. According to her, I'm a high potential candidate for this position based in Washington, DC.  Dedicate time to pen a cover letter for a job I'm more interested in but am still hesitant to aggressively go for. Beam about my ability to write a stellar cover letter in twenty minutes and do so using a beautifully crafted sentence using one colon and three semi-colons.

Day 6 of Vacation: Knit Olivia a new winter hat because little else can be tackled in my current state.  Learn senior manager would like to conduct a phone interview while I'm on vacation for a job that technically isn't even posted by human resources because, unlike me, they don't work when the office is closed.

Day 7 of Vacation: Make parmesan-thyme crackers, maple-pecan bacon, flan, and dark chocolate brownies. Gather around a table with friendly faces, delicious food, and exhale that the worst has passed.

Day 8 of Vacation: Realize hair still smells like bacon. Pull on jeans, lace up sneakers, and spend part of Christmas day at a no-kill shelter petting pooches, rinsing dog bowls, and scooping poop. Head home only to learn friend of twenty-years, a friend who insisted I visit her over my vacation, doesn't know what to do because a boy she's known for four weeks wants to spend time with her and, like, it conflicts with my trip. It is a trip that is to start in twelve hours.

Day 9 of Vacation: Awake at 6.30AM to cancel NYC-bound flight slated for noon. Justify $200 cancellation fee as reasonable compared to showing up somewhere one is not welcome. Refuse to take so-called friend's craptastic insult personally and instead focus on how to get to Sarasota now that flight south from NYC is canceled.  Accept the fact my hair will probably smell like bacon forever.

Day 10 of Vacation: Climb into Gretel's front seat, slip on sunglasses, fiddle with the radio, and pull onto the highway. Just shy of Macon, sing along to Feeling 22. Passing through Valdosta, commit to reading, to writing, to playing tennis and to ending this year on a high note. Pulling into Sarasota, realize that for all that's knocked me down, I've continued to get back up and oftentimes with grace. Know that, no matter what, life's still pretty good. Even though my mother asks why I smell like bacon. And even though I have a phone interview scheduled for New Year's Eve day.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Now We're Getting Somewhere

In sixth or seventh grade, my mother asked to see a paper I was scheduled to submit two days later. It was a little before bedtime and the house was relatively quiet. "This is shit," she said when she finished reading my work. They were hurtful words coming from a woman who was supposed to comfort and console. Except I wasn't permitted to cry. Instead I was expected to collect my books, meet her in the breakfast room, and rewrite the paper through the night while everyone else slept.

In high school I was not really permitted to wear jeans. Besides being too casual, my mother liked to remind me my shape was a challenge.  "Your rear-end is built like a shelf," she'd say as I stood in the fitting room, the waistband gaping as the hip area strained. Judgmental words coming from a woman who was supposed to love me unconditionally. Except instead of telling her she was being mean, I quietly stood there as she directed the owner of the local denim store to tailor the waistband to accommodate my mismatched curves.

In law school I found myself standing at the foot of my parents' bed, abdominal pain, a high fever and extreme nausea keeping me awake. When I whispered I felt terrible and thought I needed to go to the hospital, my mother said, "Let us know if you need anything." I was in too much agony to weep at the fact my own mother let me drive myself to the ER. Upon my return home hours later, I was too exhausted to inform her that I had an infection so high it registered off the charts, the doctor resorting to IV antibiotics to help me recover. It didn't make sense to say something because it would never amount to anything anyway.

After law school, my mother took me to France for a two-week summer trip. We started in Nice and worked our way north, ending in Paris. On our second to last night, my mom threw a fit. I don't recall what it was about but at a certain point, she headed for the door. "Are you coming back?" I asked from the bed.  "I don't know," she responded without even looking at me. When the door slammed, I panicked briefly, realizing I was five thousand miles from home, alone, and with limited resources. But there wasn't time to process the fear and anxiety created by the one person expected to protect and shelter me. So instead I determined I'd be fine, using my passport, return airline ticket and credit cards to make my way home.

"Looking back now, how does it make you feel?" my new therapist asked.

I laughed. "It's ridiculous. But I figured it out."

"But how does it make you feel?"

I sat there quiet.

"I've noticed this with you the last few weeks. You're whip-smart and can think your way out of any situation. It's an incredible skill that you developed as a kid."

"It's how I survived."

"Right. It saved you. Except there's nothing to survive any more. It was never safe to express feelings. But it's safe now. So how does that make you feel?"

"I was twenty-four or twenty-five at the time."

She looked at me for a second and then spoke. "Your mother abandoned you in a foreign city. I don't care about your age. She left you alone as punishment for something most likely minute and probably never apologized for it when she finally did return."

"I think we went out and got crepes from the corner stand."

"How does that make you feel?"

I shifted my lower jaw so that the tips of my teeth gently brushed together. Saliva pooled beneath my tongue and tears filled my eyes. "Sad. I feel dismissed, rejected, and alone." I paused to reach for a tissue. "Incredibly alone."

"See, that's the healthy response. Now we're getting somewhere."