Quote-to-short-story challenge: “In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take”
Today I told my boss to do it. I told him to put in for my promotion. The odds were against me for the promotion but I was sick of being safe. I’d been safe my whole life. I took the first job offered and stayed with it for many years. I never asked for anything, even when I knew I should have. I’d been passed by on a promotion. Somehow the paperwork went through and I had been missed. But for whatever reason, the coward in me stayed quiet. But I was done with that part of me. I’d been this way for so long and knew that nothing would change unless I did. So no more, I told myself. No more.
That morning, I wore my best outfit. I wore my black work dress with bright red beaded jewelry and tan heels. I wanted to look powerful and professional. I took time to put on makeup and blow dry my hair. I walked into the office with confidence and walked straight to Mr. Peterson’s office.
“Mr. Peterson,” I said, trying so hard to not let my voice waiver. “I’d like to go forward with the promotion process.”
He turned in his chair and looked at me behind his thick glasses. I don’t think he’d bought a new pair since the mid 70’s. They were huge, curved and slightly yellowed in spots where he’d frequently touched them.
“You know if we go forward, there’s a risk involved, right? You get on their radar, and either they send you through the promotion process or they dump you. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Our company had recently come up with a new policy of working with as little as possible for max profit, regardless of their employee’s input or welfare. They were willing to drop anyone as long as someone would take over the job, which they were all willing to as long as taking on this extra work felt like a little more job security.
“I..” I cleared my throat. “I know. And I’m willing to take the risk. You can’t move forward in li-“
“Sounds good Marla” Mr. Peterson cut me off. “I’ll put the paperwork forward.” He circled back into his chair, continuing on in his email replies.
“Thank you,” I replied and backed out of the office. I did it. The whole conversation took less than five minutes but it still had taken a lot of courage and I was proud of myself. I went to my desk and went to work, making sure everything I did was better than before.
I thought about the possible promotion for days. I felt like throwing up every time Mr. Peterson passed my office, worrying that he’d come in with bad news. Sorry Marla, instead of that promotion we all know you deserve, you’re fired.
The thought of being laid off scared me more than I thought it would. I’d always been good about paying bill and saving for things. My credit was better than most my age and it was something I prided myself on. I was working on saving for a nicer car and maybe a house in the next five years, but the idea of not having a job put me into a tailspin of thought. If I had no income, how would I pay my bills? Would I become homeless? Would I lose my friends? What about my dog? Would I have to give him up? My credit would be shot. What would I do??
Calm down Marla, I repeated to myself. Nothing had happened yet. All I could do was wait. And besides, plenty could go right, too. I could get the promotion and be making more money. That thought cheered me up instantly.
Life overall at the office was alright. I wasn’t a fan of most of my co-workers. Most of them had been in the same position for more than 15 years, so not only did they all out age me by at least a decade, but they’d become complacent. They didn’t care about anything except collecting their paycheck and getting creative on the reasons why they had to be out of the office. The only exception to the office co-workers was for Jen. She was close to my age and she was cool. She’d been here about a year longer than me and had developed a cynical but fun attitude. I liked to watch her facial expressions every time we were in a meeting. She couldn’t hide them. I would count the eye rolls per meeting and report back to her on them. She said that she rolled her eyes so often she didn’t even notice she was doing it anymore. It had become second nature. I think the eye-roll average was six per meeting in the last year. As I was thinking about the latest eye roll count during our last meeting involving the most recent drawbacks and budget cuts, Jen walked into my office.
“Hey!” she said in quick whisper.
“Yeah?” I whispered back.
“Have you heard anything back yet?”
“Nothing yet,” I replied. The thoughts of the promotion and possible outcomes came flooding back. My stomach flipped.
“I’m sure he’s just making you wait to be an ass. Don’t worry about it.” She tapped the door frame of the office and took off. I swiveled back into my chair to focus on the days work. I opened my emails. Fifty-two new emails. Wonderful. I opened the first email. Marcy, a forty-year-old angry divorcee from accounting was asking for the latest invoices. I attached them from my desktop and sent them off. Marcy hated her ex and was happy to describe her hatred to anyone unfortunate enough to ask. She also loved to tell her kids how horrible their father was. Something about that rubbed me the wrong way so I tried to stay clear of Marcy.
