I packed up my things in my office tote bag—overstuffed purse, insulated lunch bag, and extra shoes because my new ones were tight. Digging out my car keys, I looked over at Julie, my workmate, former secretarial schoolmate, and one of my best friends.
“Julie, are you coming? It’s 5:00.
“No, Laura, she needs this typed for her early morning meeting tomorrow.”
“And she just gave it to you now?” I asked, probably too loudly as I knew her boss, Delilah, was in her office right next to Julie’s desk.
“Yeah . . . It’s OK. It’s an important meeting and we want everything to be done and proofread,” said Julie, probably also loudly enough that Delilah would hear her.
I sighed and said, “OK, then, I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”
I left for home, fuming that once again my friend had to put with this last minute nonsense for which Delilah was famous. Her management skills consisted of barking orders. “Type this. I want it in an hour.” “Isn’t that done yet?” half an hour later.
No one liked her. She had come from New York City to this small New England town to work in our corporate headquarters for a major franchise. Everyone expected her to be smart, savvy, and big-city assertive, but what we got instead was just rudeness and it was jarring. Her first year working for our company she was treated to a cake for her birthday in the board room and just the executives were invited. We admin assistants were used to not being included in executive parties. But we usually got a slice of cake from what was left over. After the party, she’d wheeled the hostess cart out of the board room on her way to the break room and there was nothing left. Not one slice of a giant sheet cake. This wasn’t surprising because when the door to the conference room opened as the party broke up, we’d seen her packing up the remains of the cake in a Tupperware container and, head down, rush it surreptitiously into her office across the hall.
Poor Julie, who was an experienced Admin Assistant, never stood up to her. Most of us got along well with our bosses, but sometimes it was necessary to politely give them a reality check. Delilah was so off-putting, she wore an aura of bullying around her diet-thin frame and discouraged any kind of reality check or speaking truth to power.
Julie called me that night for a good fat-chewing.
“Hold on, Laura. My door buzzer is going off.”
“Who is it?” she said in the distance to the buzzer intercom.
“Hi, hon, it’s me, Mitch. Let me in! I miss you.”
“Mitch, we were supposed to go out tomorrow.” She sounded annoyed with the interruption.
“I know, but I miss you. Can I come up?”
“Laura, I’ll have to see you at work tomorrow. Take care.”
And once again, I was eclipsed by her ubiquitous boyfriend, Mitch, who never understood the word “boundaries”. Julie and I would make plans to see a movie or go to a museum and just when we were ready to leave, Mitch would show up, take her off to the side, and beg her to cancel her plans with me and go off with him. Going off with him consisted of driving around aimlessly, with her listening to him talk about himself, his workout routine, and how he wanted to marry her and have six kids and live in a cottage in the woods. The fact that she didn’t want six kids or to live in the country never registered with him. On days they didn’t see each other, he’d text her dozens of times a day. If she didn’t respond immediately, he’d call her at work for conversations that went on so long with Julie mostly just listening, Delilah would stand in front of her desk, frown at her, and point to her watch.
The next day, I saw Julie at work and we discussed Mitch, once again. To my credit, I did show some restraint and tried to be diplomatic but I think Julie could feel my resentment of this guy who did not treat her right.
“So, Julie, did you guys go out last night? What’s up?”
“No, we just sat around my apartment. He was hungry for chicken croquettes and mashed potatoes, so I made them for dinner. He told me about his new workout routine and how it made his pecs bigger. He wants to get married.”
“Julie, you got home from work at 7:00 p.m. and started making chicken croquettes? I love them, but they take, like two hours to make. Could he have asked for anything more complicated?”
“I know, but he said he had a hankering for them.”
“Did he bring the fixins or dessert or anything?” I asked her.
“Well no . . .”
“What a cheapskate. Julie, do you even want to get married? What about your acting classes and your dream of going to California?”
“I don’t know . . . he says he loves me and will treat me like a queen.”
“Julie. Listen to me. He’s not even working. Since he got fired from his last job as a mechanic a year ago, he hasn’t even tried to find something. How’s he going to treat you like a queen?”
“Yeah, I know.” She looked sad and frankly, trapped by her inability to say no to this leech.
“Julie, let’s plan a fun trip. I think we need to get outta Dodge as they say in the old westerns. How about we take a vacation day and plan a long weekend to Nantucket?
“Boy, I could use some time away. Why don’t you make the reservations, then let me know the hotel cost and I’ll Venmo you tomorrow. I’ll be packed and ready early Friday morning. But I need to go to my mother’s house to pick up my suitcase. I forgot to bring it when I moved to my apartment. You wanna go with me tonight?”
“Sure, I’ll drive.”
That night we drove to her mother’s house. Julie was the oldest of five siblings. The second we entered the house, chaos assailed us. Amid the unwashed dishes and other debris, all of the siblings were yelling, her mother was yelling at Julie about how ungrateful she was, whatever that meant, and her dad was sitting in a recliner, looking depressed or drunk, I couldn’t tell which. The yelling increased the longer she was in the house. It was like being inside a blender.
