She stands over me, hands on hips, shouting. Or maybe she’s not shouting but it comes across with the intensity of a shout. It echoes other shouts I’ve heard before; my mother yelling at me when I was a child, my teacher angry at me for some misdemeanour. The passion of it is startling because it’s not about a personal grievance, it’s because I made too many posts on the school’s social media site at work this week. Apparently, I should have been more focused on other things in the library.
It’s a generational thing too, my boss is at least twenty years older than me. For her, information is static, a set-and-forget situation, not something that has to be attended to constantly the way social media does. I think of all this later, but in the moment I am like a dumb fish unable to explain what I’ve done and why I’ve done it. This is what her anger robs me of, the ability to speak calmly.
Is she truly angry at me? Now therein lies a tale, one in which another worker left inconveniently. All this rage is really for someone else, but it’s packaged up and served to me because I’m the one still here.
Who observes this interaction? Nobody, or rather nobody except a room full of students. The other employees have gone home but the children are still here waiting for their parents. She knows that these children will not speak up on my behalf. She has been their teacher, the authority figure that rules over them. Their eyes slide towards me with sympathy and I wonder what it’s like to be one of her students. Perhaps it’s me who should be speaking for them.
Me? Well, here I am trapped between my boss and an HR officer who has already shown that she won’t keep confidentiality. This is my first paid job, the one in which I’m supposed to be learning my profession. I realise sadly that I’ve not landed in a safe space, that this is not a beehive, this is a nest of hornets and I will have to guard myself every second that I am here. I sit hunched and watch the hands of the clock slide round the hour; she has an hour of vitriol to discharge.
I go home and I cry; I cry all the tears I had been holding in because I would not let her see me cry. I get up the next day with a heavy sense of dread, but I make myself go in. I think about my parents and all their stories of bad bosses over the years, the stories I didn’t quite want to believe but now I do. I understand their sacrifice a little better now.
When I get to work, it’s all tentative smiles and friendliness. I settle in and I begin to think that maybe it wasn’t so bad, maybe it will be okay and maybe I can stay. It’s not till a few weeks later that I learn that I am wrong…