I sat in my windowless office, feeling all of the beige close in on me. Beige ceiling tiles, beige wallpapered walls, beige phone with an extra long beige cord, beige keyboard and monitor, beige carpet, beige coffee mug containing burnt coffee with creamer – so much beige. I was sure I could smell beige, and it got caught at the back of my throat. It was going to suffocate me.
The beige was in striking contrast to my job which was filled with the exciting energy of negotiations and deadlines, travel and decisions, product procurement, packaging and profits.
Until recently I hadn’t noticed all of the beige surrounding me. For the most part, I enjoyed coming to work. For the other part there was Mark “the Troll,” my boss. His behaviour since passing me up for promotion had been mean-spirited and personal. His wiry black hair went wildly in all directions, round black framed glasses constantly slid down his oily nose, stubby fingers pointed up at me manically as he spat his rage over how no one in the history of our company would beat him as the youngest-ever Vice President, which he hit at age thirty, two years earlier. Most especially I wasn’t going to beat his record.
The job I loved had become claustrophobic and highly political. It was both physically and mentally draining. I was exhausted.
At my desk, I pushed the palms of my hands into my eye sockets and took in a deep breath. As I leaned back in my chair covered in nubby beige polyester (the only relief a thin thread of light blue ran throughout in a plaid pattern), I heard a click from the ceiling where, and above me, a whoosh of frigid air escaped from a vented metal square.
May was here. The oversized blue wool cardigan I didn’t wear all winter was on a hook behind the door; time to put it on. Air-conditioning season had arrived.
To better focus on my thoughts, I quietly closed the door against the steady hum of machines: fax, copiers, dot matrix printers and the telex combined with the chatter of staff from one cubicle to the next. I settled back behind my desk, my thoughts anxious and relentless. My phone rang. I checked my watch; it must be the lab calling with my weekly product test results review.
“Lee,” followed by a pause, “this is your father speaking,” he said, as though that voice could be anyone else. His resonant bass, the voice that invited no contradiction or rebuke, was unmistakable.
“Dad? What’s wrong?” my voice rose in alarm. All previous thoughts flew from my mind and I gripped the handset a little tighter. The great man himself never called without his secretary announcing that he was on the line. This had to be bad news. Surely someone had died.
“When are you getting married? I want to know when I will be a grandfather,” he demanded in a tone I had not heard before.
Where the hell was this coming from? I was relieved and somewhat amused.
“What? This is completely out of the blue, Dad.” I wasn’t even dating anyone. “What’s going on?”
“Well, Barb* and I were talking over the weekend and we have a few concerns.”
“Oh, really. What concerns do you and your new wife have that pertain to me?” I tried to keep the irritation out of my voice, and failed.
“Now, don’t be like that. Barb* has only your best interest at heart. She loves all of you girls. I think her concerns are valid or I wouldn’t call you about them.”
“This is just so unexpected. In my twenty-six years on earth you have never mentioned any interest in being a grandfather, or offered any opinions on my love life, ever. I just find it weird.” And unsettling, but I didn’t say that part out loud.
“We’ve decided it’s time for you to seriously think about growing up. You’re not getting any younger and it’s time for you to settle down,” he said, imposing the royal we again. “Have I made myself clear?”
As I hung up the phone, I felt like I had been given a directive from god himself. Our conversations never took more than two minutes, tops. This one just happened to have more life-altering demands than the others.
I was rattled. Grow up? Was he kidding? I was personally responsible for the development and maintenance of over 500 private label products earning millions of dollars in profit for the US operations every year. That was pretty grown up if you asked me.
One thing I knew for sure, his demands would not be satisfied if I remained in this job or even in this town. There was only one thing to do: make a plan.
I dialled Mary, the secretary I shared with Mark, who sat outside his office. “Bring me a legal pad and two pencils, and hold my calls for the rest of the day. I’m working on a project and can’t be disturbed.”
“What do I say to Mark?”
“Whatever you want.”
I was not normally curt with Mary, but since her recent defection to Team Troll, aka job security, I was not in the mood to deal with her concerns.
Squaring up the pad, I carefully considered my situation, and within minutes the yellow lined legal pad was filled with words, pencil marks in all directions, plenty of pink eraser dust, and, at the bottom, a rough plan, one that would deal with both my Mark problem and my Dad problem.
Six months later, there was another click from the ceiling where, from a vented metal square, came a whoosh of hot air. But by then I was long gone to a new job and a new country.
*"Barb's" name changed to protect my butt!
Lee Currie spent part of her adult life in the grocery industry and another part raising her four children. Now she’s trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life! She’s a trained life coach, a Desire Map facilitator, recently passed the Ontario real estate exams, certified oracle guide, trained astrologist, talented natural light photographer and devoted maker of memory books where her photos are married with stories. Storytelling is the constant through all of her life and she enthusiastically attends many of Brian’s workshops, courses and events in the hope that writing becomes a much bigger part of her life. Much to her surprise and that of her children, she happily remains in sleepy, suburban Oakville with her two lively Australian Labradoodles, Tuck and Finn.
Visit Lee at www.leecurrie.com
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