A year ago, I was hung out to dry. They waited until after the Easter egg hunt. My boss smiled at me as he told me I needn’t bother looking upstairs. I found my egg near where he was sat in the office reception, feet up on the coffee table in front. Soon, I was sat there myself, feet on the floor, pre-empting my fate, waiting to be called into the meeting room with HR and my line manager, who’d never seemed to like me.
I wasn’t the only one who went that day, but I was the first. Perhaps they knew I wouldn’t go quietly. I swore as I grabbed my things, asking the HR lady for a fag – I still smoked back then – which I sucked down nihilisticly. Through a curtain of tears I made the walk of shame out of the office, accompanied by a producer who, a week earlier, I’d bumped into in the toilet, also crying. Now, at least I knew what she was crying about. She took me for a G and T, and without using so many words, told me she felt I’d had a rough ride, that she knew I was being bullied, and that she thought it was unfair. On LinkedIn, a few months later, I saw she had gone as well, though I doubt she was pushed. Good for her. At least she saw what I did. It was a viper’s nest and they had been gunning for me for months. I had gradually, bit by bit been relieved of my duties. I was demoted, ostracised, whispered about, shunned. They hated the fact I had a platform and wasn’t afraid to say what I felt, although I rarely took the opportunity to say what I really thought. It was, they felt, a threat to the fragile hierarchy they were propping up, that I might one day tell the truth.
To be fair, I hadn’t been on my best behaviour, but then no one else there was either. It was in many ways a den of iniquity: gossip, incest, sexism, favoritism, backhanders and back scratching. The powerful and the exploited, all drinking together in the same pub, pretending to be mates. But everyone knew their place. Except me. I’d taken a job there because I was desperate, to be sure, but I was too proud to accept my new found status.
Like anyone else would in tough times, I had accepted a job from an old friend, who picked up my CV from a pile, and called me because he recognised the name. It turned out that not only was I in the same year at school, I was also on the same street that day, so I met him for a coffee and I explained about the children, to excuse the holes in my CV. Having just had a daughter, he empathised, and then, looking for more common ground, it turned out we lived on the same street, the same block of apartments. He could look down into my living room. Perhaps he had even seen what went on there on a Saturday night.
It felt like an auspicious set of coincidences, and I guess I was hoping that he would smooth my path. But as soon as I had started he relocated to the States with his wife and daughter, and I was left to the mercy of his underling who took an instant dislike of having me in his team, without his say so. Despite seeming to do little work, and blaming mistakes he should have checked on his junior, he was quickly promoted, and wielded his status like a vicious rumour. Perhaps that was my first mistake – standing up for his more vulnerable colleague, who left shortly after. It wouldn’t be my last.
Don’t get me wrong, my work was good. I’m not the sort of person to ever do a bad job – even though I was learning, catching up on years spent at home with the children, flexing technical muscles that had lain dormant, and discovering that abilities that had once been celebrated had not deserted me.
My problem stemmed from within. A succession of events had left me vulnerable, and the crisis of confidence had eaten away at my pride. Full of self doubt in an anything-goes environment that was the out-of-hours dynamic of this young and close knit team, I was on a back foot for being tied down, unable to keep up, making it harder to break in. Once my status was discovered – married, saddled with kids- I was left to my own devices, and with what was going on at home, I felt lonely and isolated.
When, eventually someone paid me some attention, I was more or less fair game. They were popular, important, and they made it clear that they had me in their sights. At home, my weekends were fraught with tantrums and fights, the fallout from years of struggle. My other half and I were angry with each other, infighting, and taking it out on the other, doing stuff we knew would hurt them because we neither of us knew what to do to help ourselves.
The office suddenly begun to feel like a respite, and I began to flourish under the light of attention I’d not felt in so long. I was courted and eventually, slightly against my better judgment, I reciprocated. At the Halloween party, I went dressed as a corpse. Being told I was beautiful felt like a resurrection. But as holding myself together after years of fear and struggle began to bubble to the surface. I was scared that what I was doing would undo everything I had built on, and yet the ground felt so shaky I felt I had no choice but to find shelter I was left high and dry, too much trouble to bother with. I knew it had been a poisoned chalice, even as I got drunk on it.
Feathers were ruffled, the rumour mill turned and jealous tongues whispered. More fool me for breaking rank, and when the rug was soon pulled out from under me, I was placed under scrutiny; more fool me for having trusted lies. In the ebb and flow of a constantly shifting, also desperate workforce, newer, younger, less complicated people were drafted in and I was found dispensable. I was sidelined, put on projects beneath my skill level, shut out and isolated. I was embarrassed and sad. Under my gaze, he began another affair with a younger, thinner, more beautiful girl who sat near me, so I could live the humiliation every day. I tried to rise above it, but some days I wept silently at my desk. No one knew quite where to look as I publicly broke down.
In the end of course I had to go, but where I was vulnerable, with a family to support and, it felt, nowhere left to go, he had friends in higher places to support him, at least, it seemed. As I walked out that day, drifting into the road with little care for whether I reached the pavement in one piece, out in the multiverse, I must have died a thousand times, of shame, defeat, humiliation, fear and self-loathing, and drunk cycling home, startled by the lights. I didn’t want my husband’s comfort. He had let me down as much as I had him. But I had really been running away from myself. He propped me up as much as I would let him and, then we held on for dear life as he was also savagely cut loose, from a job he’d been clinging onto like a raft.
I will always beat the scars of that day’s despair. But the tide turned for us. A year on, he’s the man I married, going places and I no longer fear being left alone while he goes there, nor do I seek comfort from others when his back is turned. I have my own things to do, and I’m happy doing them. I have found a niche where I am supported, a nest egg to nurture, and I no longer need hollow admiration for trivial things that are, in any case, on the wane.
From a distance, someone was keeping an eye on me, and when the time was right, would give me the chance I needed to get back on my feet again. When I realised my old boss had been promoted; a new role, a new company, his smug face snarling down at me from my monitor at my new desk at my new job, I felt a glimmer of something – a fire burning, but it was more complicated than hatred. I know soon enough, it will be my face smiling down at him from somewhere more tangible than online static, and mine will be story that gets told.