Being Inspired, maybe - 96

A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, then, the words:

Like most people who got an unexpected call from someone they never expected would call them for any other reason than work, I jumped to conclusions.

Quite a few conclusions, but not the one that I wanted to be true.  Perhaps I had not the confidence in myself or the belief needed to consider that Jacqui might just like me for me, but that probably had a lot to do with my younger days.

There'd been two reasons to get out of town, other than the fact there was nothing there for me or the hundred others that graduated every year, there was no work unless you stayed on the parent's farm or store or make the 50-mile journey to t the next big town to work in the factories.

That wasn't it.  I left because I'd never really got along with the other children.  You were either in, or you were out. And I'd always been out, and with that came the acute loneliness.  And the fact the other children were just mean.

So, as soon as I could leave, I was gone.  I figured in a large city like New York, there's be plenty of places I could hide, and of course, make new friends.

But over time I came to realize I'd just traded one miserable existence for another, but at least I didn't have to contend with memories of how it had been.

Of course, if I was to return home, I couldn't help but think of what i might be going back to, and whether I really wanted to go through all that again.  I might be older and wiser, but I was still the same person I was when I left.

There was a lot going through my mind on the short walk back to the cafe.  It was a shame then that I missed the fact I was walking with a very beautiful woman who couldn't help but attract admiring glances, and that I should feel better than I did as her consort.

And I think that spoke volumes about the low self-esteem I had.

There had been nothing to say until the coffee was ordered, and we were sitting. Like me, I suspect she was weighing her options and trying to Marshall her thoughts.

When it seemed like neither of us wanted to start the conversation, I thought I'd throw in the first question.  "Did you go home?"

In the last month, she had mentioned she intended to, though without any conviction.  From what she said, I got the impression she had left under a cloud, and in the two years she'd been away, the broken bridge had not been repaired

She never said what happened, but I got the impression she had had a huge row with her mother over leaving, and it had caused a huge rift in their relationship, to the extent she never spoke about her family, or life before the big city.

Perhaps it was a recurrent reason, for in my case if was because of irreconcilable differences with my father, and that would never change.  I never quite understood the effect of my animosity towards him had on my mother, only that if she wanted to see me, she had to come to New York.

"Yes.  It was time.  I realized when I looked out of the window down on the concrete and glass jungle that I was trapped in a prison I'd made for myself, and of my own making.  Before i came here, running away seemed to be the only answer."

A concrete and glass jungle, how very apt and expression.

"I have some experience in that too.  You know how it goes, more or less, the small-town boy escapes the drudgery of farm life, after failing to live up to his father's expectations.  I guess we all have a similar story."

She smiled.  "We do.  I was supposed to take over the family business, but the town was dying, and people were leaving.  Perhaps if it had remained a thriving epicenter of life I might have, but I was one of the few who wanted something more than just a mundane job."

She said once that she came from a long line of lawyers, but I had no idea she was one herself. It was another late-night admission; one I think she didn't realize she'd let slip.

"I guess you can't get a broadened view of the world in the middle of nowhere."

Perhaps not the best idea to call her hometown in the middle of nowhere, but it did highlight my ability to put my foot in my mouth.  When it should have annoyed her, it didn't.  She simply smiled.

"It seems the middle of nowhere covers a vast area of this country.  But, in a sense, you're right.  I came here to get a better perspective and found a different sort of bias instead. Home, women are the mothers, the cooks, the cleaners, and everything in between. Here, women fetch the coffee and make sure the men and looked after.  One or two slip through the cracks and get to the other side, but for the rest of us, it's a battle just to be seen let alone heard."

Perhaps that was not true in one sense, all the men in the office regarded her as available, even though I knew she had said it was not exactly true, there was someone back home, but that I discovered was to keep the wolves from the door.  A momentary thought; was I any better than the rest of them.

"I know why you were angry at the party, she said.  "I heard them too.  In fact, I think I was meant to hear them.  But it wasn't the last straw, but it confirmed a suspicion I had about the way promotions are handled despite what Ferguson in HR told me."

Ferguson was old enough to be part of the geriatric mentality that habituated management, people who believed women belonged in the home, but the final decision-makers were board members of whom all bar one were men and all over the age of 70.  And their track record over the past few years in promoting women was little short of appalling.

Something I'd noticed, the promotion didn't necessarily go to the best man, or person, for the job.  I'd been disappointed too, but Jacqui was higher up the ladder, worked harder than all the men on the same level, and yet had been overlooked twice.

"I'm sorry, but it shouldn't be like that."

"It's not your fault.  It’s basically the same everywhere despite what people say.  I've been to a few interviews, testing the water working somewhere else.  Not one of the companies can give any sort of guarantee that advancement is based on merit "

"Then what will you do?"

"Well, that was one of the reasons I took some time out, to think about what I wanted.  Truth is I don’t know anymore.  All I was doing was work and more work, trying to prove my worth.  It was a shock to discover my contemporaries considered me not as an equal but a prize.  In the end, I did the only thing I could do in the circumstances, resign."

It was possibly the only thing she could do.  She could stay and fight, but the odds were stacked against her.  It was wrong, but I was sure the company had a crack team of lawyers that could turn any of her arguments on their head.

But it left a question that seemed obvious to me, why bother coming back when it would be just as easy to send an email.  It's about all they deserve."

I stopped short of saying that’s what I would have done.

"I could, and even considered it for exactly the reason you said, but that's not me, is it?"

It wasn't.  She usually tackled all the problems head-on.

"My first salvo was to call Ferguson and tell him what I was thinking of doing.  Perhaps he wasn't the one to call, but after a few minutes I could see that it was going nowhere, so I just hung up in his ear.  He called back, but I just ignored him.  It was one of those I feel like I won moments."

I could just see the look of astonishment on his face.  It happened only once before when another person accused him of being an old fossil.  It was a priceless moment, seeing him speechless for once.

"I had it all planned out, having plenty of time on the bus.  I would see Trentgard first and tell him how he could improve his department, and you can imagine how that went."

I could.  He was my superior too, and we had both discussed his shortcomings at length.  I could see the red face and apoplexy being suggested that his management style was not up to scratch, and especially by a woman.

"After telling me that I should wait until I'd been at the company for at least a decade before offering opinions that were irrelevant anyway, he spluttered that if I didn't like it, I could always leave.  I had hoped he might say that, so I told him that I would have to go and see Ferguson about that very subject.  He asked why, but all I said was you know why and walked out.  Thank God I don't have to see or deal with him again."

And it was the first concrete statement she'd made about her intentions.  She would not be going back to work.  And what made it worse was the silence, and the fact I could see she was steeling herself before telling me the rest of the story.

At that moment I honestly believed that it was over, that my one chance had passed.

© Charles Heath 2020


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