I went with her to her old closet to look for the suitcase, which we found under a pile of dirty laundry. She grabbed it and said, “Let’s get outta here.” We quickly made our way to the car. Her mother followed us out to the car, screaming at her the whole time.
“You ungrateful pup! I need your help around here with these kids!”
Julie was in the passenger seat, looking straight ahead, saying nothing to her mom. As I backed out of the driveway, her mother started chasing the car, still screaming accusations at the top of her lungs. It was clear that her mother had mental health issues and Julie was overwhelmed by it all. I now knew why she moved out. Julie had told me she had felt tied to her family, being used as a modern-day Cinderella and babysitter, sometimes causing her to miss school. None of Julie’s efforts made the slightest dent in the family dysfunction.
I made the reservations, picked her up and drove to Hyannis to catch the fast ferry. We sat in one of the few booths and the boat took off for the one-hour trip to Nantucket, its big engines and sheer power, compared to the old 2-1/2 hour slow boat, leaving a massive wake. We hit the concession stand for coffee and Malasada, a delicious Portuguese pastry, and settled in. It was so freeing to be away from the office and the various characters that peopled it.
We got off the ferry, settled in at our lodgings at the Jared Coffin House and went out to lunch nearby at The Brotherhood, a local watering hole. We decided to turn off our cell phones and turn them back on only if we felt like it.
“Julie. What are your plans? I’m so sorry about your mom. Not a good situation there.”
“Laura, I tried to help out where I could but I’m not the decision-maker. My dad needs to step up to the plate. Or even Rob, who’s only a few years younger than I am. I mean, he’s 20. He ought to be able to talk to dad about getting help for my mom. You know, Mom has always been a bit off-kilter. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rob moved out soon for obvious reasons. You know, he’s the only family member who came to see me in my play.”
“Yeah, I think she needs professional help now. There’s nothing more you can do except take care of yourself.”
“This was a great idea you had about getting away. I feel like I can think and no one can get to me right now. I’m sure there’ll be 15 texts from Mitch when I turn my cell back on.” Julie smiled and looked around the restaurant. “Listen to the quiet. No yelling. Just a happy buzz from the other diners, all enjoying themselves.”
We paid the bill and walked down to the waterfront, inhaling the salty air and admiring the old sea captain’s cottages and million-dollar boats coming and going in Nantucket Harbor. Then we went uptown and did some shopping in the little gift shops where the main artistic theme was hydrangeas, so common to Cape Cod. We bought an ice cream cone at the old fashioned ice cream parlor and sat on a park bench outside to watch the world go by and chuckle at the bicyclists riding bumpily down the cobble-stoned street.
“You know, Julie, you did a big thing moving out of your parents’ house. You showed that you do have power. You know, that, right?
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I thought of it as a fight or flight thing. I just had to get out of there or I’d start screaming. I don’t want to end up like my mom.”
“So what about those acting classes? I always admired people who could get up in front of others and speak, remember their lines, pretend they’re a turtle or whatever. You know when the girls in our division and I attended your recital play, we were all impressed by your performance. I’m not just saying that. They were raving about you.”
“Actually, the acting classes are going well. I finish up the last in a series next week. The teacher says I’m good at improv and the class liked both my portrayal of Juliet in the Romeo and Juliet exercise AND my impression of a coyote.”
“Ha! I think it’s the coyote thing that’s going to get you noticed in Hollywood! Listen, Julie. You’re a nice person. Maybe too nice. Your boss is an ass-hole but you never stand up to her. Mitch is a pain in the ass but you let him get away with dominating your time and planning your life. What do YOU want?”
“You know, except for the acting classes, I never thought that much about myself. But this weekend, which gives me a quiet time to think about that, is good for me. If I had my druthers, I’d take the $20,000 I have in my bank account . . .”
“You didn’t tell Mitch about that account, did you?” I asked her.
“Well, yeah, he knows about it . . .”
“Bingo! He’s hanging around you because you work hard and are a good saver. He’s gonna feed off you forever. Julie, I say this as a friend. Ditch Mitch.”
She smiled mischievously, continuing. “ . . . I’d quit my job, take my savings, pack up my crap, get in my car, and drive to Los Angeles. I’d look for a waitress job to keep me going till I could get parts. That’s what I’d do.”
“I read somewhere that you could make a modest living just being an extra on a set.”
“Yeah, I could do that. Ya know, this conversation got me thinking.”
“Really, what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll get away from your insufferable boss, your insufferable boyfriend, and have a career in the movie industry. The only downside is you’ll miss our friendship.”
“I know I’ve been acting like I have no power. But between you, Rob, and my acting teacher’s encouragement, I realize I am not without power. Maybe not a big fan club, but I appreciate it. I’m gonna do it.”
Two weeks later, Julie did just that. She gave her notice. We gave her a cake sendoff on that late Friday afternoon as we were getting ready to go home. As we were all putting on our coats and Julie was putting her desk items in a box, Delilah stomped out of her office and barked at her to type something and she wanted it now!
In an uncharacteristic display of nerve, Julie actually said to her,
“Why why why Delilah?”
She picked up her box, walked out the door, and called over her shoulder to me,
“I’ll call you from L.A.!”
# END #