By Megan Jacob**
**Today, we’re thankful to have a guest post from upstart florist and meanderer of Portland, Oregon, Megan Jacob. Enjoy it. And don’t hesitate to pay her a compliment for this one. People who write things like compliments.
My tears are different now. They’re sad, or melodramatic, or cheesy, or heartbreaking. They’re a lot like yours, probably. They serve a bodily function that my brain is in tune with, like a sneeze or a cough or, well, you get the point. But during that month, my tears were something else. They were like the drips of a leaky faucet, letting loose irrelevant splashes until something changed.
The cold, hard metal of the deserted bleachers had already imprinted lines into the back of my bare thighs, when I started sobbing into my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As far as multi-tasking goes, trying to eat thick peanut butter and open-mouth crying aren’t exactly conducive. I hardly noticed the homeless man that had migrated to my side of the baseball field. He approached, weary eyes trained on my blotchy, red tear-stained face offering a ratty handkerchief. I accepted and made contact with his eyes; as bleary as mine were bloodshot. All he had left to give was a half-hearted smile and a shoulder shrug before turning his back and moving on. I stared at the retreating silhouette of his shopping cart piled high with rattling glass bottles. My heart swelled at the stranger’s compassion and tenderness, but then he was gone.
I glanced at my watch – an hour had passed since I had collapsed on the bench in an unsuccessful attempt to compose myself. I gathered what was left of my soggy sandwich and walked into the sunlight. The homeless man’s smile restored my faith in humanity; maybe this day was worth giving another chance. I happily walked 20 yards reciting inspirational quotes and applying inherent goodness to even my least favorite people– all the bullshit they stick in iPhone commercials to keep us from murdering each other, and to keep us buying iPhones.
I glanced up at the approaching shadow I was about to enter. I shivered in the sweltering September heat, and pulled my work-appropriate cardigan a little closer around my shoulders. The temporary jolt of optimism never stood a chance. Was this building about to swallow me whole? No, it would chew me up first. Just like it always did. But I walked in anyway.
To work in an ad agency in your early twenties is to help people create a fake world, as your best attempt at entering the “real world.” The paradox would almost be funny if it weren’t so off-putting. It’d almost be interesting if it weren’t miserable.
Working on the fifth, and top, floor of the building, I was winded before each workday began. This was a rare day that I’d have time to catch my breath and compose myself before my manager, Heather, would advance on me, baring her lipstick stained teeth into a nasty grin and twisting her wrinkled hands as though they were longing to reach out and wrap tightly around my neck. I used to think that there was a special place in Hell for people like Heather, but with the three years of hindsight since I left the job, I’ve realized that her corner office was that place. Let’s just say the fifth floor certainly wasn’t heaven.
A late-twenty something in a corporate office, Heather thrived on catty cliques, pencil- skirt-and-high-heel combos that caused her to walk like a baby giraffe discovering its legs for the first time, and tossing her thin, bleached blonde hair over her shoulder. Basking in the incumbent glamor of a mid-to-lower level employee in the sales and marketing division, her daily routine included exaggerated sighs and talking loudly about how she could never possibly have the time to explain menial tasks to a dum-dum like me. On good days she chose to view me a younger, tag along sister. But most days I was like a piece of gum on the bottom of her cheap high heeled shoe.
I spent a lot of time staring at the gray felt of my cubicle wall. When my neighbor would stop chewing ice long enough, I had moments of quiet contemplation about the strange corporate environment I was (barely) trying to exist in. I often thought about the mirrors. Every employee in the company had one, of some size or shape. They would slip on the heels they had taken off because the blisters were growing to the size of large, unstable tomatoes. Lipstick was reapplied. Hair was combed…Perfume spritzed…. Noses were fresh and ready to be browned. They saw the same people at the same copiers, break rooms, and toilets every day, and yet they primped like they were getting ready for prom.
The mirrors weren’t all that put me in a stasis of unnerving insecurity during my one month temp position at this giant conglomerate. There was the cafeteria full of overpriced food where everyone got their limp, gray salads to eat at their desks, because lunch breaks were for the under motivated. Gossip was a routine and seemingly encouraged pastime. Worst of all was the inefficiency. God the inefficiency. It takes hundreds of people passing around various pieces of paper for several weeks to produce one advertisement. I worked there for one full month – that’s thirty days, give or take, on the average calendar that almost all humans use– and I honestly cannot tell you what people actually do there besides look in the mirror and hand off pieces of paper from cubicle to cubicle. Imagine Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls except no Bill Murray or Lindsay Lohan, just soul crushing Heather and 15 or so pudgy-faced, mousy haired, middle-aged women, who I want to say were all named Julie.
My only reprieve from all the miserable oddities of that place, was my weekly bag of Cheez-its from the vending machine. I slowly collected coins throughout the week to put forth toward my only friend, my sunshine in the bleak, wary life of wearing slacks and brushing my hair. One day, on the hour long bus ride to the temple of doom, I dropped my wallet and watched in horror as change rolled every which way throughout the moving bus. I can’t remember a lower time in my life than crawling around the floors of public transportation, reaching for change through the legs of strangers who probably needed it 10 percent more than I did, but had 20 percent more dignity.
Towards the end of my month there, I was being berated daily by an endless, faceless line of people sent my way by Heather, who had begun to use me as a scapegoat for each and every one of her own mistakes. After the third Julie of the day yelled in my face about memo fonts, I lost it. Publicly crying on my lunch break was a daily occurrence, but it took something really special to get me to ugly cry to the point of drawing the attention of the transient population.
I wish I could tell you that I quit in a blaze of glory – flipping the bird as I kicked through the glass door with my steel-toed motorbike boots, shards flying every which way. In reality, I found another job, let my boss know of my intentions to quit, and I quietly left at the end of the day, relieved to escape the unblinking gaze of the corporate monster that had longed to suck out my soul through every orifice in my body.
I still have the tears that come from living life, just like you. Probably more, because I’m a wimp. Tears from breakups or rejection or fear or injury or loss or nostalgia. God, they hurt. But they hurt the same way growing pains hurt or healing bones ache. Those tears are cleansing. It’s called having “a good cry” for a reason.
The tears that come in between the time you realize you need a change and the time you’re brave enough to make it are some of the worst tears imaginable, because they are so goddamn unnatural. Your rationality can’t tell you why you’re supposed to quit a job you hate or get out of a relationship you inexplicably lost passion for. And your body doesn’t know how to handle it either, so it just presses the ‘cry’ button for lack of a better idea.
Getting out didn’t get me anywhere. It just got me out. That was enough.