(Note to reader: Patti is a somewhat friendly coworker at Jane's temp job at Thompson, Bell, and Johnson, a mortgage company in Winterville.)
Patti’s cousin, Jenny Cupcake, soon joined us at Thompson, Bell, and Johnson as yet another temporary worker. She spent the first week learning the ropes and seemed competent at answering the phone and taking messages, although no amount of training could teach her how to transfer a call. She shrugged and giggled a lot. In many ways, she was the polar opposite of Patti, and I soon figured out why. Jenny Cupcake had married young and didn’t have real work experience. More recently, her husband had left her.
“EEEEKKK! I dropped another call!” Jenny said, looking to me for help because my desk was near hers.
“I’m sorry. Jenny, talk to the office manager about that. I have no idea what you’re doing.”
My productivity dipped (to say the very least) in the time Jenny worked in my area. Her constant squeals and manic laughter, punctuated by tears, made it difficult to concentrate. My headphones and I developed a very close relationship as a result, since they could block out much (but not all) of her noise.
Her story had tumbled out of her in the first few days she worked for TB&J, and her loud squeal of a voice ensured that everyone in the general vicinity of her desk knew it. She was part town crier, part cheerleader as she shared a great deal of personal information with those around her. Her story was this: she’d never worked before, except when she took classes in junior college and worked at the mall. Steve, her ex-husband, proposed to her when she was just 20. She lived with her parents while she planned the wedding. Then, he bought a house, and they moved in as husband and wife. It had just been perfect.
Some years later, he left her for someone he’d met at work.
I was nice the first few times she came to my desk crying. I listened to her while she said terrible things about her ex-husband and comforted and encouraged her as much as I could. Being constantly monitored and responsible for a certain volume of work, though, I would have to send her away after a few minutes.
I learned to be polite but distant, a skill I had honed in Winterville, and tell her I couldn’t talk to her then. She could come to Happy Hour with me and Patti, I told her, but we just couldn’t discuss this type of thing at work.
Then, she started calling me at home. At first, I was flattered.
Conversation 1 went like this:
“Hey Jane! Jenny Cupcake here. Omigosh, girl, you won’t believe it! My parents are handling all my bills AND paying for the divorce lawyer. You know what that means: it’s time to go shopping!”
“That’s a nice offer, but I can’t afford to go shopping. Maybe lunch, though.”
“We can go to the outlet mall. That solves that problem! You can afford stuff at the outlet mall, right?”
“No, seriously, I don’t have the money to spend, Jenny. But thanks for the offer.”
I did the best to let her down easily, and then I heard from her again. Conversation 2 went like this:
“Oh, Jane, I’m so glad you’re home. I’m having a terrible day here. Can’t stop crying. How could my fairy-tale romance go so wrong? What does Steve see in that bitch?
“Sorry, Jenny, I don’t know what to tell you,” I said, while I thought to myself, Honey, I don’t even know you that well. Why are you calling me up to vent your problems? “Maybe there’s someone you could talk to about this?”
“Right, I’m talking to you,” Jenny said through her tears.
“No, I mean like a professional. Someone who can give you good, solid advice. I don’t know what I can do for you aside from listen.”
“It’s such awful timing,” she said, brewing a fresh batch of tears. “Have you heard? Andy and Patti are probably getting back together. How could she do this to me in my time of need?”
“Well, I don’t think that’s about you at all,” I said to her. “It’s between Andy and Patti.”
“Yeah, well, what was between me and Steve is off, and I don’t know what to do,” she pouted.
I thought back to the other places I’d lived and the phone calls from new friends I’d received before moving to Winterville. It was usually, “Hey, Jane, want to get together for game night? Let’s meet for lunch! I want to see that movie, do you want to come too?” I wasn’t used to, “Excuse me, I need to dump all my problems all over you and then make you feel inadequate for not having enough money to spend the day shopping.” This was definitely something new.