FAIR WARNING! This is gonna be long. tl;dr version: AJ, I hope you’re well, and I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend–especially when you needed a friend the most.
Yesterday afternoon, I fell asleep super early. It had to be somewhere around 5:30. Consequently, I woke up around 12:30. And 1:30. And 2:30. And 3:30. And 4:30 … at which point, I just gave up, took a shower, and went to work.
Once I woke up at 12:30, I pretty much didn’t go back to sleep. All those other times were when I just got up and wandered around, went to the bathroom, got a drink, rummaged through the fridge (to no avail) … I just couldn’t find the comfort zone, you know? And there’s a pretty solid reason why I couldn’t sleep.
So, about 10 years ago, I had this really good friend with whom I worked. This person really made work enjoyable in an otherwise pretty miserable place. We had lots of the same interest in music, lots of the same twisted humor … but we had enough differences that it kept conversations interesting and engaging. I’m pretty Mormon-y; she’s not. It was never an issue, though, as far as I know. The entire environment we worked in was one of toxicity, back-stabbing, and posturing–all environments in which I really don’t deal very well.
For a number of years, we worked in the same building. At some point, she was transferred to our off-site facility. About 4 and a half years into my stint with this company, there was a schism on my team, in that half my team turned on me and got me released from my position as team lead. I was re-assigned to the facility where my friend worked, which was a bright spot in another-wise demoralizing experience. I was not at all pleased to have to move, but I held my head high, packed my desk, and moved on with the day.
That was mid-February 2008. Several weeks went by. I had come to grips with the back-stabbing. Still wasn’t happy at all with my ex-team members, but… whatever. It happened, and nothing I could do would change it.
Now … keep in mind that some of the complaints levied against me was that 1) I wasn’t carrying my load of actual work (in reality, I had more projects than any of them, but they were neck-deep in their own work that it wasn’t fair to ask them to shoulder more, so I took that burden upon myself, which they weren’t aware of); 2) I’m hogging all the work (they found out about the extra projects and felt like I was “hogging the glory” … which … yah. Utterly hilarious.); 3) I wasn’t helping enough with our CMMI project (I *asked* if anyone wanted the responsibility to shoulder that task. One girl said “Yup! I’ve got it!”, and then proceeded to go behind my back when I didn’t immediately jump to her aide when she didn’t “get” something–completely forgetting that I had put her in contact with ALL of the key players on the project who would have been infinitely more knowledgeable than I would have been … not to mention that I was trying to juggle four or five projects of my own, all of which had pending deadlines for various milestones.).
Let’s skip on ahead to the first week of April. Our program manager called an all-hands meeting for just our company’s employees–no government or military personnel would be in attendance. I had absolutely no desire to go to this meeting, but it was an all-hands meeting. It was required. I emailed my friend about not wanting to go. She wrote back, “Oh I’m not going. I don’t want to see [insert government manager person’s name here].”
“Yah, but … it’s an all-hands. We kind of have to go.”
“Well I don’t want to, so … I’m not going.”
Now … before pressing forward with this insane diatribe with which I’ve punished you enough already, there needs to be a level of explanation about [IGMPNH]. He … I dunno how to describe him, other than he seemed kind of misogynistic. Like … to the point where he didn’t think my friend was capable of doing her job without him hovering over her. Now … this friend was a complete bad-ass: she was *exceptional* at her job, she knew her stuff inside and out, backward, forward, up, down … she knew it all, but because she’s a girl, [IGMPNH] didn’t trust her. She did *not* need him hovering over her to get her work done, yet that’s what he felt he needed to, for whatever reason. At some point, an issue came up that she was adamant required answer “A”. To literally no one’s surprise, [IGMPNH] insisted that the answer needed to be “B.” My friend went with what she knew, provided answer “A,” and in the end, was completely in the right. [IGMPNH] did not appreciate being shown up, I guess. Then again, she didn’t appreciate having her knowledge questioned. I completely understand why she wouldn’t. For one, the office in which we worked was and probably still is very male-dominated, and she’s a very independent and strong woman. It had to have been extremely frustrating for her to have her work questioned based solely upon her gender. I believe there were other instances of this kind of whack-o-ism, but this is the primary instance–the proverbial straw that broke her back.
Back to the all-hands meeting day. I messaged her later in the day and said, “Hey, I’m heading over. Save you a seat?”
“No. I’m not going.”
I went, much against my better sense of emotional and psychological self-preservation. In retrospect, I wish I had taken the path of my friend–blow it off altogether. But, as I was constantly reminded, it was “a mandatory meeting–no skipping.”
Lucky me–I got to watch my ENTIRE EX-TEAM reap the rewards of all my hard work. They swooped in as I was at 90% solutions on all my documentation, and were awarded merits and commendations for “work well done.” I sat there in stunned silence. It was all I could do not to laugh, get up, and walk out. Just … flabbergasted. I know why our PM did what he did: he wanted to boost the rest of the team’s morale. And I’m sure it worked. However, on the opposite end, it killed me to watch them all walk up, get their little gift certificates and awards … all for work that I had done ALL the leg-work on (with the one exception of the girl who *finally* got all of our CMMI stuff figured out and submitted. In all fairness, she deserved her commendation. I can’t and won’t take that from her.).
After the meeting let out, I made a bee-line for the door. Didn’t stop to talk, didn’t congratulate them on their grand accolades, just marched out the door and went back to my office. When I got back, there was an email from my friend discussing something completely unrelated to the meeting or work … probably something house-related cuz we were both pretty keen on the housing market back then. Whatever it was, though, I wrote back and added a line at the end that said something along the lines of “Yah, that was a riveting meeting, wasn’t it?! Oh, wait …”
She wrote back one line: “I told you I wasn’t going.”