I looked at the next email, but stopped. I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking about that stupid promotion. Maybe Jen was right. Maybe he already had the results from corporate. Maybe he was waiting just to be an ass. But what was he waiting to tell me? That I got the promotion? Or that they were going to fire me. The sweats and nausea started up again. I cursed my stomach and tried to focus back on the emails.
Just then, out of my peripherals, I saw Mr. Peterson heading my way. This time he had his eyes on me. The nausea and sweats went into overdrive. I tried to fight it.
“Marla, would you want to come with me to my office please?” He had his poker face on. I had no idea what he planned on telling me. Oh God.
“Sure thing.” I almost threw up with those two words. I locked my computer, grabbed a pen (in case I was being called in to sign promotion paperwork….or an employee outprocessing form) and quickly caught up to him.
“Please, have a seat,” he gestured to the chair in front of his desk. I sat down in the seat. It was plastic and very uncomfortable. I don’t think I’d actually ever sat in front of his desk before, let alone really stepped foot in his office. Usually it had always been a quick question at the door jam, then running off to get the work done. Somehow, Mr. Peterson had a beautiful wife. A picture on his back desk showed that she looked about five years younger than him and was much more up to date as far as fashion went. In the picture, she was wearing a colorful sheer shirt and skinny jeans on the beach. It must have been taken last summer when Mr. Peterson had gone on vacation. I had imagined he’d spent it in his house, organizing his magazines or quarter collection.
“I’m sure you know why you’re in here,” Mr. Peterson snapped my attention back to reality. I met his eyes.
“The promotion,” two words again, was all I could muster. I swallowed hard.
“Correct. Unfortunately I don’t have good news. I put in for your promotion and gave them some great justifications. Probably some of my best work.” Mr. Peterson leaned back in his chair. Did he just crack a smile? This didn’t feel like a conversation that was going to go well but somehow he was feeling proud of himself for writing a great recommendation. Maybe all was not lost. Maybe they decided to give me a promotion but it wasn’t what I’d asked for.
Mr. Peterson pushed off and leaned forward in his chair. “Unfortunately, they decided against the promotion. They also decided to let you go.”
The room went white. Before I knew it, that wave of nausea showed itself in full force and I erupted all over Mr. Peterson’s desk. Then I passed out.
Three minutes later I woke up on the floor. Mr. Peterson and John, one of our IT guys were staring at me like I was a new exhibit at the zoo. I quickly shot up as the memory of what just occurred came rushing back. The first thought was Mr. Peterson telling me I’d lost my job, then the subsequent puke then faint moves.
“I’m so sorry Mr. Peterson,” I said, my lip starting to quiver.
“That’s alright. I probably would do something similar. And I’m sorry Marla. I was hoping for a different outcome. They also told me to tell you that your last day is this Friday.” How was this guy a manager? His delivery sucked.
“What? But don’t you usually get two weeks or something? I’ve never been through this but it seems customary.”
“Actually it’s customary to escort you out of the building today, but I told them you weren’t a threat and that you needed time to look for something else. You’re welcome to use the computer to look for new jobs. And don’t worry about the mess. We have a janitor on his way.”
I nodded my head. I slowly pulled myself off the floor and walked to the bathroom. Pieces of what was once my breakfast was now plastered on my nice black dress and shoes. I looked at myself in the mirror. I was pasty white. All the color had drained from my face, even my lips. My mascara had smudged and my hair somehow had become matted. I must have slipped from my chair when I passed out because my nylons had run. I was a disaster. I took off my nylons and threw them in the trash, straightened my hair with my fingers, wiped off breakfast as best as I could, cleaned up the mascara on my eyes, and pinched my cheeks to get some color back in them.
The plan had failed. I had lost my job. Thinking of this fact made my stomach flop again. What was I going to do?
Not panic. That’s one thing I wasn’t going to do. I didn’t want to be that blubbering idiot who can’t think straight or drive home the day they learn they lost their job. Nope. Stay calm. We can figure something out. I had this week to find something else. Fighting the feeling of failure and despair was the hardest thing I’d faced so far. Controlling your instinctual emotions when it comes to survival is counter intuitive. You feel like you should give in to these instincts, the feelings that come rushing at you. But you can’t.
