My boss doesn’t like me. I can tell by the way she smiles at me. It hurts my feelings that she doesn’t like me because my boss is a good boss. She runs a tight ship. She is a people person.
One day I brought her a chocolate cupcake with a figure of a ballerina on top. My boss makes me think of a ballerina, in that she has excellent posture. I didn’t tell her that. I just gave her the cupcake. “Oh,” she said, “how nice.” I didn’t believe that she thought it was nice. Her voice made me not believe it. I went back to my office and put my forehead on my desk. I stayed like that somewhere between twenty minutes and an hour.
Sometimes I wish I could eat the whole world and carry it around with me in my belly and taste it on my breath when I belch. I think my boss knows this about me and that is why she doesn’t like me. When I am with other people I forget for hours at a time about eating the world and I become likable and the more likable I become the more I forget. With my boss I never forget.
Another day I followed my boss home from work. She came to a nice house. She unlocked the door with her arms full of stuff and I wanted to leap out of my car and open the door for her, but I didn’t.
In my annual review last year my boss said I was outstanding. I looked in her eyes to see if this meant that she liked me, and what I saw there set my brain clattering. I couldn’t make it stop. The next day I didn’t come in to work when I was supposed to. Instead I lay in bed and to keep my brain quiet I remembered things that happened to me when I was younger. Some of them were interesting and some of them were just foam wedges to keep the parts of my brain apart.
My boss called around eleven in the morning. I thought she would sound mad on the phone, but she didn’t. That’s because she doesn’t like me even when I am there, so she doesn’t mind as much that I’m not there.
“Are you okay?” she said. I didn’t answer the phone, so she said it into my voicemail. Around one p.m. my brain calmed down enough that I could go into work. So I did. I didn’t say anything about why I was late, I just sat down at my desk and started doing things. I was praying that no-one would talk to me and set my brain off again. All day my brain was like a too-full mug of tea that I was trying to carry from one place to the next.
In the afternoon, my boss came by my desk. “How are you doing?” She meant her voice to sound concerned, but it just sounded irritated. I’m not very good at telling what other people are thinking, but with my boss I can always tell.
“Yes,” I said, “I’m fine.”
“You know,” my boss said, “it’s okay to take time off. With you, you’re so conscientious, that I worry that you don’t take good enough care of yourself.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just smiled.
“You’re one of the best employees here,” she said. I knew she was lying, but you can’t tell your boss she’s lying.
I tried to tell my friend R. about it. I was meeting him for drinks. We would maybe have dinner also, depending on how much we were liking each other that night. Sometimes we have drinks and we stare at each other and wonder what we are doing there and make excuses to leave early, and sometimes we cannot stop talking to each other and even at the end of the night we do not want to say goodbye because the thing we have built between us is so warm and safe.
“Why don’t you quit?” R. said, when I told him that my boss didn’t like me. “There are other jobs out there. Life is too short to be unhappy every day.”
When he said that I knew immediately that he was right, but I also knew that I wouldn’t quit. I told him so. One reason I am friends with R. is when I tell him that I’m not going to follow his very good advice he does not stop and argue with me. He starts talking about something else entirely. But I was preoccupied, because I was asking myself why I would not follow his advice.
In the middle of a sentence I interrupted him and I told him, “R., I followed my boss home from work one day.”
He looked startled, and I said, “That’s bad, isn’t it?”
R. shrugged. He said, “Don’t do it again, for sure.” He took another bite of his squid-ink pasta. R. makes more money than I do, and when we go out for dinner we go to nice places and he pays. I always order steak and a Rob Roy. Sometimes he tries to convince me to order other things, but I just shake my head at him. I like that he still tries to convince me, though. He hasn’t given up hope that I could be an entirely different kind of person.
“Do you think you’re in love with your boss?” R. asked.
Immediately I shook my head no, but after the dinner was over I continued to think about it, and the next week at work I spent some time watching my boss and thinking about whether or not I was in love with her.
“Are you okay?” my boss said to me. “Are you getting a migraine?”
“Can I ask you something?” I said.
She tilted her head at me, which I guessed meant that I could.
“How do you know if you’re in love with somebody?”
My boss made a funny face. “I’m the wrong person to ask,” she said. “I’ve made more mistakes in love than anyone I know.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine you making a mistake,” I said.
My boss looked at me like I was a kiss-up. I could see why she might think that, but I was genuinely surprised, although the way I had said it was not very genuine. I wanted to protest, to tell my boss that I meant it, but I could see it would only make things worse.
“I have to go copy some things,” I said.
I copied my paystub. I copied it, and collated it, and had it hole-punched. By the time I left work I felt dizzy and nauseous from watching the copy machine flash and flash again.
I stood in the back hallway wrapping my scarf and my coat around me. My boss came up behind me. There was not enough room in the hallway for her to stand there and put on her coat and scarf. She sighed. I could hear her sigh, but because of my conversation with R. I felt it both as a gesture of impatience and as a hot breath on the back of my neck. Either way it made me uncomfortable, and so I walked out into the blowing snow with my coat unbuttoned. My boss walked out after me.
I heard her voice, soft over the wind, and turned back. She was maybe three feet behind me, and I walked towards her and she walked towards me.
When we were only a foot apart, she said, “You know what I love? I love my work.” And I could smell the taste of the world on her breath.
“Oh,” I said through the snow blowing in the direction of my face, “so do I.”