One of my major motivations in writing this up was how similar it felt to me to this very early post, Hiding Under a Restaurant Table – A Day in the Life. I don’t hide under any tables here, but the coworkers involved are nearly as insane.
Let’s be clear that I really like my job. I need more hours, and working with kids is hard, but it’s a really positive space that pushes me and is fairly fulfilling. I certainly prefer it to CS and would rather be there as not. What’s also great is I get along really well with all my coworkers – except K. I knew Hanna didn’t get along well with K, which was warning number one, but I had no clue when I arrived. I actually thought she was surprisingly helpful on my first day.
K hates young women, despite being one herself – or perhaps because, I don’t really know. All I know is that while I was smiling and happy and thinking how great it was to be getting along so well with everyone, K was a seething pot of rage, interpreting every movement I made as part of my secret plot to destroy her life.
I wasn’t entirely oblivious to this. I knew she was cold, and she’d certainly been rude to me in the past. “I’m not sure K likes me,” I admitted to another coworker one day, but he just rolled his eyes.
“She’s moody. That’s just how she is.”
K is moody, but she’s more than that. Despite my best efforts to believe otherwise, it was becoming clear K saw me as a threat, as some outsider come to usurp her throne at the studio. It culminated in her freaking out that I let the kids who were done with their homework color in the kitchen – and I mean it exactly as I say it. I am fairly sure now it wasn’t intentional, but everything about how she behaved communicated that I had violated the Eleventh Commandment (which is Though Shalt Only Color Between 5:00 PM and 5:15 PM, Eastern Standard Time, for the uneducated), and that I must suffer her wrath. Unfortunately for her – or, really, unfortunately for me, depending on your point of view – I’ve actually grown something of a spine since moving out. So I didn’t want her to bitch at me in front of the kids – yes, she was having this freak-out in front of children and two coworkers, one of whom looked like a deer caught in the headlights at the surprise of it. The other was blase, used to this by now. I’ve grown a spine, so I didn’t just simper like she wanted, I responded.
“Don’t worry. I’ll figure it out.”
I said this calmly, albeit with some surprise and force.
In K’s mind, I had just screamed at her in front of the children and two adult men.
Go ahead and take a moment to scratch your head, I’ll wait.
Apparently my “screaming” caused her to have a crying fit, running to Sir, who advised that I….give her a hug. K’s attitude was that I was the only one she had a problem with, despite the fact I’d seen her freaking out on someone else in the supply closet that very afternoon. But he was a man, so when he didn’t take her nonsense….that was okay. I guess I feel bad for the woman. It must be lonely to be so incredibly nasty, or that volatile. But mostly I felt very angry that I was somehow becoming the “problem child,” when I got along great with everyone else. And she demonstrably didn’t.
Apparently, me and my lack of kowtowing meant I’d thrown down the gauntlet with K. A gauntlet that involved children asking me why she was crying, which I had no clue, and her being cold and nasty to me at every opportunity; gauntlet that required Ma’am tell us at staff meetings to at least PRETEND to get along; and finally, a gauntlet where I had to sit on a yoga ball in the weight room while she cried about how I made her not want to be at the studio and how even the way I said hello was condescending, while Ma’am mediated this totally insane drama.
No, I didn’t exaggerate…she said my greetings were condescending…yeah, I’ll wait….
I was getting angrier by the day, but Hanna’s advice was still the best: “She’s just a bitch.” What can you do about that? I redoubled my efforts at smiling and greeting her, and stayed out of her way whenever possible, because I never knew what would set her off. Which is REALLY annoying. I’m sure you have at least one person in your life like that, the ticking time bomb that is completely unpredictable. It’s stressful, right? Because you have no control over the situation, because they will explode over the most mundane things – because they are crazy.
K’s bitchiness certainly irked me, but I was able to move past it. Ma’am said that it really wasn’t me, that she was not viewing reality; one coworker was quite blunt about actively avoiding her; I even got a card and constant whispers from another “applauding me for my efforts” and letting me know that I was loved and she noticed when K was at her cold, nasty ways. Ma’am even thanked me profusely for not snapping back and sinking to her level in front of Sir.