I told Mr. Peterson I was going to take the rest of the day off and that I’d be back first thing in the morning.
When I got home, I tore all my gross clothes off and took a bath. The warmth of the water mixed with the fragrance of the bath salts I added calmed me down to a normal state, so I could start thinking clearly again. Now, where to start? I’d probably add my resume to the huge job repository websites in hopes for anything. This would also be a good time to send my resume to businesses I’d thought would be great to work at but had had no previous reason to send out. Once I was done relaxing and bathing, I got into my most comfortable pair of pajamas and slippers, grabbed my laptop, made some tea, and sat down on my couch to start the resume update process. I hadn’t updated it since I started my job a few years earlier, so I’d need to update the resume with projects I’d worked on and awards I’d received.
I was still a long way from having a new job but I was feeling a lot better. When you’re in the heat of the moment and you haven’t changed anything in the environment, your situation always seems so much worse than it is. It feels impossible. You start to feel like you’re sinking alone, into a black hole, but when you change perspective, take time to let it wash out and wash back into your head, things become clearer and more approachable. I felt like I could tackle this obstacle.
After about two hours, I’d finished my tea, updated my resume and sent it off to the big resume depository in the sky, as well as a couple local businesses I’d been interested in. I called my friend Tasha.
“Hey Tash. Got some bad news today. You know that promotion I put in for?” I asked.
“Yeah. What’s up? They didn’t give it to you?”
“Worse than that. They told me they were letting me go instead. I have a week to find a new job.”
“What??” Tasha exclaimed. “Can they do that? Just out of the blue like that?”
“Apparently they can. Either way, at first I was freaked out. But I’m not anymore. I guess it means that it’s time to move on, right?”
“Sure. I guess so…..so you’re not freaked out at all?”
I replied, “I was at first. So much so that I actually puked all over Mr. Peterson’s desk and passed out -“
Tasha cut me off, “Wait, you what? You puked? On your boss’s desk?”
I laughed. “Yeah, I did actually. I was horribly embarrassed. Still am. I’m sure it’s running around the office today but what do I care? I’ll be gone by next week, no matter what.”
“I guess you got a point there…” silence filled the phone for a few seconds before Tasha burst out, “Oh hey! I just thought of something!”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Jobs! A friend of mine works for this awesome tech company. He was just telling me that they need some numbers people. You do accounting and number crunching stuff right?”
I smiled. “Yeah, I do number crunching and stuff.”
“Well, they’re having like some sort of open house, meet and greet deal tomorrow actually. You go there with your resume and cards, and schmooze with all the people who work there. Maybe he can get you a job. I’ll give you his name and information and I’ll tell him you’ll be there.”
I hesitated, but only for a second. New things. No more holding back. Go for it. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll go. I just updated my resume anyway so I might as well.”
“Awesome!” Tasha gave me his name, which was Dave, and his number. The meet and greet was to take place downtown at the Munson Bar, a hip bar not too far from where the tech company was located.
After I got off the phone, I decided to do some research on the tech company. It was called LineNet. They were a relatively new software company that was rapidly growing. Benefits were great, and by the looks of their website and recent reviews, it sounded like a great company to work for. I’d never worked for a technology company, let alone a company that seemed to thrive on or welcome innovation. It could be a whole new avenue for me. I got excited about this opportunity and sent Tasha a thank you text. Having friends who looked out for you was really all that mattered in the end.
The next day, I went to work only thinking about the meet and greet happening that night. I’d printed several copies of my resume and grabbed a bunch of business cards as well. Everyone pretty much ignored me through the day, which I was actually grateful for, so when the end of the day came, I burst out of work as fast as I could. I went home to freshen up and grab something to eat, then headed downtown.
I found a parking spot a block away and walked over to Munson Bar. A sign in front promoted, “Come in with your resume and a smile! LineNet Meet & Greet Today!”. I was definitely in the right place. I drew in a deep breath and walked in with confidence. A table in the front with two women wearing LineNet shirts welcomed me in.
“Hi, are you here for the LineNet Meet & Greet?” one asked me with way too much enthusiasm.
“I am,” I replied back, trying to equal her energy.
