Middle of the week I experienced yet more irony in the sense of knowing I’d give anything to be back at my last job, this time last year. For five months I have been stuck in the middle of a big basement open plan office – possibly the worst place, because I’m in the very heart of all the noise and activity. It’s inescapable. If they had put me in a different team when I started, in a different part of the office, a corner maybe, it might have been a less oppressive five months, and who knows, maybe I’d have stayed a bit longer. The never ending noise is just about the worst thing about the job now, worse even than the fact some of my teammates never talk to me and I’ve felt like an outsider from the start. The constant noise, together with the rule that you can’t put headphones in and listen to music, is what has made me compare this experience to my last job so much. I never thought I would miss listening to music at work so much. If this has taught me anything it’s taught me that I work so much better on my own in a small office with few human distractions. God, at least I could be myself at the last place and focus on my work. I appreciate now that any future jobs I do need to be more like that – I can’t just work anywhere. What I wouldn’t have given for some peace and quiet this week! It’s more and more like a school playground every day.
I thought it would be nice to end the week by leaving early on Friday and going to West London for my sponsor’s home group, where I did the chair a couple of months ago. I could do with a week off from the meeting in town, and the quiet, low key ambience of the West London meeting appealed to me after all the noise of a week at work. I’d need to leave work at 4.30 on Friday instead of the normal time of 5.30, to be able to get across London in time for a 6 o’clock start. J doesn’t mind us working through our lunch hour and leaving early, as long as we ask beforehand. I asked her on Thursday, and she said it would be fine. So I instantly began to look forward to Friday, until it transpired that V was also planning to leave early this Friday as she too had ‘plans’. She wasn’t disclosing what these plans were but it sounded like something important that couldn’t be rearranged. Apparently she’d told me last week that she would be doing this, but I couldn’t remember that conversation. She was still to ask J by Friday, but as she had done this plenty of times before, leaving it until the day to ask for permission, she’d thought it would be ok.
Since I had asked J first, I should have been the one who got to leave early yesterday. But V wasn’t giving in. She had her heart set on leaving early and her pleading looks were designed to elicit sympathy. A member of the team always needs to be in the office until 5.30 in case of customer emergencies, and with J off on a training course yesterday afternoon, that just left me and V to argue it out. I didn’t want to give in and change my plans. I felt that V had already had a bit too much kind treatment recently, taking unplanned days off here and there for mysterious reasons, and not doing a lot of work when she was in. For the past week I had been trying to train her up on the customer mailing process, a hugely complicated process that requires concentration and effort, but by Friday she still wasn’t getting it, thanks to her days off and the loss of momentum. When she’d been in she’d allowed herself to be distracted constantly by D, so I couldn’t get her to focus on the training for more than half an hour before D or one of their friends would come over and start talking to her about something non-work related. It was like trying to teach an uninterested kid at school. Getting away from the job at 4.30 on Friday would have been heaven. Having to stay an hour on my own until 5.30 while V got to swan off early would have been an injustice.
J told me that she agreed with me. But even so, V kept saying that she couldn’t change her plans and I just knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to forget it if I made her stay until 5.30. So eventually I caved in. I had to tell my sponsor that I wasn’t going to make it West London after all. We’d discussed having dinner after the meeting over there, and I could have just gone there to meet him for dinner at 7, but that would have meant doing without a meeting, and I still needed one, so I decided just to go to the usual one in town. My sponsor didn’t mind at all, I’d be seeing him over the weekend anyway. I minded, but there was nothing I could do. I only have to work in this place for another ten days, none of it’s going to matter after I’m gone.