At that point, my dam broke. I had been trying to keep the wall from breaching, but it finally broke, and a flood of emotions came welling to the surface and spilled over into my follow-up email. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was pretty scathing … something like “I don’t know who you think you are that you’re so much better than everyone else that gives you privilege to skip mandatory meetings, but it isn’t cool.” Words to that effect. I hit “Send,” and then I called my wife and bemoaned my frustration with the meeting. Mere minutes later, my friend came in to the office and started *screaming* at me. I mean … she just laid into me something fierce. “Honey, I gotta go. I’m getting yelled at and need to take this elsewhere so the rest of the office doesn’t have to hear this.” *click*
We went in the hall outside our office. The screaming and lambasting continued. I just stood there and listened, knowing that she was pissed off and in a rage. There was no way anything I would have said could have resonated with her in any kind of positive way, so I let her speak her mind, then I said something like “Listen … you’re too spun up right now. I’m going to go back in the office. Let’s talk about this after you’ve had a chance to cool down.”
Now … I know I’m kind of losing my memory on certain things. Names, places, dates … all things for which I used to have a super-sharp mind, but lately I feel like I’m starting to lose some of that sharpness. However, her face as I walked by her to go back in is *not* one I will ever forget. It was filled with rage, hurt, disillusionment, … pain. Like, actual pain, in hindsight. I don’t remember if she said anything as I went in, but I do remember the silence the rest of the afternoon and the following day.
That was on a Thursday. Friday came and went. Nothing. Saturday, I called her. No answer. “Probably busy.” Sunday morning, I tried again. She answered. And … I kind of wish a) I hadn’t called, b) she hadn’t answered because HO-LEE S***-SNACKS (that’s for all you Archer fans).
Let’s be honest: sometimes, friends get into arguments. Sometimes, friends fight. However, friends also make up, right? Friends patch things up because friends are valuable and worth the apology, right?
As she verbally attacked me and my character for the next several minutes, I sat stunned and numb. She hated me. And I don’t mean she was just angry; she … I dunno how to describe it. The pain in her voice was tangible. I don’t even remember most of what she said, other than she leveled some pretty harsh accusations at me, like “You always yell at me,” “K was right about you–you’re abusive” … things like that. Things that, to this day, I still don’t quite understand clearly, but from her point of view, I can see where certain conversations could be taken out of context. Not that they were ever cleared up in the moment or even discussed, just filed away for future verbal beatings that I simply did not see coming. I really had no idea what to say. Once she started leveling accusations at me, I apologized profusely and tried telling her that she was *never* the intended target of any kind of malicious dialog. Ever. But she kept pulling up instance after instance of times where she felt attacked. No amount of explanation would counter her already entrenched beliefs–I was now public enemy number 1, and I was to be shunned and cast off. Permanently.
I sank straight to the bottom. I thought being stabbed in the back by my old team was painful; this was … I dunno. I’ve never been diagnosed as clinically depressed, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I landed–right at the bottom of the pit of misery (minus all the “dilly dilly” and beer). I couldn’t get out of bed. Sleep was the only relief. Going to work was excruciating, knowing that I couldn’t laugh with or chat with my friend. And the worst was not being able to apologize for how I unwittingly hurt *her*. I’m one of those kinds of people that doesn’t really hold things in. If someone asks me how I am, and I’m not well, I answer as such. I do recall one occasion where she asked me a question, and I was pretty low. I explained to her how low, why I was low, and I didn’t mince words. I didn’t level anything at her because none of it was her fault, right? Just work crap and house issues. To this day, I don’t know how she could have construed that as yelling at her, but mine is not to question why someone takes something the way they do; mine is to hopefully explain and clarify … but I didn’t get that chance because a) I had no idea she had ever taken it that way, b) she wouldn’t *let* me explain in light of our imploding friendship.
Like I said, this was almost 10 years ago, right? So why do I let this keep bothering me? How is that this keeps me up at night?! WHY!? WHY!??!?
The answer to that is simple: I do not know. The much more complex answer is probably about as lengthy as this post already is to this point, and to be honest, I don’t have the mental stamina to hammer that out. The in-between answer is this: it bothers me still because, to this day, I still feel horribly that this friend feels that I betrayed her, that I wasn’t there for her when she needed a friend, and that I put my feelings above hers. It was never my intent to betray her (or anyone, for that matter). As a friend, I always try to put others’ feelings before my own. I always try to see their point of view. I want to be that kind of friend for them because that’s the kind of friend I want to be. And this one time I put my feelings before someone else’s, and … yah. It went so far sideways that I couldn’t ever get it back on track, you know? And that’s on me. I should have been better. I didn’t need to worry about all those accolades my team was getting for what I had already done. She was hurting, I knew it, and I could have been more supportive … but in a selfish moment, I focused on me.
Now … there will be some of you (right?! because EVERYONE reads this dung-heap of blatherings!) who will insist that I *need* to take time for me and vent my feelings. And you know what? You’re right. I do because I, too, am human, and need to feel like I’m worth listening to or understood. BUT, and this is a big one, there could have been and should have been a better time to vent and wallow. It was just such a horrible confluence of misery for both of us. She chose not to attend and avoid that misery. I chose to run into it head-on, and, if I’m being point-blank honest, I wasn’t mentally or psychologically prepared for it. Maybe she knew how she’d react, and she knew that that was a situation she needed to avoid. I had never been in that situation, so I wasn’t at all sure what I was getting myself into, but regardless, that’s no excuse for accusing her of thinking she’s better than everyone else. She was hurting, she needed to keep her distance, and she did. I didn’t.
AJ, you’ll probably never read this. And that’s cool. If, on the remote chance that you do, I hope you know that I’m sorry I made you feel less than you are. I hope you’re doing well, and that you’re happy. That’s all.