Yes, things were on the up and up for me! Heck, I even thought K and I were getting along! I got to hear a “punny” joke from her; how does Moses brew his tea? I’ll let you work that one out. Oh yes, things were going swimmingly – which is why tonight I rushed to finish mopping the floor and to change into my dobok. I had a belt test to practice for! Classmates to hang out with! Fun to be had! It was going to be a great nigh-
“Emily. Sir wants to see you.”
Oh God, what did I do, what did I do? Am I going to be fired? What did I do?
I walked into his office, and there was K. Crying. Again.
Oh for fucks sake….
Because I hadn’t heard her say something on a particularly harried night, I had apparently disrespected K again. Which is why she was sobbing on Sir’s red leather sofa about how stressed she was and how she couldn’t afford to replace her car muffler. Me, I was stuck there, glancing furtively at the clock. Fifty minutes left in class, forty…thirty…
“I really have no idea where this is coming from, I’m sorry…”
“K, what do you want done?”
In coughs and sobs, she spat out, “I don’t know!”
And so Sir brought out the Puerto Rican rum, Wild Grape Smirnoff Ice (feel free to gag here), and three little plastic drams.
And I thought, “Oh, fuck it. I don’t get to drink at home, and if it makes this meeting go faster, I’ll drink freaking fire water.” Pound, down went the first little dram, which was not dissimilar to fire water on its damage to my throat. More crying from K…in my frustration, in my ANGER at being stuck in here like the trouble maker, I began to cry to. Because there was NOTHING I could do about this situation! This was not ME! This was the ravings of a damn mentally unwell woman, and I happened to be her target! She was a bully, but I was the one getting punished and told to drink Smirnoff Ice!
“I want you two to stay in here and talk,” Sir said as he handed me a second dram of the rum. This time it went down smoother. Talk, yeah…this was supposed to be one of those teary, happy, huggy endings. Listen, I go for all of those things, but not together, and not with the woman who claims I glare at her by looking in her general direction.
But whatever. I talked. Were you born in Virginia? What kind of dog do you have? Your undergrad was in Religious Studies? Wow, that’s different! K didn’t answer beyond short sentences. She certainly didn’t respond with any questions of her own for me, which I think is how “get along” conversations are supposed to go. But it didn’t matter, because there was a moment of sobby, red-faced truth from her: “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be a bitch.”
Now, I have to be honest: fully sober, very tired, and slightly shivery from the cold of my bedroom in the middle of the night, I have no doubt K is going to continue to be a bitch. But after three shots of liquor, I was drunk, so I was willing to be convinced at the time. In fact, Sir came back, cracked twenty more minutes of sexual jokes, asked if Hanna and I were having sex (answer: no, we’re not, thanks), and gave me another shot.
Well, I was having fun then! Sleepy, hungry, outrageous fun, but K was laughing, so mission accomplished! So much fun was I having, that when Sir said, “Come on, let’s go to this restaurant all the way across the James River back by where you used to work in Hell,” (my language, not his), I thought, “Hell yes! that’s the best idea I’ve heard all night!”
But mainly for this reason: “I’m buying.”
I’d like to defend myself here. Sir actually tried to get me to drink much more than I did. At one point, he jokingly had my hair and was going to pour the contents of his flask down my throat. But the Nelsons are nothing if not stubborn about their limits, and this Nelson was not having any. I may have been drunk, but I was no moron. So class was long since finished – frustratingly – when I was finally sent out to collect Hanna and inform him we were to be joining Sir and K and many others for dinner.
Hanna did not want to go out to dinner. As I sobered up (around some leftover kids, which was freaking uncomfortable for me), I didn’t really want to either. I was tired, I had friends and video games waiting at home, let’s just decline and leave.
Buuuuut, when you work for a Tae Kwon Do studio, you cannot tell the Shihan no. You cannot say no. Well, er, obviously I had with the alcohol. But in this setting, Sir was getting his way, and nothing we said was going to stop him. So K and another coworker piled into his car, and Hanna and I into our own, and off we went.
Let the surreal portion of the evening begin, if this wasn’t enough for you….