D clearly didn’t want V to leave early yesterday; she practically begged her not to go. Without V there she would just be stuck with me, and the idea was evidently too much for her to bear. Neither of us talk much to the rest of our team – which is why when V’s there it can feel like we’re our own little gang. Without V I don’t know what to say to D, and she doesn’t know what to say to me. Our shared dislike of the office and some of the people in it could be seen as a common ground between us, but D needs an adoring audience for her wise cracks, not someone like me who wants to get on with the work. V will listen to D all day, whereas I dislike wasting time at work. I’m too much of a goody two shoes. And I’m sure D hasn’t forgotten how I ‘stood up’ to her last week when she was picking on V’s weight. When she was asking V not to leave yesterday she joked that I’m too ‘boring’ for her. I had to laugh, even though it stung a little. Well, beneath the knowing smile I’m sure she intended it to sting. It didn’t really matter. She can think I’m boring, it’s fine. I’d rather be seen as boring than as someone who simply falls over themselves to please all the time.
In the hour that we were left with each other she tried to start conversations a couple of times. Her work for the rest of the day involved stamping the date on customer letters – menial and boring for anyone. I felt a bit sorry for her, and I wanted to want to engage. But nothing that she said was going to lead to an interesting conversation as far as I was concerned. Her interests revolve around boys, R&B music, fashion, perfume, and making fun of people. And she remains at a stage in her life where anyone who doesn’t ‘get’ these things is weird. Seeing that a conversation about those things wasn’t going anywhere, she asked me what I was planning to do when I leave the bank. When I told her, she said “aren’t you a bit quiet to be a counsellor?” She really couldn’t see it. Finally she came onto the subject of why I’ve never made many friends at the bank. She’d noticed that I don’t spend much time chatting to people on Skype, our company’s instant messaging service, like she and V do. I’ve seen them spend hours laughing at things said in group chats, things they wouldn’t get away with saying out loud. When I told her I’m really just here to work and get paid, her response was a pensive ‘hmmm’, like I’d told her I had paranoid schizophrenia. Had I told her the truth, that I suffer from an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult for me to relate to people in a loud, playground like environment, I guess her reaction would have been the same.
When I was 18, 19 I thought 21 year olds were so grown up and mature. How funny! The emotional gulf between me and D is so huge, you wouldn’t think it was just twelve years. She makes me feel like I’m fifty. And I don’t mind that – I’m quite happy with being the old fogie now. Until yesterday, when V was around I was laughing at all the jokes and pretending to be interested in all the conversations about boys and fashion. Now, maybe I don’t need to do that any more. I think D could probably see through it.
Before I left the other team leader, S, came over to ask us if we’d be free for a barbecue at his place next weekend. He really wants to bring all the team together outside of the work place. It’s an unequivocally nice thing to do, and especially nice of him to invite me even though I’m leaving and barely a part of the team as it is. When I told him I couldn’t come because I have plans that day, what I really meant is that I can’t think of anything worse than going to a barbecue at the house of someone I hardly know and spending the day with colleagues I don’t speak to and won’t be seeing again once I leave. It’s possible S picked up on this, as he smiled and said that he understands some people just like to do their own thing at weekends and not do anything related to work. I could have cried for joy and kissed him – finally, someone at work understands me! As I’ve said before, at first glance S wouldn’t be the person you’d expect to get that understanding from. Yesterday I discovered even more hidden depths, as we talked about what I really like to spend my weekends doing, and where I like to socialise on the rare occasions I’m doing it. I briefly mentioned an inclination for the clubs in Soho in a past life, and S shocked me by saying he’d gone out to Heaven once with some friends. I probably shouldn’t be so surprised – every straight person in London has probably gone there once. He described how he’d taken a girl there to impress her once, and how it had really worked, and how he’d had a great time there with the music and the people. How nice it is to know there are people like S out there: tolerant and open, completely without judgement.
I suppose that counts as another ‘coming out’ at work. I mean, if he didn’t realise I was gay during the course of that conversation I don’t know what it would take.
Of course I now must accept that the paranoia I’ve experienced about my colleagues in the past five months was entirely in my head. They were never an unusual collection of people uniquely against me from the start. They’re just people. Some of them I don’t get on with, some of them I do. Yesterday I finally felt free of all that baggage, of feeling like the new person who doesn’t fit in. I just felt myself, as I had chats with people like S and a couple of others briefly in the kitchen area as I went to make coffee. It’s still absolutely the right decision for me to leave the bank, but I’m glad that I managed to open up in the end.