Jaime was six feet tall and weighed nearly three hundred pounds. She had long arms and baseball mitt sized hands that dwarfed my own — my hands are nine inches long when fully extended. She was a big woman with a big personality, easy to smile on good days, jovial and mercurial, and professed her devotion for her faith whenever possible. I am the big man — six feet two inches and two hundred fifty pounds. I like to think of myself as the anchor, meaning that my mood doesn’t vary from day to day.
Jaime and I were larger than normal sized bookends to a group of five client services representatives. She was the red and I was the green — these colors are representative of our personality profiles. I sit in the cubicle a few feet to the left of the entryway and Jaime sat below the window facing south Denver. Three normal sized female co-workers occupied the cubicles in between. Everyone got on well as long as Jaime was certain that we were treating her with the respect that she deserved.
The area in which we are situated measures fourteen feet by seven feet, barely enough room to accommodate five human beings with separate personalities and accompanying baggage. If any one of us arrived at the job upset or irritated, the crossness would waft of that person like smoke from a campfire. Then it hangs over the entire department like a storm cloud, infecting everyone and everything. It can get in the way of a person devoting all of their attention to the completion of their job. All of us, including the supervisor, intuitively understood this dynamic. But Jaime did not seem to care.
Three months after I was transferred to the client services department in 2014, I rode the rickety elevator to the third floor of the Newport Building. When the elevator doors slowly skidded apart, I saw Jaime waiting just behind the doors.
“Hey Jaime,” I said as I took a step beyond the threshold. “How is it going?”
Jaime stared straight ahead and walked right by.
When I’d arrived at my desk a few seconds after that unfortunate encounter, my heart was thumping hard and my forehead was perspiring. What had I done? I thought. I hadn’t been there for more than a few months and I’d already turned the whole group against me?
It wasn’t long before I discovered that I wasn’t the sole reason for Jaime’s implosion, as she was extending a stiff arm to everyone in the department, including the supervisor who approved her sketchy time card — she found news ways to accumulate overtime — every two weeks. The ensuing days went by very slowly, without nary a peep from Jaime apart from when she was answering a phone call from a client. Her intense silence was a deafening roar, and it made coming to work an excruciating experience. Jaime would not speak until the morning of her fifth day of self-imposed silence.
Jaime’s strategy had brought about her desired result. The rest of us were paying rapt attention as she explained her reason for shutting down for an entire work week: she’d shared news of a friend dying the Friday before and was offended by what she thought was a lack of a compassionate response from the rest of us. The others would profusely apologize to Jaime for being insensitive.
I rolled my eyes.
We were co-workers, not blood relatives. I’d known Jaime for less than three months, not enough time to cultivate a close relationship with a co-worker that I was still getting to know. Jaime was not in the right, and I knew deep down that the other employees agreed with my position.
In the subsequent years that followed this first incident, Jaime would create new reasons to lose her temper, make mountains out of mole hills, and finally withdraw from the group for however long she deemed it was necessary. The rest of us were as quiet as mice, tiptoeing around while the largest among us snorted.
After a few days of making everyone else in the department feel uncomfortable, Jaime would deign to speak, as she was confident that she’d gotten her point across. I would estimate that Jaime would blow a gasket between five to ten times per month. I was often the target of her ire, though I certainly believe that her anger towards me was misplaced. I did my best to treat her with respect and kindness and always coached her up — I had experience in the laboratory, so I was the resource for customer inquiries about the lab — when she requested, and I’d asked her to tell me when she thought I was being disrespectful towards her. But she would always opt for being the mayor of her village — the village is created by many employees in the workplace. The village is a place for gossipers and troublemakers. The mayor actively recruits other employees to be residents of the village, where a lot of trash is strewn about.
We recycle two of five employees in the department every year or so. Not too long after a new client service employee was hired, Jaime would send the new person an email detailing a perceived slight. The new person would pull me to the side and ask me what was going on.
“What’s up with her?” said Katherine, a former bartender who was looking for a new start in the health services industry.
I had my canned statement ready. “Don’t worry about her. She does this to everyone who’s new. It sort of a rite of massage when you work here. Get harassed and bullied by Jaime. Just try to brush it off and keep working hard.”
Soon after I was promoted to lead CS representative, I was summoned by my supervisor to her office, where we would bounce ideas off each other until we settled on a strategy for how to manage Jaime. We dutifully and reluctantly went about implementing the plan, knowing that we were probably wasting our time trying to assuage, cajole, and motivate Jaime into becoming a better employee and a better teammate. A manager at the hospital once told me that a company should focus on its stars. We were doing the opposite. And how could we help Jaime improve her behavioral and work performance when she insisted on blaming everyone besides herself for her outbursts.
In October of last year I grabbed a few faxes from the paper tray and took a few minutes to glance at what had been scrawled on the fronts. I stepped forward, looked up, and spoke. “Is anyone waiting for a fax from New York Presbyterian?”
“I’m not waiting for a fax,” said Julie, the very pregnant and youngest member of the client services department.