“Awesome! Let me just get your name and we’ll make a name tag up for you. Go ahead and help yourself to anything at the bar. We’re providing a free drink for coming.”
I lifted my eyebrows. Wow. I was already happy that I came. I never liked turning down a free drink. I put on my name tag and headed toward the bar. I ordered an IPA and looked around. There were maybe eight or so people in the building who looked about as nervous as I felt, so I gathered they were here for the Meet & Greet as well. Tasha had only described what Dave looked like to me so I wasn’t exactly sure what to look for. She’d said he had dark brown, almost black hair, was pretty thin and about six feet tall. She said he’d probably be wearing LineNet gear since he was there as an employee. So far I didn’t see any employees besides the girls welcoming in all of us.
After about ten minutes of looking around, I started to lose confidence and feel stupid. What was I doing at a tech company’s Meet & Greet? I didn’t have any sort of tech experience. In fact, the only thing I was good at in the IT world was breaking things. I swore sometimes I was magnetized, because I randomly destroyed laptops at a record rate. I wasn’t social enough to go up to people and start promoting myself, asking for a job. Even though I was desperate, I still didn’t think I had the nerve to go up to an employee and express my desperation. I finished my glass and set it back down on the bar, and started to walk toward the entrance when a dark haired, tall, skinny employee of LineNet walked through. He looked like he was close to my age, but at the same time, looked a lot more energetic. His eyes were bright, he had a big smile on his face, and his step was light. If this turned out not to be Dave, I was out of here.
“Um, are you Dave?” I asked, then looked down at his shirt. A “Hello, my name is Dave” sticker was plastered to his shirt. Nice first impression Marla. You either can’t read or are completely non-observational. This was already turning into a disaster.
“Yeah, I am! Are you Marla?” He asked. At first I thought maybe he was mocking me, but realized he was being completely sincere. Calm down Marla, don’t put yourself down just yet.
“Yeah, I am. Tasha told me to find you. She said you guys need some number crunchers?”
He smiled. “Yeah, actually. We’re in desperate need. I don’t know how much Tasha told you about us, but we’re growing rapidly and don’t have enough people to keep the books, send out invoices, and keep things balanced, which is obviously important work.”
I smiled. “Well that’s the kind of work I do. Did. Well, I mean I still do. But just until the end of the week.” Ugh. I hadn’t wanted to mention being laid off.
“Yeah, I know. Tasha told me. That sucks.”
“Thanks. It does.”
“Well, hey,” said Dave, “Did you bring a resume I could look at?”
“I did,” I replied back. I pulled a resume and a card out of my file folder and handed it to him. “My card is included as well. I just updated my resume with my recent work, as well as recent awards I received for my work.”
“Awesome. This is great. I don’t actually do the hiring for this department, but my buddy John does.” Dave looked up and around at the crowd that was starting to grow. He spotted an older gentleman with pepper hair and glasses. “Hey John!” he yelled out toward the man. The gentleman looked over at Dave, recognized him and waved a “just a sec” wave. A minute later, John came by and Dave introduced us.
“John, I want you to meet Marla. I think she’d be a great addition to the accounting department. Marla, John runs accounting and finances and does all the hiring for that department as well.”
We exchanged greetings. “So Marla, tell me a little about yourself.” John asked. Dave handed John my card and resume and wandered off to greet more people. I told John a bit about my history, and before I knew it, the Meet & Greet was ending. We’d kept the conversation flowing from work related items to what we liked to do in our free time. It seemed that the employees of LineNet cared not only about how well you worked, but if you had the personality to fit the job, and from what I could tell, they were looking for a fun, hardworking personality, flexible to change and innovation. That was definitely something I could handle.
After John, Dave and I said our goodbyes, I headed toward my car, in the best mood I’d been in all week. When I was a few cars away from my own, I heard my name being called. I looked back and saw John again. I turned back. “Marla, I just wanted to let you know I just looked over your resume. I’d like to sit down with you in a bit more of a formal session soon. How does this Friday sound?”
My heart skipped. “Friday would be perfect.”
“Great”, he replied. “I’ll send you an email with all the information. I’ll see you then.”
“Thank you! I look forward to it,” I replied back.
“As do I.” John smiled and walked back toward the bar. I turned and walked to my car, got it, leaned back, and shouted for joy.