Morgan* and I sat across from each other in the office.
We had the same job, and came into the company right around the same time. I had reason to believe that she was better at our job, since she took half the time to do the computer test than I did. But we worked together at the small, fast-paced office, and we became friends.
She was from New York, like most of our office mates. Living in the South, that was unusual, I thought, until I realized that most of our friends were transplants from somewhere else – mainly the north. Northern people love Southern winters, and when you’re in your twenties, a young city in a warm climate is where you think you’ll live forever.
We shared stories about our lives with our significant others: her husband, my fiancé. She told me about New York, her family members that still lived there, the job she left to come here. I learned about life in a city from her, and I shared my rural upbringing with her. I was square; she was cool. I was naïve; she knew better. We cussed like sailors and laughed and rolled our eyes at office drama and difficult coworkers, told dirty jokes and raised eyebrows surreptitiously at each other over our screens.
We were different, had different friends and spent our free time doing different things, but we bought tickets for a concert and made plans to go together. The concert was cancelled and we got our money back. We never made any more plans together after that.
Time went on and I settled into my job and advanced my competency – my learning curve was steep. The job got easier – speed and accuracy were the most important skills to hone, and relationships and flexibility were key, two things at which I excelled. I took on more work and worked myself up to a pay raise, part of the package I was told to expect when I was hired.
Sitting across from my boss in his smoky office, he said he was pleased with my performance and that I’d be rewarded, and because of the timing of the raise, I’d even get a little back pay for work I had already done. I was proud that my hard work paid off, and giddily looked forward to having more money in my bank account.
I was never a game player, never one who understood shrewdness or the weight of words beyond their immediate meaning. I never expected that sharing my good news with my desk mate would come back to me a week later.
“Andrea, can I talk to you?” The words came unbidden. I was doing great at my current task. I had been in a good mood lately, buoyed by my boss’s confidence in my abilities and the possibility of new opportunities.
Facing my boss again in the smoky office, this time I sat with trepidation. An uneasy feeling in my gut took over when I saw the vague look of disappointment on his normally smiling face. “It is none of anyone’s business in this office what or how you are paid,” he said. “I didn’t…” I started lamely.
But I did. I had.
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I shouldn’t have.”
“All right,” he said, simply. It was my cue to leave. Nothing more needed to be said.
I returned to my desk, tight-lipped. Morgan asked what happened. “I messed up on something and he’s mad.” Trying to explain something without explaining it is hard. I was ashamed and I couldn’t find the words to express it, so I didn’t even try.
Months later I got my own office and a new workload to manage, and eventually negotiated a work-from-home position when my husband and I moved back up North for his job and to start a family. Eventually I lost touch with Morgan; the dynamics of the office were changing, and I think I remember hearing that she quit not long after I left.
Despite our friendship, we were also co-workers. It is a lesson that I will never forget.
*not her real name
This post inspired by:
Prompt #5: A memorable day at work.