Jaime kept silent. She was facing forward as she placed her hand against the left side of her face, with her middle finger extended.
My blood started boiling right then. I walked straight over to her cubicle and said, “Is everything all right?”
“I fine,” she said.
When we gathered together in the middle of the room for our daily huddle, Jaime prepared to speak.
“I usually take more time before I talk about what is bothering me,” Jamie said. “But I feel like I have to speak about this now.” Her fiery eyes were burrowing holes into the front of my face. She’d been shooting hostile stares at me a lot lately.
I know you’ve been taking my faxes from the machine Eze,” she said accusingly. “What have you been doing with them?”
“I have not been taking your work from the machine,” I said.
“Well, I know that Julie is not taking them. Whenever she gets one of my faxes, she immediately gives them to me.”
“So do I,” I said.
“No you’re not!” said Jamie.
“What do you think I’m doing with faxes that are being sent to you?” I said. “You think that I want to do you work. You think I’m sabotaging you on purpose. What?”
“I don’t know why. Or for what reason. But I know that you are taking them. I don’t want people to think that I’m not doing my work. ”
“Jaime and I just want to make sure that everyone in the department is being respected. Maybe we need to come up with a policy on how to work through issues similar to these. We’ve got to get this under control. But I do know when Jaime gets stuff with my name on it, she places it on my desk.”
Great. I thought. Now Jaime has poisoned Julie against me.
I pushed my swivel chair back so that I was out of Jaime’s line of sight. I shook my head vigorously and then spoke. “Look, when I get a fax with someone’s name on it, I give it to them. I don’t want to be responsible for another person’s work. And I don’t have anything to gain by stealing.”
Jamie would apologize to me later. It was definitely progress from a few years ago. Too bad I was still steaming. I sent an email to my supervisor and then I scurried into her office and slammed the door behind me.
“I think Jaime flipped me off this morning,” I said. “I want to go to human resources. Do you think I should?”
My supervisor nodded. “Yes, that would be a good idea. I am getting fed up with this.”
I was sitting across from the human resources generalist two days later. I took a few minutes to offer up an account of the incident that had etched a spot amongst my thoughts. I endeavored for calm and neutrality as I spoke. I even refrained from uttering Jaime’s name at first.
“This is about Jaime, right?” said the Human Resource Generalist.
“It is about her. Yes,” I said.
I want to offer a challenge to you Eze,” she said. “Did you do anything to ameliorate the situation before coming here?”
“Yeah I did,” I said. “I walked over to her and asked her if she was upset. She said everything was fine. Of course I didn’t believe her. Then she accuses me of stealing her work from the fax machine. Why would I do that?”
“Ok. What do you think is the best way to respond?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Write up an account of the incident and put it in her record. That’s all that I want for now. I don’t want her to lose her job over this.”
“I agree with you.”
So another page would be added to Jaime’s personnel biography/memoir. Most of the entries were at the behest of Jaime, a frequent visitor to the human resources department, and instigator of multiple prior investigations into the inner workings of the client services department. I came out of the meeting thinking that I was going to have to put up with her shenanigans until I found employment elsewhere. That was until a late afternoon this past January, when I received an email from my supervisor.
In the email, marked urgent, my supervisor described receiving multiples complaints about Jaime from exasperated employees and clients. Employees were questioning her ability to perform the basic requirements of her job. And the clients? The clients claimed that Jaime had been rude to them over phone. Some clients even said that Jamie had resorted to insulting them. One irate customer, a friend of a co-worker in the laboratory, was quoted as saying, “What in the flying fuck is wrong with Jaime?!”
My supervisor asked me to keep a close eye on Jaime going forward, and to provide her with insights into Jaime’s overall performance. By then I’d worked with Jamie for five long years. In that time I’d been privy to many complaints from employees and clients regarding her. I’d often find myself covering for Jamie with the clients, as I was loathe to be involved with any sort of machinations that led to the jeopardization of another individual’s livelihood. I’d never wanted to be that employee, the workplace snitch who knifed another person in the back.
It was different this time.
We’d experienced the traumatic layoff of a significant percentage of our workforce the previous summer, my supervisor and I were working under a new laboratory director who was looking for news ways to pinch pennies and monitor our performance, and the next review of the fiscal year budget was less than five months away. I’m currently being weighed down by a mortgage and student loan repayments, so it was imperative that my employer does well. Jaime was jeopardizing my livelihood with her behavior, and I could not go one day without replaying the image of Jaime flipping me the bird.
I spent the rest of the day replying to my supervisor’s email request in between phone calls. By the late afternoon I was proofreading a multi-paragraph screed, the frustration and anger bleeding through each letter on the page. It wasn’t too long after I pressed the Send button that Jaime was put on a performance review plan, which required that she meet with the assistant director should any new issue arise.
A month later, as I was exiting the break room, Jaime rotated her chair in my direction as I stepped down the stair. She looked up. Her face was long and her eyes were tired.
