“I used to be a Boy Scout,” I said, not joking.
He’d flown off his bicycle just in front of me on Lake Shore Drive. Apparently his flip-flop had gotten caught in his spokes, causing him to lose control and bash his (helmetless) head into a concrete stair. Fortunately, he’d sustained just a superficial-if-bloody cut on his browbone, nothing more. I took off when it became apparent that several other people were going to wait with him for his ambulance. (It was only later that I realized I’d given him the only ice pack I had that worked on my constantly inflamed wrist. The price of good deeds!)
My altruism buoyed me up for a while (even if I was a bit disappointed that the incredibly good-looking bleeding cyclist had mentioned having a girlfriend). I desperately needed that, because a thorny project at work had its deadline moved back, prompting me to go for a fury-fueled lunchtime walk.
I can’t do this any more, God, I muttered as I power-walked through Millennium Park. I can’t care this much. I can’t be this passionate about things that just get shot down and dragged around.
I don’t understand why you’ve put me here, by myself, away from family and friends, so that I can go through shit like this, I continued. I was at Buckingham Fountain now. I don’t know how long I stood there, watching the water and listening to its roar, almost crying, wanting to cry, not being able to cry.
Fuck this, I’m just not going to care any more, I decided. I’m just going to treat it like a job that has to be done and stop being so passionate. I walked back, feeling like I’d been broken. I was going to stop arguing over best ways to achieve goals. I wasn’t going to put in long hours agonizing over details. I was just going to be a drone who worked nine-to-five. I felt defeated.
I managed to sit quietly and work, always almost in tears, for the next couple hours. My coworker first noticed something wrong with my when I turned down coffee. She really noticed something wrong when my boss told me one of our requirements had changed for the umpteenth time that day, and I stormed out of the office cussing under my breath. The tears finally came in a quiet, sunsoaked window in the lobby. I stood there with my head in my hands and sobbed. This isn’t what I signed up for.
When I returned to my desk, my boss came over to my desk and asked me about things in his softspoken way. He had to be aware that it was taking everything I had not to cry in front of him, because my voice kept breaking. I was tired of feeling like I was treading water, I said. I was going in circles. All that had kept me going was knowing the deadline was coming and it would soon be over, and now that was gone. Instead of treading water, I was drowning.
My boss, the amazing man that he is, just said, “I know. I’m sorry.” And then he took the part of the project that I had been rehashing to death and said he would handle it himself.
It felt a lot like failure, and it felt a lot like the greatest gift anyone could have given me at that moment.
God, however, was not about to let me get through the day without reminding me that taking everything so seriously was simply ridiculous.
We had a special meeting at 5 p.m. with some other Tribune staff to discuss a variety of things. At one point, I noticed an issue that my coworker had pointed out before, but which I had been unable to replicate.
“Ryan! I see what you mean about that line,” I whispered.
“What?” he whispered back.
I scooted my rolling chair closer to his so that we could talk without my disrupting the meeting. Except I promptly ran the chair backwards into a small inset in the floor, where a door was located two feet below floor level. My head hit the wall, the chair tipped over loudly, and I was totally unable to right myself. The meeting came to a screeching halt. Legs in the air like a beetle, I mentally chastised myself for wearing a rather short dress and immediately wondered if my panties were a presentable pair (they were). The next thing I knew, Ryan was grabbing my wrist and hauling me up, and the vice president of digital for Tribune was asking me if I were okay. I must have been six shades of red.
“Nothing injured but pride,” I muttered. (I’ve got bruises on both kneecaps and my arm.)
The meeting came back to order and life continued, just like it always does after a mishap. Afterward, my project manager gave me a hug and laughed her head off, and my boss told me I needed to let him buy me a drink. So the Ryans and I went to the Billy Goat. We drank, we laughed, we bitched, and I was left once again to marvel at how, when you do life right, the people around you always help you right yourself when you can’t do it alone.