Leslie Mitchell, 9/19/2010
Current Occupation: Client Services for an Albuquerque CPA firm. My main work includes light bookkeeping, vendor relations, proposal writing, proofreading, editing.
As I ambled back to my cubicle from the restroom, Igor from the mailroom stopped me to ask about our co-worker, a word processor named Doris. I told him I hadn’t seen her for nearly an hour, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t skulking around the floor somewhere.
Doris, as sullen and solid as her towering frame, worked in my department. Though we weren’t the best of friends (she was nearly 25 years older than me), Igor knew we were friendly enough that I might know her whereabouts. Though he didn’t work in my department, I was friendlier with Igor.
Igor said Doris was in a foul mood. She hadn’t like a joke he’d told her earlier that morning.
“I told her this funny joke about a bus driver, a nun and a horny young guy, and she looked like she wanted to hit me. Do you think I offended her?”
Igor had a large, earnest face, large brown eyes, and salt-n-pepper hair. He was easily Doris’s height, or taller, and he walked with the lightness of a much younger man. I instantly felt sorry for him. It was just my fate that he would be drawn to Doris’s darkness, a compliment to his lightness. He constantly stopped by to deliver or pick up, and he often engaged Doris in halting conversations about current events and movies. His accent was heavy, and Doris, straight out of the ‘hood, made no attempt to understand him, so their pained conversations took on the tone of a comedy skit. Though she was never rude to him, I had the distinct feeling that when Igor left her cubicle, Doris immediately forgot all about him.
Everyone could see that Igor was smitten, but Doris was a phobic woman given to difficult habits. She ate at her desk, and her lunches smelled as if they’d come straight from the slaughterhouse. She was an online shopaholic whose credit cards had been maxed, hacked and cancelled. One rumor held that she was a raging pothead. Another was that she’d once come to work with both wrists heavily bandaged, fractured in a fall at home. Men always seem drawn to tragic women, the ones who carry their sadness around with them like a misfiled report.
Of course, I was jealous. Though he was never more than polite to me, I liked Igor. A happy man with ruddy cheeks and a soft muffled voice, Igor came to America two years ago. He was full of stories about his Polish community, his drinking buddies, the friends he’d made, his weekend antics, and the comedies he liked. He always greeted me with a huge hug, an unheard of gesture in our corporate office, where most men worried about sexual harassment suits.
He’d once wondered why people in my department were always so moody and angry. Why couldn’t they be more like me, he asked. I shrugged off the question, thinking: That’s who they really are.
At work, I was the consummate liar. No matter what I felt inside, one would think I was everyone’s best friend.
“Don’t take it personally,” I told him. “You know how she is. And we’ve been busy, bottle-necked with projects right now. Doris is just feeling the strain.”
I didn’t know if Doris would get over her mood or not, whether she was really offended by his joke or just acting out, but what else could I tell him? Igor nodded, but I could tell his feelings were genuinely hurt. He pursed his full lips in a way I secretly adored. Without thinking, I reached out to him. He instantly clasped my hand in his big, callused ones, squeezing my fingers lightly.
We talked a bit more about the difficulties of office friendships and keeping personal and professional boundaries. All the while, our fingers were interlocked. I wasn’t even listening to him, unsure of my own words. I was thinking about his fingers, holding mine, mine holding his. My hands were cold and clammy. His were warm, almost hot. I wished he weren’t talking about Doris. I wished he were talking about me.
“Sometimes, it’s just easier to keep it professional, Igor. Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I heard myself saying.
Igor squeezed my fingers, and said, “I understand. I’m like that, too. During the day, I love you to death, but after the five o’clock whistle blows, I don’t know you.”