“There are demons all around me Eze,” she said. Snapping at my heels like a pack of wolves. Everyone gossiping behind my back.”
I swallowed hard. For I was one of those snapping demons that she was referring to. That said, I could empathize with her current predicament, and in more ways than one. I knew what it felt like when everyone in the workplace has you in their sights. It shatters the heart, especially if the people that you’ve known for years begin to turn on you. And I could also identify with the willful obtuseness that is a byproduct of a mental illness — I believe that Jamie is an undiagnosed sensitive. After nearly six years without demonstrable improvement, with a few months of regression sprinkled in, an individual who was of sound mind would have understood why the extra scrutiny was necessary.
“Oh really?” I said. “They’ve been giving you a hard time.”
“They’re trying to make me quit,” said Jaime, shaking her head. “But I’m not going to give in. Like I always say, I’m not going to bow down to anyone. They’re not going to make me quit.”
I sighed. “What are you going to do then?”
“Keep coming. Keep working. Don’t let them get me down.”
A few weeks pass.
“Thank you for all the help you gave me,” said Jaime through a pinched face.
And then she turned sharply to storm out of the room, leaving me and another representative to answer all of the incoming phone calls. Luckily, it was the late afternoon, when a steady stream of urgent customer inquiries had slowed to a trickle.
As I watched Jaime exit with the utmost haste, I felt the ground shift below me. I knew that it had been building for a time, the mutual dissatisfaction between a disgruntled employee and an increasingly dissatisfied employer, and then reached the crescendo in the middle of March of this year. Still, I hadn’t expected Jaime to give up so quickly and forcefully.
It was better late than never.
Lisa, the director of client services, visited the department thirty minutes after Jaime abruptly exited, and confirmed what I already knew. Jaime had given her notice of resignation and would not be returning. Lisa looked as if a weight had been removed from her shoulders.
“Oh,” I said. “This is certainly unexpected.”
I turned to face Sylvia, who’d just been rehired after being laid off six months before, to gauge her immediate response. Her face was passive as she shrugged and said, “I don’t know about that. I’d known for a while that she was not feeling like her normal self.”
I turned back to Lisa. “She didn’t give any notice then. She just quit?”
“Yes,” said Lisa. “She walked into human resources and…spoke her mind.”
“Hmm.” I said. “I hope that things go well for her.”
I was cycling through a bevy of emotions by then, bouncing from one side of the spectrum to the other. There was shock since she’d routinely professed her love of the job for the nearly six years that I’d known her. Relief and elation because a particularly sharp thorn had been extracted from my ass. Guilt because I’d written one of the emails that precipitated her departure. And seething anger. After years of having to put up with her drama, helping her, and covering for her inadequacies, all she could muster up was a “thank you”.
I went in for my annual wellness check-up the first week of September. I was fifteen minutes early for my appointment, and used the time in between my arrival at the waiting room and hearing my name called to catch up on reading a few chapters of The Shining. The medical assistant, a Latino man in his early thirties, stepped forward to call my name.
“Eze-bear?” he said.
Almost. You almost got it.
I closed my book, shut my eyes, inhaled and exhaled a long exaggerated breath, and rose from the chair. As I meandered over to where the medical assistant was standing, the word calm was a flashing sign. I’d put in a lot of work preparing for this wellness visit. I’d exercised three times for two hours during the past week, fasted and drank plenty of water in anticipation of blood work, and meditated before I left the house. The medical assistant reached out a hand as an offer to shake. I took his hand into mine.
“Did I say your name right?” he asked.
“You were close,” I said.
“How do I say it?”
“Eze-be-re. But you can call me Eze.”
“Eze,” he said. “That’s cool. All right then. Come on back so we can take your vitals brother.”
My blood pressure was 118/78. My internal body temperature was ninety-eight degrees and my resting heart rate was within normal parameters. So far my only blemish on this day would be my weight. Well, my doctor would definitely characterize my weight as a blemish. I weighed two-hundred fifty one pounds, with a BMI of thirty-three, despite regular workouts that contributed to abnormal muscle mass.
The medical assistant removed the pressure gauge from my arm and said, “You reading The Shining man? “What do you think about it?”
“It’s good,” I said. “I’ve always like reading Mr. King.”
He walked over the desk, pulled out the chair, and started typing on the computer. He found my medical record and entered my vitals. He turned to me. “Have you seen the Shining movie?”
“Nah. I actually haven’t,” I said.
“Watch it man. It’s real good. Did you know that there is an actual Overlook hotel?”
“For real. Where is it at?”
“It’s in Estes Park. King actually stayed in the hotel. You can stay up there if you want to. They give special tours. It’s awesome.”
“It sounds like it. I just might do that.”
“Cool. The doctor will be here in a minute.”
The emails containing the results of my blood work came two days later. For the first time in six years all of my blood work was within normal range. I’m convinced that exercise, a consistent diet, and low stress levels from six months without having to worry about how I was going to coexist with Jaime are why my numbers are basically perfect at age forty-two.