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  • As usual, Andy’s computer screen was on, his sport coat hugged the back of his empty chair and a few well placed pads, papers, post-its and pens were strewn across his desk. He really was a master of the “Be right back” scam especially at 4:45 PM on a Friday.

    I considered a cup of coffee as the coffee station was empty but I’d missed the safe window to avoid clean up. As a new employee, I got a cup for the ride home about 4:55 once, only to turn and see the office empty out. As the secretary left, she thanked me for cleaning up with a bright little smile, “Last one to use it, you know.” It was like watching my kids avoid the dinner dishes only this involved 30 adult professionals scattering like nervous birds, well 31 if you counted me.

    About to leave, I noticed our boss, Dave, running out of his office in High Hair mode, never a good sign. Nice man but as a boss he had a wide anal retentive streak with a matching type A personality. He was about 6’ 4”, slender with thin strands of mango orange hair. In the morning, with his nerves still in tact they would lay compliantly against his scalp. As the day wore on and his nerves frayed, he would unconsciously run his hand through his hair raising it higher and higher off his head. The High Hair was the equivalent of the office mood ring. This Friday it was straight up on end. Fortunately, he was headed right for Leo who sat in the cubicle next to mine. Our Director, who was on his annual trip to the Galapagos Islands to watch giant tortoise eggs hatch, was coming back Monday afternoon and Dave needed a report ready for him first thing Monday morning, not mid morning, not at coffee break but FIRST thing, 8AM, no later. It was to be on the Director’s desk as he walked in the door. It was critical. Leo, who had seniority, rarely worked overtime and on those rare occasions he insisted he have at least four hours notice to make arrangements.

    “Well Dave, it sounds to me like Mr. Marks won’t be needing that report until he gets in and since he’s not getting in until at least noon, there’s no need for me to have it ready until noon Monday. Now if you want to take a look at it before then, I’ll guarantee it to you by 10 AM. You see I have a piano lesson every Friday evening and I get charged if I cancel or show up late so I never cancel and I don’t show up late. You understand don’t you Dave?”

    “You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, Leo, but you go on. I’ve got to say I admire your sense of commitment.”

    I gathered up my purse and the work I always took home. I prayed to be invisible as I inhaled and tried to scoot around Dave. I would have made it but I dropped my keys. Here it comes, I thought.

    “Katie will do it, right Katie? It seems Leo here has a piano lesson.”

    And I was a single mother with two school aged kids. For fourteen years, Katie would do it, evenings, weekends, holidays. Sure, You bet, No problem. Being the sole support, I needed, really needed the job so I picked up the phone, and called home as I had done so many times over the years, but before I could say anything, I heard, “We know, you’ll be home late” and a click.

    Something snapped. I missed more games, recitals, class trips and award ceremonies than I could count. I heard my workaholic father’s last advice. “They’ll forget you before you’re out the door but your kids will remember every function you missed, every broken heart you didn’t mend and every achievement you didn’t celebrate. Just like you remember.” And I did. “The lights won’t blink and there’ll be no headlines, only an empty hole you’ll never fill.”

    I gathered up the report, took a deep breath and pictured my adolescent kids as the toddlers they were when I started work. I prepared myself for the words “You’re fired.” I imagined the domino effect of all things poverty related this next step would begin. I stood up remembering my husband’s suicide, losing the house, debt in the six figures. Then I found myself smiling. That was 10 years earlier. Had there been tough times? Yes. Had we gone hungry, been without a home or a car, been without friends? Never. The worst that could happen had happened. I lost my lover and best friend. In that moment, things got right sized. I had faced my biggest fear, experienced the unthinkable and survived. This was only a job.

    I walked to Dave’s office and stood at the door, my heart pounding loud enough that I heard it and so, I imagined, could Dave.

    “Dave” Nothing.

    Louder, “Dave”

    “Mmm” no eye contact.

    “Dave, I can’t work this overtime any more. I have two kids at home that need me. I mean I’m a single mom. I’ll understand if you have to....”

    Then the most amazing thing happened. He looked up at me and said,

    “Sure. See you on Monday. Have a good weekend with the kids.”

    Fourteen years of disappointed children, missed appointments, late night meetings, an ulcer, colitis, diverticulitis from the stress, and I got “Sure. See you Monday?” That was it? That’s all I had to do? All I had to say was NO??

    Dave may not have been the best boss but he was the best teacher I ever had. I was a grown woman who never learned I had the right to say no, that I had to ask for what I needed. I wasn’t promoted not because I wasn’t liked or valued but because I didn’t take care of myself and was considered a high burn out risk.

    Hardly Buddha worthy but five life changing words: “No” and “See you on Monday.”

    Oh yes, and one other lesson to live by; Not everyone is out to get me. Live from love.

    Image from Microsoft Office photos and clips
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